A new era under Lula?
The election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva last month has been celebrated across Brazil, and the world.
It was one of the most violent elections in Brazil’s recent history, with cases of politically motivated attacks against candidates, officials, government workers up 23 per cent since 2020, according to the Observatory of Political and Electoral Violence. There were several cases of intimidation, threats and even killings of ordinary citizens.
After the results came in supporters of the defeated candidate, outgoing president Jair Bolsonaro, blocked hundreds of roads across the country and surrounded army bases to demand a military coup. But in the favelas, in the Amazon, in the poorest neighbourhoods of the country, social justice activists are anticipating a new era. ‘I think the main thing is the respect and defence of religious freedom,’ says Rennan Leta, a journalist and social media influencer from the Alto da Boa Vista favela in northern Rio de Janeiro.
Under Bolsonaro, Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomblé or Umbanda were harshly persecuted. The president did not hide his preference for conservative and evangelical Christianity. Not that the targeting of Afro-Brazilian places of worship is new, but religious leaders and their flocks clearly noticed a change in the mood of the country after Bolsonaro was elected. ‘Brazil has many episodes of violence against Afro-Brazilian religions,’ adds Leta.
However, in recent years, this discourse was endorsed by the person who occupied the main political office in the country. Seeing that now we will have a president who has an excellent relationship with all religions, who has a discourse of respect and equality, comforts me. I don’t think that aggressions in society will end, but they are likely to decrease and, for sure, will no longer be encouraged.’
Joy and expectation
When it comes to the environment and climate change – another area of great importance, not only for Brazil but also the wider world – the election result has been greeted with joy and expectation. But there is a feeling of caution too. Deforestation of the Amazon increased under Bolsanaro, with area almost as large as Greater London lost in September this year alone. However, Lula’s previous presidency (2003-2011), and particularly that of his successor, Dilma Rousseff, were not exactly ‘green’ – the disastrous construction of the Belo Monte dam, which was completed in 2019, is testament to that.
‘The majority of Brazilian society has spoken out against the deforestation of the Amazon, the violation of Indigenous rights, so I think Lula has to take advantage of this position and bring society’s clamour to this cause,’ says Caetano Scannavino, who co-ordinates the NGO Projeto Saúde & Alegria (Project Health and Joy) in the Amazon region.
He admits that ‘this is a challenge,’ but hopes Lula can ‘place the environment as a state policy regardless of ideologies, bringing in the agribusiness sector’s most responsible personnel to the negotiating table to adopt more sustainable practices.’
Scannavino, Leta and others hope that Lula will be able to mobilize the population in favour of social and environmental agendas, just as he himself is a vocal supporter of these causes.