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Brazil rings in the new year with a new president


Sunday ushers in a new year and, in Brazil, a new president, too. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will take the oath of office in an afternoon ceremony. The leftist president-elect narrowly beat the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, who had moved Brazil to the right. Lula was president once before in the early 2000s. And in an effort to prevent violence at the inauguration, the Supreme Court has ordered a four-day ban on firearms in the capital, Brasilia. Here's NPR's Carrie Kahn.


DIOGO NOGUEIRA: (Singing in Portuguese).

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The mood and tunes were upbeat as Rio de Janeiro's mayor Eduardo Paes hands out the millionth meal at a neighborhood samba school turned community kitchen.

EDUARDO PAES: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: "It's great that the poor can get food here," says Paes. "But how absurd it is to live in a country as wealthy as Brazil and people are still going hungry," he said. More than a third of Brazilians don't have enough money to buy food now, according to the government. Incoming President Lula says he will fix that and help the poor - a pledge he reiterated on election night.




KAHN: "Brazil is my cause, and fighting against poverty is what I will fight for until I die," he told supporters. That was a lot easier during his first two terms in office, when his government benefited from a worldwide commodity boom. Tens of millions of Brazilians rose from poverty then. Today Brazil's economy is struggling post-pandemic. Growth next year is projected at less than 1%. And politically, he's facing a hostile Congress filled with lawmakers like Sostenes Cavalcante.

SOSTENES CAVALCANTE: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: "I'm a right-wing conservative, and I have no desire to dialogue with the leftist Lula." Cavalcante was just reelected and is a leader in the now-powerful evangelical caucus - allies of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro's party, which now dominates in Congress. That is going to make it difficult for Lula to pass key legislation, especially his pledge to stop deforestation in the Amazon, which grew to record levels under Bolsonaro.


KAHN: In many port towns in and around the rainforest, like this one in Tefe, merchants saw a boost economically in the last few years. Under the right-wing president, regulations were relaxed, as well as environmental protection, says dockworker Raimundo Nonato da Silva.

RAIMUNDO NONATO DA SILVA: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: "I voted for Bolsonaro twice. He helped us a lot," says Nonato da Silva. He's worried business will go bust once Lula is sworn in this Sunday.


KAHN: But about four hours by boat at the major tributary from Tefe, fisherman Jose Evezangelo de Oliveira Silva is anxious for Lula to take power.


KAHN: "Lula always talks about preserving the Amazon," he says, "and we need it." He takes stock of his catch for the day as he says his community lost government support under Bolsonaro when he cut the Amazon fund, supported by rich nations. Lula has pledged to restart it. Sao Paulo-based political scientist Guilherme Casaroes says the world is much different than the last time Lula was president, especially with the U.S. and China, both key economic partners for Brazil.

GUILHERME CASAROES: Now Lula's got to navigate a completely different situation, where China and the United States are going head-to-head, and that has the potential of making Brazil's life pretty hard.

KAHN: Lula's inauguration team says it's expecting 19 heads of state at Sunday's ceremony. The U.S. delegation will be led by the interior secretary.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "OUTLIER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
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