Lula’s Triumphant Return Boosts Resistance Against Bolsonaro

“This new ruling restores Lula’s political rights, enabling him to stand for president in the 2022 elections. He remains one of the most popular politicians in the country, with polls showing him well ahead of other possible candidates.” Writes Susan Grey, Brazil Solidarity Initiative & Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America.

The dismissal of charges against Brazil’s former President Lula could signal the beginning of the end of the deadly Bolsonaro regime. On 8th March the Supreme Court Minister Edson Fachin ruled that the case against Lula lacked jurisdiction because the charges involved events alleged to have taken place in a different court region. 

The case against Lula was always flimsy, relying on plea bargain testimonies given by jailed businessmen in exchange for reduced sentences, asset retention and transfer to house arrest. Lula was accused by the “anti-corruption” Lava Jato task force of having accepted an apartment as a bribe, despite never having owned or lived in the apartment and the alleged bribe having taken place when he was no longer President. Furthermore, the Lava Jato investigations have been discredited by evidence of collusion between US officials and the task force, and between Supreme Court Ministers and the task force. 

The prosecution of Lula was widely regarded as an example of “lawfare” – a strategy increasingly used to remove or discredit leftist politicians. Not only did the case lack convincing evidence, but judicial processes were sped up deliberately to prevent him running for president in 2018. This new ruling restores Lula’s political rights, enabling him to stand for president in the 2022 elections. He remains one of the most popular politicians in the country, with polls showing him well ahead of other possible candidates.

Lula, whose full name is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was President of Brazil from 2003 to 2010.  A former steel worker, he was a founding member of the Workers Party and served as a congressman for eight years. As President he prioritised social programmes, especially the eradication of hunger. He was widely praised for his Bolsa Familia (family allowance) and Fome Zero (zero hunger) projects which brought relief to millions of people living in poverty.

Lula’s government successfully paid off debts to the International Monetary Fund and steered a healthy Brazilian economy through the 2008 financial crisis. By the end of Lula’s two terms as president Brazil had become the eighth largest economy and 20 million people had been lifted out of poverty.  

Lula was succeeded by President Dilma Rousseff, an economist and former activist against Brazil’s military dictatorship, who had previously served as minister and chief of staff in his government. She was impeached in 2016 and removed from office in a US-backed administrative coup.   

Subsequent governments have taken Brazilian politics to the right, with the current President Bolsonaro advocating socially conservative and economically neo-liberal policies. He has ridden roughshod over indigenous people’s rights and allowed the deforestation of swathes of Amazon rainforest by illegal mining and ranching. His refusal to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously has resulted in over a quarter of a million deaths, unemployment rising to 14% and an economy in crisis.

With Bolsonaro’s popularity diminished, the way is open for a left candidate to win the presidency in 2022. If he is able to stand there is every chance that former president Lula would win. However, the same right-wing forces that removed Dilma Rouseff and sabotaged Lula’s 2018 campaign will no doubt be mobilised against any candidate seen as left-wing.

It’s still possible that the case against Lula could be brought again elsewhere. But this would take time and could lead to more revelations of US interference and collusion between the judiciary and the Lava Jota task force. The US government and the Brazilian courts may prefer not to examine this evidence too closely.  

The ruling is a victory for Lula and a defeat for corrupt right-wing politicians and lawyers who sought to remove a progressive and successful leader from political life. Now international solidarity must be stepped up to help ensure that progressive politics advances in Brazil once more. 

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