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From Prison to Power: Lula Da Silva's Remarkable Comeback to Brazil's Presidential Office

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a co-founder and member of the Brazilian Workers' Party, soon after winning his presidential bid in 2022, becoming the 39th president of Brazil.

As of January 1st, 2023, Lula da Silva has served Brazil as president, marking his second presidential administration in the country. The political landscape of Brazil, exemplified by the contrasting administrations of presidents Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, reflects a nation at a crossroads. Originating from a humble background and ascending to the presidency, the narrative of the life lived by Lula da Silva marked a transformative era characterized by social programs and international acclaim. Despite this, his legacy faced a setback due to corruption charges during his first term as president, beginning on January 1, 2003, and concluding on December 31, 2010. Nearly a decade later, Jair Bolsonaro was elected as the President of Brazil, serving from 2019 until the elections of 2022. Bolsonaro's right-wing leadership marked a departure from conservative evangelical Christian politics, influencing controversial policies and shaping discourse in Brazil and abroad. The charged political atmosphere during the 2022 presidential election intensified ideological divisions and controversies over ballot counting. As Lula returns to the presidency, Brazil stands at a pivotal moment, sparking a mix of hope and skepticism with public opinions divided. This political shift is certain to impact the lives of Brazilian citizens, reshape the country's foreign relations, and define its trajectory as a nation.

Who is Lula da Silva?

Born on October 27, 1945, in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva emerged from a family with limited social status and financial resources. Having grown up in poverty, Lula began working at a young age, which led to his early career as an industrial worker and resulted in the loss of a finger in an accident. Despite these challenges, Lula sought education and became a metalworker union leader, laying the foundation for his future in politics. His political journey started in the late 1970s, culminating in the co-founding of the Workers' Party (PT) of Brazil. Lula's ascension to the presidency in 2003 marked a significant turning point for Brazil.

During his two terms, he implemented social programs, including Bolsa Família, which combined the Bolsa Escola (school grants), Bolsa Alimentação (food grants), Cartão Alimentação (food stamps), and Auxílio Gás (gas aid) established under earlier administrations. These initiatives lifted millions out of poverty, earning him both domestic and international acclaim. However, his legacy faced a setback when he was convicted on corruption charges in 2017, leading to imprisonment. The initial reasoning for his imprisonment centered around allegations of corruption and money laundering in connection with the "Operation Car Wash" investigation—a major corruption investigation in Brazil initiated in 2014, targeting money laundering and bribery linked to the state-controlled oil company Petrobras. This investigation exposed extensive corruption among politicians and business figures, resulting in numerous arrests and significant political and economic ramifications.

Despite his release and the dismissal of some charges, the repercussions linger, shaping public perceptions as he secured his recent election. Today, Lula's return to the presidency stirs a combination of optimism and uncertainty, leaving the public divided on his ability to address Brazil's challenges and the potential impact of his past legal issues on effective governance.

The 2022 Presidential Election in Brazil

Navigating the political landscapes under Bolsonaro and Lula da Silva reveals a stark contrast in ideologies and policies. Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing figure, leaned towards conservative and nationalist principles, advocating for a smaller state, free-market policies, and a tough stance on crime. During his presidency, Bolsonaro was frequently compared to former U.S. President Donald Trump, earning the nickname "Tropical Trump" for his alignment with far-right political policies. This resemblance intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Brazil witnessed the highest number of global cases and deaths for a period, aggravated by insufficient vaccine distribution and relaxed lockdown and quarantine policies, which resulted from the implementation of such measures. This parallelism fueled widespread dissatisfaction not only among Brazilians but also internationally. In contrast, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a co-founder of the Brazilian Workers' Party, represents a more left-leaning approach, emphasizing social welfare programs, economic equality, and worker's rights. The political atmosphere during the presidential election period in Brasília and across Brazil was charged, reflecting the deep-rooted ideological divisions. Controversies over ballot counting added fuel to the already intense political climate, raising questions about the transparency and integrity of the electoral process.

