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Brazil plans 'Lulapalooza' as Luis Inácio Lula da Silva is sworn in as president

EMILY FENG, HOST:

We turn now to Brazil, where New Year's Day is also inauguration day. This afternoon, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva takes the presidential oath of office. It will be the third nonconsecutive term for the 77-year-old leftist who narrowly beat the far-right incumbent in October. Hundreds of thousands of people are gathering in the capital, Brasilia, and security is tight. We're joined now by NPR South American correspondent Carrie Kahn. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning, Emily.

FENG: So this has just been a wild ride for Lula, Carrie, because three years ago, he was sitting in prison. And today, he's being sworn in again as president. So what's the mood like in the capital?

KAHN: Well, the incoming administration is putting on quite a party. They are ready to party on. They're calling this Lulapalooza. Along with the inauguration, there's a huge concert with some of Brazil's most famous musicians. And as you said, hundreds of thousands are taking over this usually quiet capital.

FENG: And you - I mentioned that security is really tight. What's that looking like in the capital today?

KAHN: It is. It - security is tight. Brazil is very polarized right now. The ousted incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, is an ultra-right nationalist, and Lula is ushering in a major political shift in the country. Bolsonaro never conceded defeat. And his followers have been defiantly camping out since last October's election in front of army barracks around the country. They want the armed forces to intervene and overturn the election. And on Christmas Eve, one of them was actually arrested in an alleged bombing attempt. So according to police, he wanted to sow chaos ahead of the inauguration, so security is tight right now.

FENG: So as I'm listening to you describe all this, I, of course, have to think of the violence in our own capital on January 6, 2021. Are there concerns of similar violence today in Brazil at the inauguration there?

KAHN: There is. But officials, including Lula himself, are really trying to downplay that threat. They have a lot of police here from all over the state. The head of the electoral court even banned all guns, even for registered owners, in the capital through Monday.

FENG: And you just mentioned Jair Bolsonaro. What about him? What has he said about the inauguration?

KAHN: Well, since losing, he's made very few public statements. He's actually left the country. On Friday, he flew to Florida in a presidential plane. He will not be on hand to pass the ceremonial presidential sash to Lula. That is the tradition here. But before leaving, Bolsonaro took to social media. He defended his legacy. He denounced violence. But he urged his supporters to keep up the fight against Lula.

FENG: Does this mean that Bolsonaro never officially conceded defeat? Has he congratulated Lula?

KAHN: No, he did neither, and he continues to falsely say the election was stolen. His supporters believe that, and they too vow to fight on. Bolsonaro's party did very well in Congress, though, and will be the largest voting bloc. And despite leaving the country, Bolsonaro says he will continue pushing for his right-wing policies. However, he could face criminal investigation, so it's unclear when he is actually going to return to Brazil.

FENG: That's interesting. So it sounds like Lula is still going to have a strong and pretty vocal opposition for the next four years, right? What other challenges is he facing?

KAHN: Yes, he has a lot of challenges, especially with such a large opposition to him in Congress. He's also pledged to stop Amazon deforestation, and that's going to be a major challenge. Over the last four years, Bolsonaro decimated enforcement and protection. Lula also pledges to put the poor first, as he did during his first two terms back in the 2000s. But Brazil is facing a much different and more challenging economic situation than it did back then, so that's going to be a major challenge for him.

FENG: That's NPR South American correspondent Carrie Kahn. Happy New Year's, and thanks for joining us.

KAHN: Happy New Year to you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.
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.