GP Short Notes # 672, 16 April 2023
Lula's first 100 days in Brazil: Inheriting an economically-weak country, returning to the global stage, and reversing the Amazon policies
On 10 April, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva marked the first 100 days of his administration after he was sworn in as President in January for the third term.
On 12 April, Lula arrived in Beijing; he said: "Brazil is back...The time when Brazil was absent from major world decisions is in the past. We are back on the international stage, after an inexplicable absence." Lula criticized using the US dollar for international trade and said: "Why should every country have to be tied to the dollar for trade?... Who decided the dollar would be the (world's) currency?"
On 14 April, the Supreme Court ordered former right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro to testify on his role in his supporters storming government buildings on 8 January, within ten days. BBC quoted the prosecutors who called for a "full investigation of all acts before and after."
What is the background?
First, Lula's election promises and previous presidential victories. Lula narrowly won in October 2022 with 50.9 per cent votes against the 49.1 per cent secured by Bolsonaro. His election promises included tax reforms and increasing minimum wages, eradicating hunger, affordable housing, fair international trade, halting Amazon deforestation, and promoting the rights of indigenous communities. Lula, one of the founders of his Workers' Party, won his presidential bid in 2002 and retained his position until 2010. During his previous tenures, Lula oversaw the economic growth of Brazil and the upliftment of millions from poverty through massive welfare schemes focused on housing, education and nutrition. His presidency also focused on the conservation of the Amazon, unlike his successor from his own party Dilma Roussef and later Bolsonaro.
Second, a polarised Brazil. A week after Lula was sworn-in in January 2023, Bolsonaro supporters stormed the Congress, Supreme Court and the Presidential Palace. Bolsonaro then drew parallels with previous leftist protests and said the protesters escaped at the time. He tweeted: "...depredations and invasions of public buildings as occurred today, as well as those practised by the left in 2013 and 2017, escape the rule." The incident reflected the polarised Brazilian polity. Earlier, Bolsonaro also questioned the transparency of Lula's victory in the elections.
Third, Brazil's economic challenges. With his third win, Lula inherited a country that was struggling economically. According to a news report in Al Jazeera in January, Brazil was witnessing inflation at 16 per cent, and the GDP-to-debt ratio was close to 90 per cent. Since 2020, amid the government's haphazard management of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brazil witnessed the return of hunger, wherein at least 33.1 Brazilians faced hunger. To address this, Lula restored the National Council for Food and Nutritional Security, which Bolsonaro had abolished.
Fourth, focus on the environment and indigenous communities. Under the Bolsonaro administration, deforestation in the Amazon, particularly in territories of the indigenous communities, rose manifold. According to the Climate Observatory, deforestation had increaed over 60 per cent since Bolsonaro took over in 2019. Illegal gold mining also rose during the period. Lula promised to restore Amazon's lost green cover and protect the rights of the indigenous community; in February, Lula launched an operation to drive out at least 20,000 illegal miners from the Yanomami reserve. However, at the same time, deforestation in February hit a record high with a 62 per cent increase from February 2022.
What does it mean?
In the first hundred days of Lula's third term, Brazil is witnessing a reversal of predecessor Bolsonaro's approach, whether on the economic, environmental, social or foreign policy front. Lula's decisions stem from his previous two administrations from two decades ago though Brazil and the international environment have changed drastically. Under Bolsonaro, Brazil witnessed increasing animosity at the global stage; Lula's visit to the US in February and now China indicates an effort to re-engage with external powers, while also standing his ground regarding Brazil's economic prowess.
While there are certain hits, such as the commitment to address deforestation and mining, there are misses, including a growing politically polarised Brazil. Though Lula may have returned with all his charisma, Bolsonaro still wields influence over a large section of Brazilians. While it is too early to assess the impact of Lula's policies, it is certain that the way ahead is also filled with roadblocks.