Lula da Silva (left) in conversation with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (right) during the 2022 presidential debates in São Paulo.
Bolsonaro-Lula da Silva Political Landscapes

Exploring Brazil's political landscape shaped by Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva reveals a dynamic interplay of ideologies, policies, and public sentiment. Lula da Silva, leading with a progressive ideology, has a historical political allegiance to the working class and impoverished, reflecting his roots growing up in Brazil's lower class and his role as a labor union leader. In contrast, Bolsonaro gained support from conservative groups and business interests. Their divergent political paths are further underscored by their affiliations with different political parties: Bolsonaro with the conservative Social Liberal Party (PSL) and Lula with the left-leaning Workers' Party (PT). While Bolsonaro prioritized conservative values, emphasizing economic liberalization, national security, and law-and-order policies to reduce the size of the state, Lula da Silva now emphasizes social justice, inclusive economic development, and strengthening the role of the state in addressing societal inequalities.

The Bolsonaro administration was marked by a tough stance on crime, shifts in environmental policies (leading to negative impacts on forest loss in the Amazon rainforest), and a departure from traditional Brazilian diplomacy. Under the current presidency of Lula da Silva, there is anticipation for the re-implementation of extensive social welfare programs and further poverty alleviation, reminiscent of his early presidency. Significant shifts in governance, such as Bolsonaro's approach to environmental conservation and Lula's emphasis on social programs, reflect the evolving dynamics shaping public sentiment and political discourse in Brazil. Recognizing the nuanced perspectives derived from both politicians' party affiliations and contrasting priorities provides insight into their respective goals and motives as leaders of Brazil.

Comparing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon during Lula da Silva's first presidency and Bolsonaro's administration.
Bolsonaro's Role in Amazon Deforestation

The Amazon deforestation crisis under the Bolsonaro administration holds significant importance, reflecting the intersection of environmental conservation, national development, and international concerns. Bolsonaro's policies have faced criticism for prioritizing economic interests over environmental preservation. The Amazon rainforest, often referred to as the "lungs of the Earth," has witnessed increased deforestation due to practices such as logging, agriculture, and mining. Bolsonaro's administration has been accused of relaxing environmental regulations, contributing to the surge in deforestation rates. An increase in deforestation during the previous presidential administration was perceived as an economic asset for Brazil's developing economy and rapid urban development, resulting in the irreversible destruction of millions of acres of tropical rainforest. This negative change in tropical rainforest loss had far-reaching consequences, such as the infringement upon land rights of indigenous communities, their forced assimilation into urban life, and the detrimental impacts on indigenous identity, culture, language, and their ancestral homeland.

An indigenous man observes the results of logging in Brazil’s northern Pará state.

Federal laws and policies play a crucial role in shaping the fate of the Amazon. Under Bolsonaro, there has been a notable relaxation of regulations, allowing for increased exploitation of the rainforest for economic gains. The role of government policies in either supporting or mitigating deforestation has become a focal point of national and international debates.

National and international reactions to Brazil's environmental policies have been mixed. Domestically, the policies have gained support from industries seeking economic expansion but have faced criticism from environmentalists and indigenous communities. Internationally, concerns about the impact on climate change and biodiversity loss have led to diplomatic tensions. Calls for increased protection of the Amazon and threats of economic sanctions from international actors highlight the global significance of the issue.

In examining the Amazon deforestation under Bolsonaro, it becomes clear that the environmental policies adopted have wide-ranging implications, not only for Brazil but for the entire planet. The delicate balance between economic development and environmental sustainability remains a critical challenge that requires careful consideration and international collaboration.

Shifting Away from Conservative Evangelical Christian Politics

The political landscape in Brazil has undergone notable changes, particularly in the departure from conservative evangelical Christian politics under the leadership of Jair Bolsonaro. Historically aligned with conservative values, Bolsonaro's presidency has witnessed a distinct shift away from the overt influence of conservative evangelical Christian principles. This transition is evident in specific policy changes and shifts in rhetoric that reflect a more secular approach to governance. Although previously aligned with conservative Christian groups, Bolsonaro has prioritized economic liberalization, national security, and anti-corruption measures, distancing himself from a singular focus on moral and social issues championed by conservative evangelical groups. Policy changes, including economic reforms and security measures, illustrate a departure from the traditionally emphasized conservative Christian agenda. The rhetoric surrounding these policies underscores a broader shift towards a more diverse and inclusive governance approach, reflecting the changing dynamics within Brazil's political landscape. This departure signals a nuanced evolution in the nation's political identity, moving beyond the confines of conservative evangelical Christian politics under Bolsonaro's administration as Lula da Silva makes away as Brazil's most recently elected president.

