On Brazilian Independence Day (September 7th), former President Lula da Silva gave a powerful speech condemning Bolsonaro’s dangerous mishandling of the pandemic in Brazil. You can read the full speech here:
“My friends. Over the last months and infinite sadness has been crunching my heart. Brazil is going through one of the worst periods in its history.
With 130,000 deaths and four million people infected, we are falling into an unseen health, social, economic, and environmental crisis.
More than 200 million Brazilian women and men wake up, every day, without knowing whether their relatives, friends, or they themselves will be healthy or alive by nightfall.
The overwhelming majority of those killed by the coronavirus are poor people, black people, vulnerable people the State has abandoned.
In the largest and wealthiest city in the country, the Covid-19 death toll is 60% higher among blacks and browns living in the city’s outskirts, according to data released by the health authorities.
Each one of these dead people that the federal government treats disdainfully had a name, surname, address. They had a father, a mother, a brother, a son, a husband, a wife, friends. It hurts to know that tens of thousands of Brazilian women and men could not say goodbye to their loved ones. I know what that pain is like.
It would have surely been possible to avoid so many deaths.
We are in the hands of a government that cares not about life and trivializes death. An insensitive, irresponsible, and incompetent government, which disrespected the guidelines of the World Health Organization and turned the coronavirus into a weapon of mass destruction.
The governments that came out from the coup froze resources and scrapped the SUS, Brazil’s national health system, respected worldwide as a model for other developing nations. And the collapse has not been greater so far thanks to anonymous workers, the working women and men of our health system.
The resources that could have been used to save lives were channeled to pay interest to the financial system.
The National Monetary Council has just announced that it will withdraw more than BRL 300 billion from the profits of the reserves our administrations built.
It would be understandable if such fortune was to be used to aid the unemployed worker or to maintain the emergency aid of BRL 600 while the pandemic lasts.
Yet that is not what goes in the heads of the government’s economists. They have already announced that this money is going to be used to pay interest on the public debt!
In the hands of these people, public Health is mistreated in every way.
Replacing the board of the Ministry of Health with military personnel without medical or health-related experience is just the tip of an iceberg. In an authoritarian escalation, the government transferred hundreds of active duty and retired military to the federal administration, including to a number of key offices, in a move reminiscent of the grim days of the dictatorship.
What’s most serious is that Bolsonaro takes advantage of the collective suffering to commit a crime against the State. A politically unpardonable crime, the greatest crime a ruler can commit against the country and the people: to give up national sovereignty.
That is why I chose to speak to you on this September 7th, Independence Day in Brazil, when we celebrate the birth of our country as a sovereign nation.
Sovereignty means independence, autonomy, freedom. The opposite of that is dependence, servitude, submission.
All through my life I have fought for freedom. Freedom of press, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression and organisation, freedom of association, freedom of initiative.
It is worth recalling that there will not be freedom if the country itself is not free. Renouncing sovereignty is to subordinate the welfare and safety of our people to the interests of other countries.
Guaranteeing national sovereignty is not just the extremely important mission of safeguarding our land and sea borders and air space. It also entails defending our people, our mineral wealth, taking care of our forests, our rivers, our water.
In the Amazon we must be present as scientists, anthropologists, and researchers dedicated to studying the fauna and flora and employing this knowledge in pharmacology, nutrition, and in every field of science – respecting the culture and social organization of indigenous peoples.
The incumbent government subordinates Brazil to the United States in a humiliating way and submits our soldiers and our diplomats to humiliating situations. And even threatens to push the country into military adventures against our neighbors, contradicting the Constitution itself, to meet the economic and military-strategic interests of the United States.
Brazil’s submission to Washington’s military interests was exposed by the president himself by appointing a general of the Brazilian Armed Forces to serve in the United States Southern Command, under the orders of an American officer.
In another attempt at our country’s national sovereignty, the incumbent government signed an agreement with the United States that places Alcântara Aerospace Base under the control of US staff and deprives Brazil of access to technology, even of third countries.
Anyone willing to know the true goals of the government needs not to consult intelligence service Abin’s secret manuals or the Army’s intelligence service.
The answer is there, every day, in the Official Gazette, in every act, in every decision, in every initiative taken by the president and his aides, and the bankers and speculators he called to run our economy.
Centuries-long institutions, like the Bank of Brazil, the Federal Savings Bank (CEF), and development bank BNDES, which are part of the history of our country’s development, are being quartered and sliced – or simply sold at shamefully low prices.
Public banks were not created to enrich families. They are instruments of progress. They finance the home of the poor, family farming, sanitation works, the infrastructure essential to development.
If we look at the energy sector, we will see a scorched-earth policy that is equally predatory.
After putting on sale, for peanuts, our deepwater Pre-Salt oil reserves, the government dismantles Petrobras. The refineries are being quartered. The distribution company was sold and the gas pipelines, alienated. When only junk has been left, then there will come the big multinational companies to buy whatever is left of a company that is strategic for the sovereignty of Brazil.
