Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known to the world as Lula, has been the President of Brazil for much of the 21st century. He has also been a union leader, prisoner, inspiration and figure of adoration for much of Brazil’s working class. Emerging from Northeastern Brazil’s industrial union politics, he controlled its premier Workers’ Party and led it to a sweeping victory in 2003.
He remained in office until 2010, massively expanding and creating new social programs, developing infrastructure, and lifting about 13% of Brazilians out of poverty and into the middle class. While he was criticized heavily for corruption and later imprisoned on those charges, his legacy of egalitarianism and reform seems to have outweighed these negative qualities in the minds of the Brazilian public.
Indeed, it stands in marked contrast with the current Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, who seems Lula’s opposite in almost every way. A retired military captain who served under Brazil’s brutal military junta, Bolsonaro is radically socially and fiscally conservative. He is also a proponent of Evangelical Christianity, a minority religion practiced mainly by the lower middle classes in a primarily Catholic nation. These were all factors Bolsonaro capitalized on to convince his country, rocked by corruption and violence, that he could use religious and authoritarian governance to mend Brazil. Bolsonaro’s presidency, however, has failed in this aim.
Sworn in at the beginning of 2019, Bolsonaro drastically cut development restrictions in Brazil’s most environmentally vulnerable regions. Unfortunately, these changes led to a massive acceleration of the deforestation of the Amazon. He also stripped Brazilian indigenous agencies of authority, which aided deforestation and which many have said is destructive of indigenous culture. As a result, by May of 2019, his approval ratings were negative.
Then COVID-19 hit. Along with the U.S.’s Donald Trump, Bolsonaro was one of the global leaders who neglected to respond appropriately to the disease. Instead, he downplayed COVID’s deadliness, saying it was no worse than the flu, and at one point, claiming he would not get vaccinated against it. This attitude was thrown into a somewhat questionable light when he was diagnosed and hospitalized with COVID, undergoing extensive and very public treatment. However, his approval improved slightly in August of 2020 before cratering in 2021.
There have been massive protests against Bolsonaro’s government this summer, beginning in June, and many members of Congress are calling for his resignation. The president’s polling numbers are well underwater, and many members of the Evangelical middle class who once supported him have seen family members die due to his reckless policies.
Meanwhile, Lula has been released from prison after his corruption charges were overturned. He has all but announced candidacy for the 2022 elections and is polling well over 10% above Bolonaro in recent opinion surveys. Brazil is currently the nation with the highest death rate from COVID-19. As Lula has taken up the leadership of the Worker’s Party once again, it has inspired the country to work towards a semblance of normalcy, if not a socialist utopia. Simply put, Lula is by every metric a better leader for Brazil, and many one-time Bolsonaro supporters have begun to realize it.
In a media landscape dominated by doom and negativity, as human rights and the natural world are under attack throughout the globe, the steep rise of a politician who, if not a magical corrective to Brazil’s issues, does respect these issues and attempts to work on them constructively, should be celebrated. While left-wing critics of the former president in Brazil claim his past controversies might tarnish his campaign, that is not borne out by polling. Furthermore, the massive quality-of-life increases under Lula’s presidency have brought about nostalgia in the nation. Previously, Brazil’s government, whose motto reads Ordem e Progresso (‘order and progress‘), focused on Progresso more than Ordem. As a result, society progressed.
A Brazil that cares for its population and environment is valuable on its terms. It will massively increase human welfare and prevent untold suffering. However, given the massive impact of the nation’s economy and environment on the rest of the world, the government must rejoin the international community.
The rest of the world recognizes the momentousness of this bondage. For better or worse, we are all bound together by the global issues we have created, and Lula da Silva is far more equipped to lead his nation and engage with the rest of the world in solving those issues.
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