People attend a protest over Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro's defeat in the presidential run-off election, in Anapolis, Goias state, Brazil.
Consequences for Brazilians

The political shift in Brazil, marked by the transition from Bolsonaro to Lula da Silva, holds profound implications for the daily lives of its citizens. Under Bolsonaro's administration, economic policies were characterized by a commitment to free-market principles, aiming to stimulate economic growth. Nevertheless, this approach often resulted in the neglect of social programs, giving rise to economic disparities and posing challenges for vulnerable populations, especially those not acknowledged as part of the protected social class or elite. With Lula da Silva's return, there is an expected shift towards a more comprehensive economic approach, picking back up from his previous presidency, emphasizing social welfare programs, and aiming to tackle income inequality. This change is expected to have direct impacts on the Brazilian population, particularly those in lower socio-economic strata, as they may benefit from increased access to education, healthcare, and other social services. Additionally, the cultural dynamics of the nation may experience shifts, as policies under Lula could emphasize a more inclusive and diverse approach. By exploring the intricate interplay between economic policies, social programs, and cultural dynamics, a comprehensive understanding of the implications for the Brazilian population emerges, highlighting both challenges and opportunities in the evolving political landscape.

Lula da Silva with U.S. President Biden at the White House in Washington, D.C., during his first visit as the 39th President.
Impact on Foreign Relations

The change in presidency from Bolsonaro to Lula da Silva also has significant implications for Brazil's foreign relations, reshaping the nation's global stance. Under Bolsonaro, Brazil pursued a more conservative and nationalist foreign policy, often aligning with like-minded leaders internationally. This approach was marked by a shift away from multilateralism and a strong emphasis on bilateral relations, particularly with the Trump administration in the United States.

In the context of the BRICS intergovernmental organization, Brazil, along with Russia, India, China, and South Africa, forms a crucial bloc that plays a pivotal role in shaping global economic policies. The dynamics within BRICS and Brazil's leadership transitions contribute to the evolving landscape of foreign relations. With Lula da Silva's return, there is an expected realignment in Brazil's foreign policy, with a potential reemphasis on multilateral cooperation and a return to a more balanced diplomatic approach.

Key diplomatic engagements and alliances may witness adjustments as Brazil seeks to strengthen ties with a diverse range of nations. The diplomatic landscape could evolve with a renewed focus on partnerships in South America, Africa, and other regions. Conversely, potential conflicts might arise if policy differences surface, particularly regarding environmental issues and global governance. By examining the shifts in Brazil's foreign relations, one can discern the nuanced complexities and opportunities that the new presidency brings to the nation's engagement with the global community.

The National Congress building of Brazil located in the capital city of Brasília.
Consequences for the Future of Brazil

Speculating on the long-term effects of the political transition from Bolsonaro to Lula da Silva opens a window into Brazil's future trajectory. Lula's return brings expectations of a shift towards more inclusive economic policies, potentially fostering social development and improvements in economic equality, as well as providing access to new opportunities for income and social welfare. There is also an urgency to develop and reconstruct environmental policies. His past emphasis on social welfare programs may continue contributing to an improved quality of life for many Brazilians in the near future. However, challenges may arise, including questions about the sustainability of such programs and their impact on fiscal responsibility. The economic trajectory could see a more balanced approach, combining market-friendly policies with an increased focus on social and environmental considerations.

In terms of political stability, Lula's leadership may offer a more peacemaking approach, seeking to bridge ideological divides. However, this may also lead to debates and negotiations, potentially impacting short-term political stability. The country's global image might experience a positive shift, aligning more closely with multilateral organizations and international cooperation. Furthermore, these potential positive effects should be weighed against the challenges of implementing comprehensive reforms and managing competing interests. For economic growth and political stability to further evolve, it will depend on the effectiveness of governance, the ability to address structural issues, and the resilience of institutions. Navigating these complexities will be critical in determining the lasting impact of these political changes on Brazil's future.


In reflecting on the intricate political landscape and the shifts from Bolsonaro to Lula da Silva, it becomes evident that Brazil's trajectory is poised for significant change. Lula's return marks a potential shift towards more inclusive economic policies and a return to multilateral diplomacy. The departure from conservative evangelical Christian politics under Bolsonaro signals a nuanced evolution in Brazil's identity, while the implications for the Brazilian population speak to the delicate balance between economic progress and social equality. Foreign relations may recalibrate, presenting opportunities and challenges in a globalized world. As we ponder the future, the complex interplay of economic growth, political stability, and environmental conservation emerges, demanding thoughtful governance and international collaboration to navigate the intricacies of Brazil's evolving political landscape.


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