Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been re-elected as the president of Brazil for another year. What happened to the great faith he inspired among many nationally and internationally?
Lula's environmental policy often resembles a tug-of-war between economic interests and climate protection. This was evident during his first two terms as president between 2003 and 2011. Yet he can also point to important successes: Illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest dropped significantly — by a third — in the first year of Lula's third term. However, Amazon's summit last August fell short of expectations.
Brazil is back on the world stage
A similar picture emerges in foreign policy: “Brazil is back on the world stage,” Lula declared at the UN General Assembly in September. “Lula is reshaping Brazilian foreign policy after years of international isolation under his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro,” said Roberto Goulart Menezes, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia.
Lula to diplomats
In terms of foreign policy, Lula seeks proximity to the United States, China and the European Union. He's going his own way: Lula rejected the West's request to support Ukraine in its war against Russia. Instead, he presented himself as a mediator — a member of the BRICS group, which also includes Russia and China.
But a major diplomatic breakthrough has yet to materialize. Whether it will take place at this year's G-20 summit, which Brazil is hosting, is questionable. Relations with our South American neighbors have also been frozen since right-wing populist Javier Mille became president in Argentina.
A polarized country and a difficult legacy
“In terms of domestic policy, Lula tried to reassert the credibility of the institutions,” says political scientist Menez. He refers to the attempted coup in Brazil on January 8, 2023 – a week after Lula took office. Dialogue with the opposition is also important as the country is still divided.
Storm in the Brazilian government district
On January 8, 2023, around 5,000 supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaros stormed the government district in the capital Brasília. They destroyed Brazil's presidential palace, parliament building and Supreme Court. After the coup attempt, around 1,400 people were arrested – most of whom were soon released. But some were convicted based on video evidence, witness statements and the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
“More than 20 people have now been sentenced to prison terms of up to 17 years for attempted coup and being a member of an armed criminal organization,” says South American journalist Teresa Delgado.
“It is certain that high-ranking military officials were involved in this coup attempt and that members of Bolsonaro's government cabinet knew about it in advance,” Delgado said. Brazil's highest court, the Supremo Tribunal Federal, oversees these trials.
With the tax reform relieving the burden on corporations and the change in the fiscal structure, the tax reform was able to celebrate important political victories, even though it was approved by only one chamber of parliament. Former President Jair Bolsonaro's supporters are still strong in parliament and pose a major challenge to Lula. Nevertheless, he managed to reform the “bolsa familia” – a social program for needy families.
“Until now, regardless of the number of children, all families received the same amount of money – children will now be taken into account more closely,” explains expert Menes. However, the government's room for maneuver is currently severely limited due to the balance of power – both in the national parliament and in the individual Brazilian states. That could change with this year's local elections.
Lula's first year in office had mixed results. Despite key legacy issues, Lula has achieved much, but there is still much to be done: climate protection, foreign policy and, in Brazil, political divisions still run deep.
Bolsonarianism is rampant
“According to a recently published poll, 28 to 30 percent of respondents still support Bolsonaro. Bolsonaros are a strong force in parliament. In individual states of Brazil, staunch Bolsonaros are firmly in the saddle as governors — for example, in the most populous states of São Paulo and Rio,” Delgado says.
Not all Bolsonaros are right-wing extremists, “but part of this movement, which stormed the government district a year ago — part is militant, violent and anti-democratic.”
“Wannabe pop culture fanatic. Zombie advocate. Entrepreneur. Internet evangelist. Alcohol fanatic. Typical travel buff.”