Lula’s second moment has come
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a towering figure in left-wing politics in Brazil, remains one of the most popular political figures in the country today.
After a five-year battle driven by his political enemies, Lula is said to be finally vindicated by the March 8 decision by Supreme Court Judge Edson Fachin, who annulled Lula’s corruption convictions, saying that the judge in his case was biased.
The ruling reversed the Supreme Federal Court’s previous decision in the run-up to the 2018 elections, allegedly made under duress from the military and in violation of the constitution.
In September 2016, Federal Judge Sergio Moro, who was leading the corruption probe in what was dubbed Operation Car Wash, accepted an indictment for money laundering against Lula and his wife. This led to Lula being accused of receiving bribes, his subsequent conviction and imprisonment, and his ineligibility to run for political office.
But it was later revealed through leaked cellphone chats that Moro steered the case against Lula, and allegedly collaborated with prosecutors during the high-profile corruption investigations. The chats revealed that Moro was passing on advice, investigative leads and inside information to the prosecutors, who were themselves allegedly plotting to prevent Lula’s Workers Party from winning the 2018 election.
The revelations published by The Intercept Brazil showed that Moro mocked the defence of Lula, and directed the prosecutors’ media strategy. Moro is quoted as saying: “You should prepare a press release explaining the contradictions between his testimony and the rest of the evidence, or with his previous testimony. After all, the defence already put on their little show.” The prosecutors did as they were asked, and in the end, the strategy ensured that Brazil’s most popular politician, who was leading in the opinion polls, was ineligible to run in the 2018 election, and Moro was ultimately rewarded with a promotion to justice minister.
“Moro enters history as a judge who, for motives alien to the justice system, opted to strip the political rights of a great leader with whom he didn’t agree,” Senator Jean Paul Prates of the Workers Party said in a statement.
The Intercept published excerpts from what it described as an “enormous trove” of group chats on the phone app Telegram, along with audio, video and other documentation. According to The Intercept, Moro gave prosecutors strategic advice and tips during the corruption investigations, and prosecutors allegedly discussed strategies to block a newspaper from interviewing Lula during the 2018 election campaign. The Supreme Court found that during the trial, the prosecuting team illegally wiretapped Lula’s lawyers’ phones and coordinated each stage of the trial alongside Moro to ensure a conviction.
The leaked excerpts from conversations between prosecutors on Telegram appear to show the lead prosecutor in the Car Wash investigation expressing doubt over the strength of the cases against Lula four days before the indictment was filed. The executive editor of The Intercept called the judge’s relationship with the prosecutors “scandalous and illegal under Brazilian law”.
Walter Delgatti, the hacker responsible for the leaking of the phone chats and other material to the media, was illegally arrested and placed under house arrest. Congressmen loyal to Bolsonaro issued public threats against the Supreme Court after its March 8 ruling, but they were subsequently arrested.
Justice Gilmar Mendes wanted to show the collusion between Moro and the federal prosecutors, but she was blocked on March 9 by Justice Kassio Nunes Marques, who is Bolsonaro’s appointee to the Supreme Court. Lula’s supporters maintain that he has been a victim of “a great lie” committed by the legal system. When Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez visited Lula in jail, he called it “the worst political injustice that has happened in Latin America”. Even a letter from the pope written to Lula while he was in prison was prevented from being delivered to him.
Moro’s connections to the US Department of Justice are well documented, and during his first trip to the US as justice minister, he paid a visit to the CIA.
When Lula left the presidency in 2011 he had 80% popularity and he was largely credited for the country’s economic boom between 2003 and 2010. He had spearheaded the Zero Hunger Campaign, which was meant to ensure that every Brazilian would get three meals a day, in what became one of the world’s biggest anti-poverty programmes. Lula had sought sustainable and socially inclusive growth and was successful in his mission, as poverty fell by 27% during his administration. Lula believed that the right to a quality education and social inclusion were key to building a globally competitive economy.
Part of Lula’s legacy was that he had worked hard to reduce the social distance between the government and the majority of Brazilians. Social cohesion in Brazil was built on trust and an openness from the ground upwards in his term. “I was not the president. The people were the president. The foundation of the ‘Brazilian Miracle’ is not mine. It is that of the people. If I failed my people who elected me, it would be the people failing, and the poor would be proving their critics right that we did not have what it takes to rule,” Lula had reiterated.
“The biggest legacy of my presidency is not the programmes that took 40million Brazilians out of absolute poverty and created 15million jobs. It is the accountability of the public institutions and real partnership with business, labour and civil society that brought hope to the people. We put the needs of the people first. Not ours,” Lula said in 2012.
Nine years later, Lula’s second moment has come, and many say the 2022 election campaign is already under way. Lula is hailed by his supporters as the country’s hope for democracy and social justice, although he is confronted with a highly polarised society. The Covid-19 pandemic has ravaged the country, with more than 300 000 Brazilians having lost their lives. Lula will probably lead the fight for universal access to vaccines, and may join India and South Africa in this struggle.
The 2022 elections are still 18 months away, and as we know, 18 months is a long time in politics. The battle for the soul of Brazil will no doubt be a vociferous one and, more than ever before, the gloves will be off.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media’s Foreign Editor.