Lula attacks Jair Bolsonaro as he’s sworn in as Brazil president: ‘This nightmare is over’

Collage of Lula and Bolsonaro in front of the Brazil flag

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva claimed the “nightmare is over” as he was sworn in as Brazil’s president in an obvious jab at his right-wing predecessor and “proud homophobe” Jair Bolsonaro.

The left-wing president, known as Lula, addressed a crowd of supporters in Brasília after being sworn in on Sunday (1 January), vowing to usher in environmental policies and social justice bills after “one of the worst periods in Brazilian history”. 

The veteran politician, who was president from 2003 to 2010, did not name Bolsonaro, but added: “[It was] an era of darkness, uncertainty, and great suffering… but this nightmare is over.

“It is in nobody’s interest for our country to be in a constant state of ferment.

“There aren’t two Brazils. We are one single people.”

Lula, 77, broke down in tears when he spoke of poverty as the “gravest crime committed against the Brazilian people”.

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“Women are rummaging through the rubbish to feed their children… Entire families are sleeping out in the open, exposed to the cold, rain and fear.” 

Addressing congress after his swearing-in ceremony, Lula described the previous government’s comments on COVID-19 – Bolsonaro described masks as “gay” and refused to wear them – as “criminal behaviour of a denialist and obscurantist government that treated people’s lives with callousness”. 

After his narrow defeat in October’s election, Bolsonaro – the first president since the 1990s to fail to win a second term – reportedly refused to hand his presidential sash to Lula, as is democratic tradition. 

International human rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the president to reverse Bolsonaro’s “harmful policies” and to take Brazil forwards on human rights, especially for those from marginalised communities.

Juanita Goebertus, Americas director at HRW, said: “Bolsonaro was a disaster for human rights, both at home and abroad.

“Lula should start working on a plan to reverse president Bolsonaro’s harmful policies in the areas of public security, the environment, and women’s, LGBT, and Indigenous rights, among others, and start carrying out that plan as soon as he takes office on 1 January 2023.”

HRW specifically called on Lula to make abortion more accessible after Bolsonaro dismantled abortion rights during his term, as well as curb police killings. 

“Lula should place human rights at the centre of his policies at home and abroad, and defend the rights of all, without discrimination,” added Goebertus. “That would be a sea change from the Bolsonaro administration.”