Trade unions across the globe mobilised on April 23 to demand the immediate release from prison of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
As head of the metalworkers union, Lula – as he is commonly known – was a key leader of the anti-dictatorship movement of the 1970s. In the early ’80s, he helped form the Unified Workers' Central (CUT), Brazil’s main trade union confederation, and the Workers’ Party (PT).
Lula was twice elected president of the country (2002 and 2006) and is leading in the polls ahead of the presidential elections scheduled for later this year.
His chances of winning, however, were dealt a severe blow on April 5 when the Supreme Court ordered his imprisonment.
Lula is awaiting an appeal hearing after having being found guilty of corruption in January in a politically charged trial.
Lula’s lawyers have taken his case to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), pointing to the blatant bias of prosecutors and judges, in particular Judge Sergio Moro, who presided over Lula’s trial despite the fact he is expected to run in the upcoming presidential elections.
The lawyers asked the UNHRC to recognise that “the regional court which found him guilty, Judge Sergio Moro and the ‘Car Wash’ federal prosecutors have violated Lula’s rights to privacy, right to a fair trial, freedom from arbitrary arrest, the right to freedom of movement and right to be presumed innocent until found guilty.”
As part of the international day of action to free Lula, the British Trades Union Congress attempted to hand a letter demanding Lula’s freedom to the Brazilian Embassy in London. Embassy officials refused to accept the letter.
The letter read: “The arrest of Lula is a disgraceful attack on freedom and progress, and will have a serious effect on how Brazil is viewed in [Britain] and around the world.
“Lula must be freed at once, and allowed to contest the upcoming election to restore trust in Brazil’s respect for justice and democracy.
“We are proud to have joined unions around the world on this international day of action, in standing with Brazilian workers and demanding freedom for Lula.”
Among the unions that attended the protest were Britain’s largest union, Unite, the GMB, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, the National Education Union and the public sector union, UNISON.
Unite also attempted to hand in a letter on behalf of Workers Uniting, representing more than two million workers in mining, petroleum, manufacturing, communications, education, health care and the public sector in Canada, Ireland, Mexico, Britain and the United States.
The letter said: “We write to express our outrage at the conviction and imprisonment of former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.
“We are equally outraged at the denial of his habeas corpus motion.
“And we are most concerned that the judicial process in Lula’s case has been politically manipulated to exclude him from the ballot in the 2018 presidential elections.
“The people of Brazil should have the right to vote for the candidate of their choice, in a democratic process.”
Meanwhile, in a letter delivered to the Brazilian ambassador in Brussels, the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (CSC), the General Federation of Belgian Labour (FGBT), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said that Lula’s arbitrary imprisonment is a threat to democracy.
ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow said: “Lula was found guilty by a lower court on the basis of no evidence, something that the lower court judges themselves have admitted.
“Lula is Brazil’s most popular politician by a huge margin, and the judicial persecution of him is aimed at stopping him becoming president again.”
ETUC general secretary Luca Visentini said: “The European trade union movement stands in absolute solidarity with our Brazilian colleagues and will assist in every way we can their quest to defend democracy and reinstate the rule of law”.
CSC President Marc Leemans added: “This is the latest of a series of grave threats to democracy in Brazil. The Belgian labour movement stands with Lula for the fight for the Brazilian people and their democracy.”
FGTB General Secretary Robert Vertenueil said: “We are deeply concerned by the will of the conservative forces to impeach, by any means, ex-president Lula to stop him being a candidate in a fair and democratic election process”.
Trade unions in Argentina, Indonesia, Morocco, Paraguay, Peru and Switzerland also gathered at Brazilian embassies on April 23, following similar protests in France, Italy, Spain, the United States and Uruguay, among others.
[Reprinted from No Coup in Brazil with additional reporting by Federico Fuentes.]