Brazil: Lula da Silva back for battle

After 19 months in prison, former President Lula is free and determined to take on Jair Bolsonaro and his government.

Published : Nov 28, 2019 07:00 IST

Lula with supporters in Sao Paulo on November 9.

Lula with supporters in Sao Paulo on November 9.

Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva walked out of prison a free man on November 8 after having been locked up for more than 19 months on trumped-up charges of corruption. He had been sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The former President and left-wing icon, who was greeted by a boisterous crowd waving “Free Lula” banners, raised a defiant clenched fist and said: “You have no idea how much it means to me to be with you all. I have spoken to the Brazilian people my entire life and I have never imagined that one day I will be speaking to the men and women who shouted ‘Good morning Lula’, ‘Good evening Lula’ for 580 days. It could be raining, be 100 degrees or freezing. Every single day you were the living force of democracy that I needed.”

A “Free Lula Vigil” camp was in place since his incarceration in Curitiba in southern Brazil. During the 580 days he was imprisoned, activists and supporters who had assembled in the camp greeted Lula, who was within earshot, three times every day without fail.

Lula also said that the order of release issued by the higher judiciary had exposed the machinations of the police and a bunch of prosecutors to implicate him on fake corruption charges.

“They did not lock up a man, they tried to lock up an idea. But an idea can’t be destroyed,” he said.

He accused the “rotten” police, prosecutors and investigating judges of working in tandem “to criminalise the Left”. However, he emphasised that he was leaving the prison gates “without hate”, saying that at the age of 74 he had room for only love in his heart. “The only fear that I have is to lie to working people. All I have is thanks to my mother, who was born and died illiterate,” an emotionally charged Lula declared.

Lula has indicated that he will be plunging into the political fray without any delay. He said that he was leaving prison “feeling braver” and ready to fight for the Brazilian people, pledging that he would not allow the right-wing government of Jair Bolsonaro “to hand over the country” to foreign powers.

He also said he was shocked at the changes that had happened in the country since he was put behind bars, making special mention of the dilution of the rights of the working class and the freezing of the minimum wage.

“The people are starving, they are struggling more, they are driving with Uber, riding bikes to deliver pizza, working in the most disrespectful conditions,” said Lula as he prepared to tour the country to rally opposition to the neoliberal and revanchist policies of the far-right Bolsonaro government. Nearly 13 million people are unemployed. The homicide rate in Brazil today is among the highest in the world.

A judge ordered Lula’s release after Brazil’s Supreme Court overturned his conviction. The court, in a 6:5 ruling, allowed defendants to remain free while their appeals are pending. Two political parties along with the country’s Bar Association had moved the Supreme Court on the issue, pointing out that Brazil’s Constitution gave defendants the right to remain free as long as their appeals were pending.

The Supreme Court had denied Lula this right in 2017 after he was charged with money laundering and corruption. The prosecution had provided no substantive evidence to back up these charges.


After a constitutional coup that ousted President Dilma Rousseff in 2016, the right-wing establishment with the help of influential sections of the media orchestrated a witch-hunt against the leaders of the Workers’ Party (PT) in the name of “Operation Car Wash”. It was headed by Sergio Moro, an investigating judge.

After the victory of Bolsonaro in the presidential election earlier in the year, Moro was appointed as Justice Minister.

An investigative report by the Intercept website run by Glenn Greenwald revealed that Moro was not running an impartial investigation and that the sole aim of “Operation Car Wash” was to falsely implicate Lula and others in an unproven corruption scandal.

Moro was caught on tape ordering illegal wiretaps and pressuring other prosecutors to press charges against Lula. Moro himself was personally responsible for sentencing Lula to a nine-and-a-half-year prison term on very flimsy legal grounds. “I doubt that Jair Bolsonaro and Sergio Moro can sleep with a calm conscience as I do. And I want to tell them that I am back,” Lula said after his release.

The goal of the establishment in 2017 was to stop Lula from running for President and parachute the former army paratrooper Bolsonaro into the position. When Lula announced his candidature, opinion polls at the time predicted a landslide victory for him. Lula had left office with an approval rating of 87 per cent.

