Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known to all as Lula, is a socialist who was elected as president of Brazil as leader of the Workers Party and uplifted the conditions of its poorest people. He was one of the most popular leaders in the world. He was convicted of corruption in a very dubious proceeding in which the judge colluded with prosecutors but that conviction had the desired effect of preventing him from running for re-election as president. Lula was leading in the polls when he was removed from the race by this move, enabling the utterly reactionary Jair Bolsonaro to become president in 2019.
Back in November 2019, when Lula was released from prison pending appeals against his conviction, I posted about his case and linked to a Netflix documentary The Edge of Democracy (2019) that shows the whole process by which the right-wingers removed Lula’s successor Dilma Rousseff, imprisoned Lula, and captured power in Brazil.
Bolsonaro and Trump formed a mutual admiration society and he too poo-poohed science and dismissed masks, social distancing, lockdowns, and other covid-19 safety restrictions and promoted quack remedies such as hydroxychloroquine. He did not even bother to order vaccines early, leading to a shortage now. His lax attitude to dealing with the pandemic has resulted in Brazil being one of the worst hit countries. Its total deaths now number over 270,000, second only to the US with its 540,000, with some projecting that death rates could soon reach 3,000 per day.
On Monday, a Brazilian Supreme Court judge overturned Lula’s conviction enabling him to run for president again next year if he chooses to. After the announcement, Lula hammered Bolsonaro on his lack of action on the pandemic calling him an “imbecile” (Biden could have equally justifiably used that term for Trump) and urged people to ignore the government’s non-response to the pandemic and get vaccinated and follow safety protocols.
Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has excoriated Jair Bolsonaro’s “moronic” and bungling response to the coronavirus pandemic, in a stirring and potentially historic address widely seen as the start of a bid to wrestle the presidency back from his far-right nemesis.
Addressing the nation on Wednesday, the 75-year-old stopped short of formally announcing he would challenge Bolsonaro – a rightwing populist who critics accuse of catastrophically mishandling the Covid outbreak – in the 2022 election. But Lula, who was president from 2003 to 2011, left no doubt his political fightback had begun.
“Just think about the madness that is taking hold of this country,” said the Workers’ party (PT) leader, who was barred from running in the 2018 election after being jailed.
“This country is in a state of utter tumult and confusion because there’s no government. I’ll repeat that: this-country-has-no-government,” Lula insisted, blaming Bolsonaro’s ineptitude and denialism for the scale of a Covid crisis which has killed nearly 270,000 Brazilians.
“For the love of God. This virus killed nearly 2,000 people yesterday,” Lula told journalists and supporters at the metalworkers union headquarters in São Bernardo do Campo, the industrial hub where he cut his political teeth in the 1970s.
“Vaccines aren’t about whether you have the money or not,” he said of the Bolsonaro administration’s failure to acquire sufficient doses. “They’re about whether you love life or love death.”
Political observers are divided on the impact Lula’s rehabilitation will have on the 2022 election, and his chances of success.
Some, among them Bolsonaro allies, claim Bolsonaro will relish clashing with a leftist he will portray as a radical “red” threat. But Thaís Oyama, the author of a book about Bolsonaro’s tumultuous presidency, claimed the rightwing populist and his backers had been blindsided and discombobulated by Lula’s unexpected return.
“They think this is really bad. It was a complete surprise and they feel shocked and very worried. There was a funereal mood [around Bolsonaro this week],” Oyama said. “It’s the worst thing that could have happened to him right now … It’s caught him flat-footed.”
Benjamin Fogel writes about the recent momentous court ruling in Brazil that provides hope that the awful rule of its current president may end with the next year’s election.
Yesterday, Brazilian Supreme Court judge Luiz Edson Fachin ruled to annul all of former president Lula da Silva’s convictions. Fachin said that the court that convicted Lula in the southern city of Curitiba did not have the legal authority to convict Brazil’s first Workers’ Party (PT) president. As such, he must be retried by a federal court in the capital city of Brasília.
The most important effect of the overturning is that it restores Lula’s political rights, allowing him to run in next year’s presidential election. Under Brazil’s Ficha Limpa (“Clean Slate”) law — ironically passed by the PT government — politicians convicted of crimes or impeached are unable to run for elected office.
Lula was convicted of money laundering and corruption in 2016 for receiving improvements to a beachfront apartment he never lived in and served 580 days in prison before being released on appeal in November 2019.
The case against Lula was always weak, but it didn’t stop him from getting convicted due to the fact that Sergio Moro, the judge hearing the trial, was illegally colluding with prosecutors to make a case against the former labor leader. His conviction was the crowning achievement of Brazil’s historic Operação Lava Jato (“Operation Car Wash”) investigation, but we now have clear evidence that prosecutors and judges conspired to imprison him explicitly to prevent him from competing in the 2018 elections, which saw the election of the far-right Jair Bolsonaro.
Another twist in this saga is possible, however. The Supreme Court still has to affirm this ruling, and another court could convict him again. But, for now, the center-left Lula is back.
The elephant in the room is how the Brazilian military will respond. In a recent book, former Armed Forces head Eduardo Villas Boâs admitted that he and other senior generals attempted to exert pressure on the Supreme Court through Twitter the night before a ruling that would determine if Lula would be imprisoned and ineligible to run in the 2018 elections. Lula was leading all the polls at the time by a significant margin over Bolsonaro.
Brazil’s 2022 elections are still a year and a half away, but the playing field is becoming clearer — the PT remains the largest electoral force in Brazil, and unless more legal chicanery keeps him out of power, Lula will have a chance to assemble the forces needed to save the country from Bolsonaro.
It is possible that the full Supreme Court could re-instate Lula’s conviction or that he could be retried and convicted again.