The first 100 days of government usually offer an opportunity to draw up a first balance sheet, and the first few steps of Lula’s presidency can be described as halfway positive.
Its first task, and perhaps the most difficult, was also the most successful: the prudent but firm response against the attempted coup on January 8. Without major tremors and avoiding dangerous rifts, Lula initiated the much-awaited process of depoliticizing the armed forces: three months after that anti-democratic assault, the government is now ready to present a proposed constitutional amendment (PEC) that would prevent active-duty military from participating in elections and from taking government positions. If they want to go into politics, they will first have to leave the armed forces.
However, the so-called “anti-coup PEC” will need more time – the project, supported by a wing of the PT but opposed by the military, to revise Article 142 of the Constitution to put an end to Garantia da Lei and da Ordem (Guarantee of Law and Order), the procedure through which the president can invoke the armed forces to preserve public order in the event of a threat.
While on the international front Lula was quick to bring back the independent and sovereign foreign policy that had been one of the hallmarks of PT governments, the government wasted no time in the social sphere either. With the elimination of the cap on spending on public services introduced by the coup perpetrator Michel Temer, thanks to which some 200 billion reais in investments were guaranteed already in the first year of government, the plan to rebuild what had been dismantled by the Bolsonaro administration got off to a speedy start: from the social housing program Minha Casa Minha Vida, the Mais Médicos project, the celebrated anti-poverty program Bolsa Família (with financial aid of 600 reais, plus an additional 150 reais for each child under 7 years old), among many others.
Regarding the indigenous peoples, the most hard-hitting action has undoubtedly been the offensive to rid the Yanomami reserve of the presence of the garimpeiros, illegal miners, and rescuing adults and children reduced to near-starvation. But much more is expected, both with regard to the process of demarcation of indigenous areas (none has been announced at this point) and settlements for land reform. In particular, the Landless Movement is making noise, complaining about delays in the restructuring of INCRA (the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform) and urging the final settlement of 65,000 families still in camps.
As for the fight against deforestation, the changes already introduced, such as increased fines, have not yet translated into improved numbers: on the contrary, the first quarter of Lula’s government has seen an increase in deforestation in both the Amazon and the Cerrado.
And the crucial field of the economy is where the greatest uncertainties lie. Prior to his departure for China, Lula withdrew ten state-owned enterprises from the privatization program and announced investments by Petrobras in research related to renewable energy. But regarding the general economic direction, Lula’s goal of reconciling control of public accounts with investment in the social sphere is now far more difficult than it was in his earlier years in office. Or, to put it another way, the pact with the ruling class required to accomplish that task appears much harder to swallow – and more dangerous – than it did back then. All the more so in the face of the sabotage carried out by ultra-liberal Central Bank President Roberto Campos Neto, a Bolsonaro loyalist committed to maintaining the very high interest rates currently in place, despite their deleterious effect on investment.
But Lula is in a hurry. He knows that each additional day of economic stagnation, with the press magnifying his every misstep, is eroding the credit he still enjoys. And his age may not give him another chance to revive his former achievements.
Gone are the days when opposing Lula was “like questioning the law of gravity,” according to an expression used by Raúl Zibechi in 2010: back then his popularity was over 80 percent, but today it’s half that number. And the far right is still able to count on the support of a third of the population.
Even back then, his governments were coalition governments; today, his broad but fragile governing base – which includes right-wing forces – is proving less amenable to his legendary mediation skills, a clear obstacle in the face of much-needed transformations. And there is the additional impediment of the Bolsonarist Arthur Lira holding the presidency of the House of Representatives.