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Lula Da Silva’s return: from struggles for democracy to ambitious regional projects. What can we expect from Brazil’s new president?


John Gray

Thursday, 23 February 2023

Lula Da Silva’s return: from struggles for democracy to ambitious regional projects. What can we expect from Brazil’s new president?

Brazilian Flag | Rafaela Biazi/Unsplash

After denying a second term to his predecessor, far-right conservative and former military officer Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been inaugurated for a third term. However, the legacy of Jair Bolsonaro seems to cast a dark shadow over the road ahead for the new president, as his term starts with a massive riot by pro-Bolsonaro protesters that occupied the houses of government in Brasilia on January 8 to reject Lula’s electoral win, calling upon the military to take over with a coup. This event, which pretty much mimicked the insurrection by Donald Trump supporters on Capitol Hill almost exactly two years before, shows the deep cracks in Brazilian democracy formed by political extremism, and the hard task of President Lula to fix them. Nevertheless, Lula appears confident towards achieving success in his presidency, and has arguably already shown that determination, though he might still face a series of obstacles ahead. Here’s what to expect from Brazil’s new leader in the coming years:

Policing reform after Brazilia riots

After the events of January 8, the responsibility fell on the military police for apparently not doing enough to stop the riots, which—according to a recent pollis the position of nearly two-thirds of Brazilians. President Lula responded strongly to the assault on Brazil’s houses of government, which he sees as a “terrorist” attack, calling for a profound reform of the policing system. It is still unclear what he plans to do, but he has started by reaching out to the state presidents in hopes of collaboration

Moreover, two weeks after the riots, the new government sacked the army commander General Julio Cesar de Arruda—a close figure to the Bolsonaro administration—due to a lack of action concerning these riots, replacing him with General Tomas Ribeiro Paiva, a figure much more aligned with President Lula. Likewise, drawing further similarities with the American Capitol riots of 2021, the Brazilian Supreme Court has included former President Jair Bolsonaro in their investigation of the attacks on the houses of government in Brasilia, as they believe Bolsonaro instigated the attack, along with a series of former officers affiliated to his movement. 

In this sense, it is evident that even though upcoming policies will shape this reform of Brazil’s police, further changes in this sector will need to remove President Bolsonaro’s influence within it. 

Plans for a common currency with Argentina

In a move aimed to reduce dependency on the U.S. dollar and bolster trade and growth in the region, Brazil and Argentina opened talks for a common currency earlier this week. This comes as the initial product of Lula’s first trip abroad as Brazil’s new president, visiting Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández.

In more detail, the current intention is to establish a currency apparently called “Sur” (South in Spanish), exclusively for trade purposes, a not quite dissimilar experiment to the EU’s Euro as it will not involve replacing either the Argentine Peso nor the Brazilian Real. Nevertheless, analysts are sceptical of this new project, some arguing it may never be launched, as neither Argentina nor Brazil has the economic or political conditions to carry out this project, with some suggesting it may end up like previous attempts at forming a united Latin American economic bloc to counter the influence of the U.S. dollar in regional trade.

But, one thing is for sure, the ideological communion between the Argentine and Brazilian governments will bring more cooperation between the two countries, starting with a gas pipeline project to ship Argentine gas to Brazil, a proposal which has recently discussed by both presidents.

Facing opposition and rebuilding democracy post-Bolsonaro

What many consider the most difficult issue President Lula will have to deal with is dealing with the polarised and extremist movement that opposes his government: the Bolsonaristas. This will be a serious challenge to Brazil’s democracy, accentuated by the indictment of former President Jair Bolsonaro in the investigation for the storming of the houses of government in Brasilia. The prospect of seeing Bolsonaro as responsible, or an instigator of the violence and anti-democratic action, could wreck confidence in the government, or be seen as an authoritarian move, involving the incarceration of the most relevant figure of opposition and Lula’s former election rival. Nevertheless, the fact that Bolsonaro did not concede after losing the election and then fled to the U.S. to avoid being prosecuted by Lula, added to his ideologically weaponised environment—bolstering the riot of Bolsonaristas in Brasilia—which could then point back the responsibility to the departing president. 

Likewise, Lula is only one of the democratically-elected presidents facing this kind of resistance from a far-right movement that sows distrust in electoral and democratic institutions, harassing their political rivals. As Moisés Naím writes for Politico, some might consider Bolsonaro’s actions to be part of a global contagion emanating from America, after Trump and the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021. But the links to Donald Trump and the American far-right do not end there, because other former advisors and allies to Donald Trump were directly involved with the Bolsonaristas. For example, Steve Bannon spread misinformation about the Brazilian election in his podcast, and eventually called rioters “freedom fighters” during the storming in Brasilia on January 8.

In conclusion, the coming months are going to be a very difficult time in office for President Lula’s new term. He carries the hope of the Brazilian people for progress and reduction of inequality, just as he did at the start of the century in his previous tenure. However, his figure was tainted with corruption, and these allegations will be hard to put aside. It will be worth keeping an eye on Brazilian politics this year to see how the Lula sets sail.

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