Rosângela Lula da Silva is on stage. In front of her a sea of people. Next to her is the new President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The two hug and give each other a deep kiss. The crowd cheers. The late-evening scene after Lula da Silva’s New Year’s Day inauguration hit social media hours later, posted by “Janja,” as everyone calls Brazil’s new “Primeira Dama.” She writes: “The ministers of love take office!”
Lula da Silva is 77 years old, Janja 56, the two have known each other since the 1990s. The studied sociologist, who joined Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party (PT) at a young age, took part in the so-called citizens’ caravans, where she met the former trade union leader and (still) unsuccessful presidential candidate. Years later, the paths of the two crossed again when Janja attended a football match between politicians and artists organized by the landless movement in 2017. Also in attendance was Lula da Silva, who had meanwhile become an icon of the South American left and was Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2011.
Lula da Silva had lost his second wife Dona Marisa in the same year, 2017. In 2018, half a year before the presidential elections, in which he would have stood with good chances, he was to lose even more: After being found guilty in a corruption trial and sentenced to several years in prison, Lula da Silva was arrested in April and in interned in a cell at the federal police headquarters in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba. What seemed like the inglorious end to Lula’s political career was to be the beginning of a rebirth – not only politically but also in terms of love.
At some point, the liaison could no longer be kept secret
A vigil of supporters formed in front of the prison in Curitiba. Right in the middle is Janja, who comes from the region and was also active in the regional branch of the Workers’ Party. Janja started visiting Lula da Silva in prison. She brought him food that she prepared herself. At one point she took his laundry to wash at her house. Lula da Silva showed his affection by having friends deliver flowers to Janja. This is how the love story of the two began. It is said they wrote 580 letters to each other – one for each day Lula da Silva spent in the cell. Looking back, the love for Janja was one of the factors that kept Lula’s hopes for a political future alive.
At some point, the liaison of the newly in love could no longer be kept secret. When an economist friend left prison after a visit, he dropped the bombshell: Lula da Silva was in love and his first plan after leaving prison was to get married. In fact, Lula da Silva was scheduled to leave prison that same year. The Supreme Court later declared the judge in the Lula trial biased and quashed the trials against him.
When Lula left prison on November 8, 2019, Janja was one of the first to hug him. Since then she hasn’t left his side. The wedding, however, took a while. The two only said yes last May, when Lula da Silva was already in the middle of the election campaign. The ceremony took place in front of 200 guests in São Paulo. Since then, Janja has borne the surname Lula da Silva.
The new president has brought many familiar faces into his cabinet, including many people who enjoy his full confidence. The “Primeira Dama” is the big novelty in his third presidency. She has already proven that Janja will not lead a shadowy existence in Brasília. She was responsible for coordinating the inauguration ceremony on New Year’s Day, which will go down in history as unprecedented. Since Lula da Silva’s predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, refused to present his successor with the presidential sash and had traveled to Florida early, the sash was presented by a group of ordinary people and thus “on behalf of the people”. The idea for this symbolic act came from Janja. At the subsequent reception of the heads of state, the first lady showed not only creativity, but also character and conviction when she refused to shake hands with the visiting Iranian vice president.
Not everyone likes the influence of the “newcomers”
In an interview before the inauguration, Janja had already announced that she would take an active role as First Lady, as she had done during the campaign and in the transition phase after the election. She is also said to have had a say in individual nominations. Not everyone around Lula da Silva and in the leadership of the Labor Party likes the prominent role of the “newcomers” and their influence on the president, especially when it comes to political decisions. The “Ministry of Love”, the origin and importance of which only Lula da Silva and Janja know, may have a more important place in the new government than many expected.