“Moro is not a judge but a villain,” Lula said after his release from prison. The Justice Minister said he welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision but added ominously that “it could be altered by the Congress” to allow the jailing of convicted criminals after their first appeal.

The appointment of Moro as Justice Minister by Bolsonaro was a clear illustration of a “quid pro quo”. At the beginning of his term, Bolsonaro had even threatened to raise the number of Supreme Court judges from 11 to 21, and stack it with his supporters. He has also been threatening his political foes, saying that they would either be exterminated or forcibly exiled. Bolsonaro described Lula as “a scoundrel” after his release. While on the campaign trail last year, he had expressed the hope that Lula would “rot in prison”.

In October, a prominent Brazilian media outlet named O Globo accused the President of having personal connections with two of the main suspects accused of killing the prominent Leftist politician Marielle Franco. She was one of the leading spokespersons for marginalised Brazilians. One of the men charged with her murder is a former police officer who lived in the same apartment complex in Rio de Janeiro as Bolsonaro and his family.

Photographs of Bolsonaro and the main suspect in the case in a friendly embrace have been circulating in the media. One of Bolsonaro’s sons, Eduardo, who has been elected to the Brazilian Senate, suggested in an interview that the country should revert to the brutal laws enacted during the period of the military dictatorship to deal with “radicalised” Leftist protests. The army, when it used to run the country, routinely tortured and killed left-wing protesters.

The Brazilian President has furiously denied any links with the killers of Marielle Franco and is threatening to cancel O Globo’s licence. The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged him “to refrain from insulting and threatening media outlets”.

Speaking at a meeting in the headquarters of the Metal Workers Union in Sao Paulo, where he started his trade union activities as a young man and was arrested for the first time 40 years ago, Lula said that Bolsonaro was elected to “govern for the Brazilian people”, not for the militias of Rio de Janeiro.

Since Bolsonaro assumed power, militias, private armies and vigilante police groups have gone on the rampage. In the first week of November, a well-known leader of an indigenous group, Paulo Paulino Guajajara, along with a companion was killed by a criminal logging gang while he was patrolling a part of the Amazon forest.

Bolsonaro has given the green signal to farmers, loggers and miners to exploit the pristine Amazon forests and rivers. In his speeches, he has nothing but contempt for the indigenous people living in the jungles and Afro-Brazilians.

Lula and his Workers’ Party had enshrined strict laws protecting the environment and the rights of the indigenous people living in the Amazon. The recent forest fires, many of them caused by settlers clearing the forest for agriculture and cattle herding, have markedly increased after Bolsonaro took over. “It is time to stop the institutionalised genocide. Stop authorising the bloodshed of our people,” said Sonia Guajajara, coordinator of the Association of Indigenous People of Brazil, on Twitter.

The association has said that the President’s “assault on the country’s environmental agencies is putting the rainforest and the people who live there in great danger”.

Right turn

Under Bolsonaro, Brazil’s foreign policy has also taken a rightward turn. Although the country is still a member of the BRICS grouping, Bolsonaro’s heart is with his ideological soulmate, United States President Donald Trump. The Brazilian media has dubbed him the “Trump of the Tropics”.

The Brazilian President wants his country to be a NATO member and has blindly supported Trump’s policies in the region. Brazil was the only country which stood with the U.S. and Israel over the annual United Nations resolution condemning the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba. This was the first time that Brazil had done so. Brazil and Cuba have had strong ties that predate the rise of the Workers’ Party to power. As a result of Bolsonaro’s policies, Cuba had to withdraw thousands of its medical personnel working in the poverty-ridden areas of Brazil.

Bolsonaro seems to be getting along very well with all right-wing leaders in the world and has struck a special bond with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. According to media reports, the Brazilian President will likely be the Chief Guest for the Republic Day celebrations. The choice of the chief guest every year is based on a number of factors, including shared geopolitical and diplomatic goals.

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