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Brazil’s Lula taps 16 ministers ahead of inauguration

RIO DE JANEIRO –


Brazil’s president-elect, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, appointed 16 ministers on Thursday, tapping two members of his party who oversaw states in Brazil’s northeast to run the country’s education and welfare systems.


Lula is set to take office in a little over a week and still has roughly a dozen nominations to make.


Camilo Santana, a former governor of the Ceara state, will preside over the education ministry. Meanwhile, Piaui’s former governor, Wellington Dias, will be Brazil’s social development minister. They have two of the largest ministerial budgets, with the latter overseeing the government’s massive welfare spending.


Lula’s health minister will be Nisia Trinidade, who throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has led the government’s Fiocruz health research institute, which also produces vaccines.


His administration’s transition team presented a report at Thursday’s event taking stock of the federal government and claiming that four years under President Jair Bolsonaro had produced significant setbacks in health and education. Lula has said those areas and fighting poverty will be his top priorities once he returns to the office he held from 2003 to 2010.


“I just want Brazilian society to know that the Brazil we found in December 2022, we received this government in a situation of penury — a situation in which the simplest things were done irresponsibly,” Lula said in televised statements from the capital, Brasilia.


“We’re not ashamed of saying we want political ministers,” he said. “What we want are efficient politicians who have the competence to do politics and put together a good government.”


In order to secure his narrow election win over Bolsonaro, Lula and his leftist Workers’ Party sought alliances with moderates and even former political foes. They include Vice President-elect Geraldo Alckmin, who challenged Lula when he ran for reelection in 2006. Other crucial allies on the campaign trail, however, have yet to be awarded positions, including former environment minister Marina Silva and Simone Tebet, who finished third in the presidential race’s first round before endorsing Lula.


“I think that certain figures who were involved in Lula’s election felt betrayed by these nominations,” said Guilherme Casares, a political science professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation university, referring especially to Tebet and Silva.


Casares said Lula has showed, until now, no sign that he will respect the “spirit of a broad front” and of “national conciliation” promised ahead of the second round, when he said he would bring together liberal forces and people with a different vision than that of the Workers’ Party he created decades ago.


Lula’s nominations on Thursday of six women to lead ministries — including the culture, racial equality, and science and technology posts — appeared aimed at addressing criticism that his prior Cabinet picks hadn’t included any women. He also named his first three Black ministers.


Lula announced Thursday that Alckmin will divide his time between vice-presidential duties and helming the ministry of development, industry and trade. That ministry previously formed part of Bolsonaro’s economy ministry, which Lula is reestablishing along with the planning and budget ministry and finance ministry. That explains only part of the prospective jump in ministerial positions under Lula, who is expected to have 37 ministers, up from 22 under Bolsonaro.


On Thursday, Lula assured attendees in Brasilia — as well as watchful market players eager for his government to show fiscal restraint — that a bigger Cabinet will not mean more spending and that ministers will have to tighten their belts. He has now named a total of 21 ministers.


Some of the positions to be announced next week are being painstakingly negotiated behind the scenes. Key remaining Cabinet posts include those of environment minister and agriculture minister — sensitive appointments for Congress’ powerful farm caucus and as a means to demonstrate a commitment to reverting runaway deforestation of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest under Bolsonaro.


Silva, who was Lula’s environment minister during most of his first two presidential terms, has been touted as a strong contender to return to the role. But she has also faced pushback on the grounds that she is too radical and her appointment could anger the agriculture industry.


Tebet’s future role has also been left until next week. She had expressed interest in the high-profile social development ministry that went to Dias.

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