Brazil: Lula’s persecution is a danger to democracy

Issue 
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is carried by supporters in front of the Metalworkers Trade Union in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil on April 7

For those who have been following Brazil closely in recent years, the case against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is clear-cut. And no, it’s not about tackling corruption, it’s about subverting Brazilian democracy for the second time in two years.

A travesty of justice occurred on January 25 when Workers’ Party (PT) leader Lula was sentenced to 12 years jail by a partial judiciary, with evidence of his innocence blatantly ignored.

Following the illegitimate impeachment of Dilma Rousseff (also from the PT) in 2016 that saw right-wing President Michel Temer take power, a campaign has been waged by the media and Lula’s trial judge to discredit the former president and keep the country’s most popular politician from running in the 2018 election.

The charges laid against him are that he received a bribe, in the form of an apartment, from construction company OAS. The only problem is that no evidence has been produced that Lula or his late-wife had taken ownership of the apartment.

In fact, the whole case is based on the testimony of a convicted OAS executive, Jose Pinheiro Filho. Remarkably, Filho was initially blocked from a plea bargain – when his original story matched Lula’s.

This lack of evidence would not be accepted in British, European Union or United States courts. The actions and clear bias of Judge Sergio Moro would not be accepted either.

Worryingly, this case has not just brought the Brazilian judicial system into disrepute – Brazilian democracy now looks at its weakest since the military dictatorship ended in 1985.

Since illegitimately taking office, Temer has taken the country on a sharp rightward turn after 13 years of PT governments under Lula and Rousseff. In just two years his administration has set to work on reversing the huge gains made by the PT, implementing a series of hardline neoliberal reforms that have affected healthcare, education, workers’ rights and more.

All without an election or a mandate.

Temer’s 20-year freeze on health and education spending was labelled “devoid of all nuance and compassion” by the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

Temer’s dismantling of Brazil’slabour law was also criticised internationally, with International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow calling it a “recipe for corporate greed.”

These regressive measures have only made Lula grow in popularity. For many, he has become the sole figure standing in the way of a complete transformation of Brazil’s economy and state – away from one of social inclusion to one of a ruling elite.

Lula’s achievements while in office have received huge praise worldwide and the social programs he implemented are still being used as a model in the UN. His landmark project, the Bolsa Familia program, which gives financial aid to poor families, covered nearly 14 million households before Temer’s drastic cuts.

Poverty reduction was a key goal of Lula’s administration and he is now credited with lifting 20 million Brazilians from poverty, halving Brazil’s poverty in just seven years while extreme poverty also fell drastically.

While Brazil also became an economic powerhouse under Lula, his administrations deserve praise for expanding the public education and health systems, housing over 10 million low-income Brazilians and tackling exploitation in the workplace.

Following the failure of a series of appeals against his verdict, Lula has been detained in the federal jail in Curitiba since April 7. His sentence and imprisonment have been met with demonstrations across the country, with a Free Lula encampment protesting outside the jail.

As part of an increasing trend of violence towards progressives in Brazil, an armed man recently attacked the encampment, shooting at tents and wounding two protestors. His identity is unknown but reports state he was heard shouting “Bolsonaro for President,” referring to the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro who is currently polling at 15% compared to Lula’s 31%.

An ex-paratrooper who has praised former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Bolsonaro has openly called for a return to military rule of the sort that Brazil broke with less than forty years ago.

Lula has until August to register as an official candidate for the country’s October presidential polls. If elections were held today, polls show that he would win in all scenarios. But his conviction will keep him off the ballot unless his next appeal is upheld.

It is not just Lula who is under attack from a vicious right wing, but his ideals, his achievements and the millions who support him. That is why it’s vital we build support for Lula internationally, so that on the world’s stage justice will be served and Lula will be able to run again for president of Brazil.

[Reprinted from No Coup in Brazil.]