Brazil’s public services face ‘very real threat of collapse’, says Lula

Public services in Brazil face a “very real threat of collapse” as a result of the mismanagement by the outgoing far-right government, and the incoming administration will have a “herculean task” in rebuilding damaged institutions, particularly in the fields of health, education and the environment, the country’s president-elect has said.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva beat the far-right incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, in a tightly fought election in October and is due to take power on 1 January.

In the weeks since Lula’s victory, his transition team have been evaluating the task ahead, and the leftist leader, who called Bolsonaro’s term “a tempest of fascism”, said they were shocked by what they have found.

“I don’t intend on making a big scandal about this; I just want Brazilian people to know the task that we are facing,” Lula said on Thursday. “After a four-year mandate, we find the government in penury, with the simplest things not being done … because the president preferred to tell lies to his bubble rather than govern this country.”

The transition report said: “The dismantling of the state and the disorganisation of public policies are deep and widespread, and have consequences in essential areas both in terms of people’s lives and the direction this country is going in. This has brought serious consequences for health, education, environmental preservation, job and income generation, and the fight against poverty and hunger, among other things.”

Lula’s vice-president and transition chief, Geraldo Alckmin, said education was particularly badly hit, with text books to be used next year still needing to be edited, the number of children in school down on previous years, and resources for essential services such as school dinners not sufficient to meet demand. University education was “almost in a state of collapse”, he added.

Health is another disaster area, particularly as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed almost 700,000 Brazilians.

Bolsonaro’s anti-vax stance did not resonate widely in Brazil, which has a record of widespread vaccinations, but budget cuts mean 50% of all children have not received their final polio booster.

About 95% of federal highways have no company maintaining them; almost no new houses are being built for the poorest sector of society, and bodies that oversee search and rescue after natural disasters have been starved of funds, he added.

In an attempt to balance out the grim assessment, Lula followed the announcement with a diverse list of new ministers, including Anielle Franco, the sister of Marielle Franco, the Socialism and Liberty party city councillor who was murdered in Rio de Janeiro.

Franco and her driver were ambushed and gunned down as they drove through the city centre in March 2018.

Two former police officers were arrested but have denied any involvement in her killing. Mafias made up of serving and former law enforcement officers are widely believed to have played a part.

Anielle Franco started the Marielle Franco Institute in 2020, with the aim of developing community projects and helping black, LGBTQ+ and people from disadvantaged backgrounds into leadership positions.

“In the name of my sister’s memory and of the more than 115 million black people in Brazil, who form the majority of the population and need a government that cares about their rights … I accept this mission with pride and responsibility,” Franco wrote on Twitter after her appointment.

She said the institute would carry on its work: “We need more of us in decision-making roles in society and we will continue to inspire, connect and boost black women, LGBTQIAP+ people and those from disadvantaged backgrounds to keep moving [existing] structures.”

Her nomination was one of 16 made on Thursday and brings to 21 the number of ministers appointed so far, including Alckmin, who was named minister for development, industry and commerce.

However, only six of the 21 were female, and there was still no place for two prominent women whose work was crucial in helping Lula overcome Bolsonaro in the 30 October runoff.

Marina Silva and Simone Tebet both put aside their political differences in order to help unseat the populist incumbent, with Silva a powerful voice for the environment, and Tebet, who finished third in the first-round ballot, campaigning forcefully for Lula in the second round.

Lula plans to have 37 ministries, up from the 22 his predecessor started out with four years ago.

This will include completely new ministries, including for Indigenous peoples and for innovation, and the return of others such as for fishing, sports and racial equality, which Bolsonaro amalgamated with others or abolished.

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