“It’s the best New Year ever,” shouts a woman in a red T-shirt. It is 9:30 a.m. on January 1 in Brasilia, where the inauguration ceremony for the country’s 39th president took place: 77-year-old Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, elected for the third time to lead the South American giant. The woman is among the 300,000 people who have arrived from all over Brazil to celebrate Lula’s inauguration, all of whom have been lined up since early morning, although the ceremony does not begin until after lunch.
The presidential motorcade departs from the Catedral Metropolitana, the edifice that won Oscar Niemeyer the Nobel Prize for architecture. A Rolls-Royce carries the president, his vice president Geraldo Alckmin and their wives. Security had recommended an armored car, to avoid any terrorism risks. “What’s needed is a J.F. Kennedy ceremony,” some Bolsonaristas had threatened online. But Lula was unwilling: the armored car would have been a sign of submitting to the devil of political terrorism.
The Rolls-Royce is crossing the immense spaces of this city founded in the late 1950s, on the futuristic design of the urbanist Costa. It moves slowly along the Esplanada, the gigantic axis along which the buildings of the ministries and the National Congress rise.
Here, in front of the parliamentarians, Lula lists his government’s priorities: the fight against hunger and inequality, to be waged through economic, industrial and social policies that will go beyond “the stupid teto de gastos,” the limit on public spending imposed in 2016. He promises unity and reconstruction, but without forgetting those who bear responsibility for the Bolsonaro government’s “genocide during the pandemic.” He concludes, accompanied by an ovation: “Never again dictatorship. Democracy always.”
After him, Rodrigo Pacheco, president of the Senate, a member of the Centrão, a catch-all parliamentary union, promises cooperation from “a progressive and reformist Parliament.” An elderly reporter listens to him puzzled, “What has he been drinking?”
Pacheco’s speech, an example of the boasting without substance in Brazilian politics, is music to the ears of Lula, who is, however, in the minority in Parliament.
The last stage in the Rolls leads to the Planalto Palace, which will be Lula’s office for the next four years. According to practice, the outgoing president is supposed to pass the green-golden sash to the incoming one. But Bolsonaro’s flight to Florida, away from judicial troubles and institutional obligations, gave Lula the opportunity to turn the ritual into a powerful message. He received the sash from a group composed of an elderly indigenous leader, a child, a worker, a teacher, a cook, and a person with cerebral palsy. Together, they represent “the people of Brazil,” they said.
Just before the diverse group makes its way down the ramp to the Palace, a moment before the military honors, a trumpet plays Anunciação, by Alceu Valença, intoned by the thousands of people in the Three Powers Plaza. At the top of the white marble ramp, Aline Souza, a sturdy, braided 33-year-old black woman, president of the garbage collectors’ cooperative, presents Lula with the sash. It is the peak of the ceremony, and applause follows.
Sweat, tears, relief and joy mingle under the Brasilia sun. Lula addresses the crowd, presenting his personnel choices for the ministries of racial equality, women and indigenous peoples, stating his intention to settle the country’s historic debts to these groups. He cries when he speaks of those who are suffering from hunger.
The time for foreign dignitaries is next, of whom they “haven’t seen this many since the 2016 Rio Olympics,” says a Workers’ Party (PT) leader with satisfaction.
Latin America is all there in Brasilia: presidents Gabriel Boric from Chile, Gustavo Petro from Colombia, and Alberto Fernández from Argentina. The United States is present with its Secretary of the Interior and China with its Vice President. From the old continent came the King of Spain, the President of the German Republic and the Prime Minister of Portugal. No members of the Italian government, however.
After the ceremony ends, the sedans speed toward the airport and Lula signs the first decrees, on the regulation of arms and the cancellation of the rules of state secrecy imposed by Bolsonaro.
The crowd stays for the celebration that continues into the night. On the giant stage of the Festival do Futuro, organized by Rosangela ‘Janja,’ Lula’s wife, more than sixty artists take turns. In the audience, there are people who have come from all over the country. People such as Natan, a teacher from Sergipe in the Northeast: “The end of Bolsonaro is a relief. There are appointments in the Lula government that I like, like the Minister of Culture (Baian singer Margareth Menezes, n.ed.) and Marina Silva at Environment. But we must not keep quiet about what we don’t like, we must be critical, otherwise Bolsonarism will return in other guises,” he concludes.
Red is the prevailing color: that of the flags of the PT and the social movements, the pillars of Lulism in society. But Brazilian flags, formerly appropriated by Bolsonarism, can also be seen again. A large red flag with hammer and sickle flies alongside a sign: “Jesus Bless Our President.” There are samba groups, Santos dockworkers, a group of Bahia artists in traditional white robes and turbans. The party goes on late into the night, even after the last bars close because they have already sold out all their stock. “The night Brasilia ran out of beer. I have the title for my piece tomorrow,” smiles an Argentine journalist.
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