Half a dozen multinational companies threaten the income of hundreds of billions of reals from the Pre-Salt oil – resources that were supposed to go to a sovereign fund to finance an educational and scientific revolution.
Embraer, one of the greatest feats of our technological development, only managed to escape the submissive spree because of the difficulties that befell the company that was going to purchase it, Boeing, intimately linked to the military-industrial complex of the United States.
And the dismantling goes on.
The government’s privatizing rage intends to sell, for a trifling sum, the largest energy generation company in Latin America, Eletrobrás, a giant with 164 power plants – two of them, thermonuclear – that is responsible for almost 40% of the energy consumed in Brazil.
The tearing down of universities, of education, and the dismantling of the institutions supporting science and technology, as carried out by the government, are a real and concrete threat to our sovereignty.
A country that does not produce knowledge, that persecutes its teachers and researchers, that cuts research grants, and denies higher education to the majority of the people is condemned to poverty and eternal submission.
This government’s destructive obsession has left Brazilian culture in the hands of a succession of adventurers. Artists and intellectuals call for the salvation of the Casa de Ruy Barbosa, Funarte, Ancine. The Cinemateca Brasileira, where the legacy of a century of national moviemaking is stored, runs the serious risk of having the same tragic fate the National Museum had.
My friends, in the isolation of the quarantine, I have reflected much about Brazil and myself, about my mistakes and achievements, and about the role that I might still play in our people’s struggle for better living conditions.
I have decided to concentrate, by your side, on the reconstruction of Brazil as an Independent Nation, with democratic institutions, without oligarchic and authoritarian privileges. A real Democratic State under the Rule of Law, founded in the sovereignty of its people. A Nation driven by equality and pluralism. A Nation that is part of an international order based on multilateralism, cooperation, and democracy, integrated in South America and in solidarity with other developing nations.
The Brazil I want to rebuild with you is a Nation that is committed to the liberation of our people, of the workers and the excluded.
In a month I will be 75.
Looking back, I can only thank God, who has been very generous with me. I have to thank my mother, Missis Lindu, for having made of a pau-de-arara migrant without a diploma a proud worker that one day would become the president of the Republic. For having made me a man without rancor, without hatred.
I am the boy who debunked logic, who left the social basement and got to the top floor without asking for anybody’s permission, only the people’s. I did not enter through the back door; I took the main ramp. And that is something the powerful will never forgive.
They had assigned me a role as an extra, but I came to be a leading actor by the hands of the Brazilian workers.
I assumed the government willing to show that the people did actually fit in the budget. More than that, I proved that the people are an extraordinary asset, an enormous wealth. With its people Brazil progresses, gets richer, strengthens itself, becomes a sovereign and fair country.
A country in which the wealth produced by all is distributed to all – but firstly to the exploited, the oppressed, the excluded.
All the breakthroughs we made were met by fierce opposition of the conservative forces, allied to the interests of other powers.
They never accepted to see Brazil as an independent country, in solidarity with its Latin American and Caribbean neighbors, with the African countries, with the developing nations.
It is in the workers’ achievements, the progress of the poorest, the end of subservience, that lies the root of the 2016 coup.
That is the root of the lawsuits they set up for me, of my illegal arrest, of banning my candidacy in 2018. Lawsuits that – now all know– relied on the criminal and covert collaboration of US intelligence agencies.
When we pulled 40 million Brazilians out of poverty, we made a revolution in this country. A peaceful revolution, without a single shot and arrests.
When they saw that the process of social ascension of the poor was going to continue, that affirming our sovereignty had no way back, those who believe themselves the owners of Brazil, here and abroad, decided enough was enough.
That is how the support by the conservative elites to Bolsonaro was bred.
They accepted it as natural that he avoided the debates. They poured rivers of money in the fake news industry. They closed their eyes to his terrifying past. They pretended to ignore his rhetoric in favor of torture and the public defense he made of rape.
The 2018 elections thrust Brazil into a nightmare that doesn’t seem to have an end.
With Bolsonaro’s rise, paramilitary militias, shady middlemen, and hired guns leave the newspapers’ crime sections and make it to the political columns.
Just like in horror movies, the Brazilian oligarchies bred a monster they cannot control now, yet will continue to support as long as their self-interests are met.
A scandalous piece of data illustrates this connivance: over the first four months of the pandemic, forty Brazilian billionaires increased their fortunes by BRL 170 billion.
In the meantime, workers’ wages fell by 15% in one year, the steepest decline ever recorded by national statistics office IBGE. In order to prevent workers from defending themselves from this pillage, the government stifles the unions, weakens trade union confederations, and threatens to close the doors of Labor Justice. They want to break the backbone of the labor movement, something not even the dictatorship succeeded in doing.
