Brazil judge Joaquim Barbosa took the oath of office as Brazil's first ever Afro descendant head of the Federal Supreme Tribunal (Supreme Court) on Thursday, in a historic ceremony attended by President Dilma Rousseff and other top leaders.
The son of a bricklayer and a cleaner Barbosa, 58, pledged in his swearing in to fulfil the duties of the office of the President of the Federal Supreme Court and the National Council of Justice under the law.
Barbosa's elevation to the top judicial post in Brazil, the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888, has been heralded as a breakthrough. Despite constituting a majority of the population (52%), Afro-Brazilians languish at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. Only 2.2% of Afro descendants make it to university.
Barbosa shot to fame as the court's most vocal critic of a congressional vote-buying scheme laid bare in an ongoing trial -- dubbed Mensalao or big monthly payments -- of former president Lula da Silva's top aides.
The scandal nearly cost Lula re-election in 2006, but the 66-year-old founder and leader of the leftist Workers' Party was cleared.
The former president also originally nominated Barbosa to join the top court nine years ago. But it was his performance in a so-called trial of the century secured his reputation as an implacable fighter against corruption.
Barbosa, who earned a PhD in public law at the French Sorbonne University, replaced Carlos Ayres Britto, who retired at age 70. He is fluent in French, German, Italian and English.
“I must honestly declare that there is a great deficit of justice in our country. Not all Brazilians are treated with the same consideration before the courts. What we see here is privileged treatment” said Magistrate Barbosa in his brief speech.
“The criminal courts in Brazil penalize and much…but mainly blacks, the poor and overall the minorities” regretted Barbosa in a recent interview.
Barbosa was born in a small village in Minas Gerais to a very humble home: his mother was a maid and his father manual worker. However he moved to Brasilia to study working as a cleaner in the courts and later in a printing shop. Finally he made it to the best universities only reserved for the rich in Brazil.