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Brazil's New President Pledges to Help Impoverished Citizens - 2003-01-01

In his first speech as president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said his top priorities will be fighting hunger, creating jobs, and uniting the countries of South America for common goals. Lula was sworn in Wednesday after being elected in a landslide vote in October.

The man known universally as Lula, a former metalworker and founder of Brazil's Workers Party held an inauguration suited to his image as a man of the people. Instead of the traditional black tie gala, Brazil's first elected leftist and his advisors planned a less formal occasion.

Thousands of supporters gathered in Brasilia to watch his swearing-in and to be entertained by an all-day music festival featuring some of Brazil's biggest entertainers.

At his swearing-in before the Brazilian Congress, Mr. da Silva said the outgoing government of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso brought economic stagnation, hunger and unemployment. He pledged to fight hunger through a new government program, and said job creation will be his "obsession" as president.

One essential aspect to this policy, he said, will be increasing Brazilian exports, and he strongly criticized developed countries for their trade barriers against Brazilian products.

"We will seek to eliminate the scandalous agricultural subsidies of developed countries, which hurt our producers, depriving them of their competitive advantages," he said.

And with Cuban President Fidel Castro, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde in the audience, Mr. da Silva said he will seek to build a stronger relationship among South American countries.

"The top foreign policy priority during my administration will be to build a South America that is politically stable, prosperous and united, based in democratic ideals and social justice," he said, adding that he will begin by trying to revitalize the Mercosur trade block, which disintegrated after Argentina's economy collapsed last December.

In his inaugural address, Mr. da Silva did not allude to the strongest economic challenges facing his government: rising inflation and $230 billion in debt. But he cautioned that it will take time for his administration to produce the desired results.