They violated the 1988 Constitution. They repudiated democratic practices. They instated an obscurantist authoritarianism that destroyed the social accomplishments of decades of struggles. They abandoned a bold and active foreign policy in favor of shameful and humiliating submission.
That is the true and threatening picture of Brazil today.
Such a calamity will call for a new social contract that may stand up for the rights and income of the working people.
My dearest friends,
My long life, there included the almost two years I spent incarcerated unfairly and illegally, has taught me a lot.
But everything I have been, all I have learned will fit a corn kernel if that experience is not at the service of the workers.
It is unacceptable that 10% will live at the expense of the poverty of 90% of the people.
Our country will never have growth and social peace while the wealth produced by all ends up in the bank accounts of half a dozen privileged people.
There will never be growth and social peace if the public policies and institutions fail to treat equitably every Brazilian.
It is unacceptable that the Brazilian workers continue to suffer the extremely harmful impacts of social inequality. We cannot allow our black youths to have their lives marked by a violence that is nearing genocide.
Ever since I saw that terrible video, the 8 minutes and 43 seconds of George Floyd’s agony, I cannot stop asking myself: how many George Floyds have we had in Brazil? How many Brazilians have lost their lives for not having been white? Black lives do matter! But this is true for the world, for the United States, and true for Brazil.
It is intolerable that indigenous nations have their lands invaded and ransacked and their cultures destroyed. The Brazil we want is that of Marshal Rondon and the Villas-Boas brothers, not that of squatters and predators devastating the forest.
This is a government that wishes to kill our people’s most beautiful virtues, generosity, love for peace, and tolerance.
The people don’t want to buy guns or cartridges for rifles. The people want to buy food.
We must strongly fight against unpunished violence against women. We cannot accept that a human being is stigmatized for their gender. We repudiate public scorn with African-descendant quilombola. We condemn prejudice that treats the poor living in the outskirts of our big cities as inferior beings.
For how long will we live with so much discrimination, so much bigotry, so much hatred?
In order to rebuild the post-pandemic Brazil, we need a new social contract bringing together all the Brazilians.
A social contract that may ensure to all the right to live in peace and harmony. One in which we are all given the same chance of growing, in which our economy is at the service of all and not just of a small minority. And one that respects our natural riches, the Cerrado, the Pantanal, the Blue Amazon, and the Atlantic Rainforest.
The linchpin of this social contract must be the symbol and the basis of the democratic regime: the vote. It is through the exercise, free from manipulation and fake news, of the vote that governments should be formed and the great choices and fundamental options of society be made.
Through this reconstruction, premised on the vote, we will have a democratic and sovereign Brazil that respects human rights and difference of opinions, that protects the environment and the minorities, and defends its own sovereignty.
A Brazil of all and for all.
If we unite around this, we will overcome this dramatic moment.
Today what matters is defeating the pandemic, defending the life and health of the people. And to put an end to this misgovernment and the spending cap that brings the Brazilian State down to its knees before the national and international financial capital.
In this arduous, yet essential, undertaking I am at the disposal of the Brazilian people, especially the workers and the excluded.
We want a country where there is work for all.
I am speaking of a welfare State that promotes equal rights, in which the wealth produced by collective work is returned to the people according to each one’s needs.
A State that is fair, egalitarian, and independent, that provides opportunities for all workers, the poorest and the excluded.
This Brazil of our dreams may be closer than it seems.
Even the prophets on Wall Street and in the City of London have declared that capitalism, as the world knows it, is doomed. It took them centuries to discover an unquestionable truth, one that the poor have known since they were born: what sustains capitalism is not capital. It is us, the workers, who sustain capitalism.
It is in these moments that a sentence I read in a book by Victor Hugo comes to my mind, a sentence written a century and a half ago, and that every working woman and man should carry in their pocket, on a piece of paper, to never forget:
“The paradise of the rich is made out of the hell of the poor…”
No solution, however, will make any sense without the working people as the protagonist. Just like most Brazilians, I don’t believe in, nor do I accept the so-called agreements “from the top”, with the elites. Those who live off their own work do not want to pay the bill for political schemes agreed upon on the upper floor.
Which is why I want to state again some personal certainties:
I don’t support, accept, and subscribe to any solution that does not rely on the active participation of the workers.
Don’t count on me for any agreement in which the people play a secondary role.
More than ever I am convinced that the struggle for social equality does indeed go through a process that will oblige the rich to pay taxes commensurate with their incomes and fortunes.
And that Brazil, my friends, is within our grasp.
I can say that looking in the eyes of each one of you. We have proved to the world that the dream of a fair and sovereign country can become true.
I know – you know – that we can make Brazil the country of our dreams again.
And say, from the bottom of my heart: I am here. Let’s together rebuild Brazil. We still have a long road to go together.
Stay strong, because together we are strong.
We shall live and we shall prevail.”
You can also view Lula’s full speech on Lula’s website here.