President Lula calls Bolsonaro’s COVID-19 actions ‘genocide’, to reinstate Bolsa Familia

Veteran leftist leader aims for zero deforestation in the Amazon; zero greenhouse gas emissions in electricity matrix  

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Monday 02 January 2023
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva waves to cheering crowds in Brasilia on January 1, 2023. Photo: @ricardostuckert via @LulaOficial / Twitter

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva January 1, 2023 took oath as Brazil’s president for a record third time, calling outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro’s actions during the COVID-19 pandemic as ‘genocide’.

The veteran leftist politician said he was inheriting a ruined country before vowing to rebuild it and serve the people regardless of differences.

Lula said:

The diagnosis we received from the Cabinet for the Transition of Government is appalling. They emptied health resources. They dismantled education, culture, science and technology. They destroyed the protection of the environment. They left no resources for school lunches, vaccinations, public safety, forest protection, social assistance.

He added that the previous government “disorganised the governance of the economy, public financing, support for companies, entrepreneurs and foreign trade”.

Lula said it was on “these terrible ruins” that he was committing with the Brazilian people, to rebuild the country.

“This commitment begins with the guarantee of a renewed, stronger and fairer Bolsa Família Program, to serve those most in need. Our first actions aim to rescue 33 million people from hunger and rescue from poverty more than 100 million Brazilian men and women, who have borne the hardest burden of the project of national destruction that ends today,” da Silva said.

Bolsa Família or ‘Family Allowance’, was a central part of Lula’s Fome Zero or ‘zero hunger’ campaign in his earlier stint as Brazil’s leader.

The scheme provided financial aid to poor Brazilian families. In order to be eligible, families had to ensure that children attended school and got vaccinated. It substantially contributed to Lula’s re-election in October 2006.

COVID-19 and Amazon

Lula defeated Bolsonaro in a closely fought election. The first round October 2, 2022 did not produce a clear winner. Lula won the runoff October 30. On December 30, Bolsonaro left for the US state of Florida and was not present during the inauguration ceremony January 1.

Lula said he did not carry “any spirit of revenge” but would “guarantee the rule of law”. But he used the harshest terms for describing Bolsonaro’s actions during the COVID-19 pandemic which ravaged Latin America’s biggest country.

“In no other country has the number of fatal victims been so high in proportion to the population as in Brazil, one of the countries best prepared to face health emergencies, thanks to the competence of our Unified Health System,” Lula said.

“This paradox can only be explained by the criminal attitude of a denialist, obscurantist and insensitive government to life. The responsibilities for this genocide must be investigated and must not go unpunished,” he added.

Da Silva also spoke at length about the Amazon and its indigenous peoples. The biome and its inhabitants have been the subject of grave concerns ever since Bolsonaro came to power in 2018.

The far-right president’s government was widely perceived to be supported by ranchers and agribusinesses, many of whom were accused of destroying the Amazon’s rainforests to make way for pastureland and fields.

“Our goal is to achieve zero deforestation in the Amazon and zero greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity matrix, in addition to encouraging the reuse of degraded pastures. Brazil does not need to deforest to maintain and expand its strategic agricultural frontier,” Lula said during his speech, promising to right the wrong done by his predecessor.

He also praised the indigenous peoples of Brazil, noting that no one knew the country’s forests better or was more capable of defending them than those who had been there since time immemorial.

“We will repeal all injustices committed against indigenous peoples,” da Silva added.

He promised to recompose education budgets, invest in more universities, in technical education, in universal access to the internet, in the expansion of day care centres and in full-time public education.

“This is the investment that will truly lead to the development of the country,” Lula said.

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