(Update 1: complete rewrite with new details throughout, new headline, lede)
Brasilia, Jan 1 (EFE).- Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva began his third term as president of Brazil on Sunday with a huge ceremony full of symbolism, in which he reinforced his commitment to combating the enormous social inequalities that divide the country.
The 77-year-old leftist leader, who governed between 2003 and 2010, returned to the presidency after narrowly defeating the far-right Jair Bolsonaro, who has not acknowledged his defeat and two days ago flew to the United States to avoid having to pass Lula the presidential sash, as is tradition and protocol.
The inauguration had strong international support with delegations from 68 countries, including 20 heads of state or government, as well as significant popular support with nearly 300,000 people packing the center of the capital for one of the largest ceremonies in the history of Brazil.
Lula gave two speeches and focused both on his firm commitment to combat a range of inequalities that divide the population and “hold back” the country’s development, especially the huge gap between rich and poor, but also racial and gender inequality.
The president burst into tears when talking about families forced to rummage through the garbage to find food and, from the pulpit of the Planalto presidential palace, asked the crowd gathered in the Plaza de los Tres Poderes: “Help me!”
Lula took advantage of Bolsonaro’s absence to add symbolism to the formality of receiving the presidential sash, which illustrates the transfer of power. In the absence of his predecessor, he instead received it from a group of citizens exemplifying the diversity of Brazilian society.
With them, and his dog Resistencia, Lula climbed the ramp that leads from the street to the first floor of the Planalto Palace, a gesture also highly symbolic since presidents usually enter the palace alone, walking among two rows of soldiers from the regiment of the Independence Dragoons.
A large part of Lula’s speeches were based on criticism of Bolsonaro, without naming him, whom he accused of having led a “government of national destruction.”
In particular, he promised that those responsible for the seriousness of the pandemic in Brazil, where almost 695,000 people died from Covid-19, will not go unpunished, while the country was led by a “denialist government.”
He also described the damage inflicted by the Bolsonaro government on the economy, the environment, health and education sectors and, above all, the social fabric of Brazil, which emerged from the Oct. 30 elections divided like never before.
In fact, he chose the phrase “union and reconstruction” as the motto of his new government and a few hours after being sworn in, he took the first step to revoke Bolsonaro’s most controversial measures, signing his first 13 decrees.
Among others, he ordered the creation of a new registry of all weapons purchased by civilians in the last four years, taking advantage of the release of weapons promoted by Bolsonaro.
He also revoked a decree that allowed mineral exploitation on indigenous lands and reactivated the so-called Amazon Fund, set up with donations from Germany and Norway to contribute to the protection of the rainforest and which had been suspended by Bolsonaro in 2019.
Another of the promises that Lula made was to break the “diplomatic isolation” of the last four years under a president who only maintained fluid relations with countries governed by the extreme right.
It is a task that begins on the right foot given the large representation of authorities from 68 countries who attended the inauguration, including the king of Spain and leaders of Portugal, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Honduras.
The president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, Jorge Rodríguez, also attended, with whose country Lula announced that he would restore diplomatic relations as of Jan. 1, after Bolsonaro ended them four years ago.
In addition, former heads of state with whom Lula has friendships with attended, such as Uruguay’s José Mujica and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, who gave Lula a jacket similar to another that he gave him years ago and that the Brazilian leader wears frequently.
In his inauguration speech, Lula announced that Brazil is going to “retake integration” in Latin America to have “an active and proud dialogue” with the other regions of the world.
“We will resume integration from Mercosur, with the revitalization of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and other sovereign bodies” in Latin America, he declared before parliament.