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Bom dia, Lula

Despite being in jail, former President Lula is way ahead in the opinion polls for October's presidential elections. But will he be allowed to run? Brazil's Supreme Court must decide.


Updated 23 June, to reflect latest legal decision. In his prison cell, every morning at 7 o’clock, Lula hears hundreds of supporters camped nearby shout Good Morning Lula. At night they shout Boa Noite.  It is a way of demonstrating to him, and to the world, that, even though he is locked away in a prison cell at the Federal Police headquarters in Curitiba, he is not forgotten.
One of the many ‘Bom Dia Lula’ actions. Video via Midia Ninja In fact, more than two months after Lula began his 12-year sentence for corruption, he continues to lead the presidential race, with polls giving him between 30%-39%. The other candidates are way behind, with Jair Bolsonaro on 15%-19 %, followed by Marina Silva and Ciro Gomes. Projections show Lula would be elected in the first round.
Demonstrators protest against Lula’s imminent imprisonment Credit: Democracy Now
The big question remains: will Lula be allowed to run?  Jurists are divided about his eligibility, some claiming that only a final decision by the Supreme Court confirming his sentence can remove him from the race, while others declare he can be disqualified now under the ‘Ficha Limpa’ law, which makes anyone condemned at the ‘second level’ (the regional appeal courts) ineligible, even if their appeal to a higher court is pending.  The Supreme Court was due to hear, on June 26, his lawyers’ latest attempt to allow him to await the final decision on his sentence in freedom. On June 22 a supreme court judge torpedoed this attempt with a controversial decision that the appeal would not be heard. It is uncertain what the next legal steps will be. For many ­­– and not only those on the left –  Lula is a political prisoner, locked up on spurious charges to remove him from the presidential race. The political neutrality of the judge who sentenced him, Sergio Moro, has been questioned. He has been photographed sharing a joke with PSDB senator Aécio Neves, who is facing various corruption charges, and posing proudly in a tuxedo with João Doria, the PSDB candidate for the São Paulo governorship, at a dinner in New York. Moro makes frequent visits to the USA, where he has become something of a celebrity, receiving awards and making speeches about Lava Jato’s success in putting crooked businessmen and politicians behind bars.  His fame has spread to Europe.  The magazine Carta Capital showed him receiving a prize from the Prince of Monaco, who runs a country widely regarded as a tax haven, and therefore not the most appropriate person to be bestowing a prize on a judge fighting money laundering.
Sérgio Moro credit: Daniel Giovanez, Brasil de Fato
Back in Brazil there is growing unease, from Supreme Court judges down, about Moro’s increasingly high-handed actions. These include his insistence on judging all Lava Jato cases, including Lula’s, not in Rio de Janeiro, where the state company, Petrobras, at the heart of the investigations has its headquarters, but in Curitiba, where Moro is a federal judge; and his refusal to allow evidence produced in his investigations to be used in other courts.  In the courtroom, he is accused of failing to demonstrate impartiality, as when he halted writer Fernando Morais’ witness statement in Lula’s favour, declaring it irrelevant. Only after intense pressure from lawyers and international organisations has Lula, after all a contender in the presidential election, been allowed to receive other visitors besides his lawyers and family members. Previously politicians, and even Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel and theologian Leonardo Boff, were turned away. A Vatican envoy, bringing a rosary blessed by the Pope, was refused permission to give it to Lula. Manifesto Now, in a tacit recognition of his political position, Lula has been allowed to make and release a video with a message to the Brazilian people, in effect, his election manifesto. After proclaiming his innocence and accusing Judge Moro, the Lava Jato prosecutors and the regional appeal court judges of a “judicial farce” and of treating him as an “enemy” and not as a citizen like any other, Lula defended his two administrations. He said that Brazilians then had been considered the most optimistic people in the world and had become protagonists on the international scene, helping to create Unasul (The Union of South American Nations), Celac (The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) and BRICs, the association of five major emerging economies.  Brazil’s voice had been heard in the G8 and other world forums.
They lied to destroy our project to eradicate misery. –Lula
Lula said Brazil had the right to dream again, after the nightmare imposed by the 2016 coup, and said: “They lied to overthrow the legitimately elected president Dilma Rousseff. They lied that the country would improve once the PT had gone, with more jobs and more development. They lied in order to impose the programme defeated in the 2014 elections. They lied to destroy our project to eradicate misery. They lied in order to hand over the nation’s wealth and favour the holders of financial and economic power, in a scandalous betrayal of the will of the people, demonstrated in [the elections of] 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014.” He went on: “We governed for the people and not for the market, but our opponents did the opposite, suppressing historical workers’ rights, reducing the real wage, cutting investments in health and education, and now destroying [social and educational] programmes like Bolsa Familia, Minha Casa Minha Vida, Pronaf, Luz para todos, Prouni and Fies, among others … I dream of being president of Brazil to end the suffering of those who have no money to buy a bottle of gas, who have gone back to using firewood to cook with or worse still, using alcohol and suffering serious accidents and burns. This is one of the cruellest reversals caused by their policy of destroying Petrobras and national sovereignty, carried by the PSDB entreguistas [imperialist stooges] who supported the 2016 coup. Petrobras was not created to generate profits for speculators on Wall Street but to guarantee Brazil’s self- sufficiency in oil, with affordable prices.” Echoing the words of Tiradentes, Brazil’s national hero who was hanged over 200 years ago for demanding independence from Portugal, Lula said “I am sure we can reconstruct this country and once again become a great nation”. Lula’s manifesto was largely ignored by the mainstream press.

Revolving doors

Meanwhile, the political scene has turned into a revolving door, as frantic candidates make and break alliances with an anxious eye on the elections, less than four months away. The dismal performance of ex-Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles on Roda Viva, an influential TV question-and-answer programme, has just about buried his chances of becoming the PMDB candidate. This leaves the party of President Michel Temer without a successor to defend his ‘legacy’ and to stop him being arraigned on the various charges of corruption he is accused of. The other important candidate for the centre, the PSDB’s Geraldo Alkmin, former São Paulo governor, is also struggling to make an impact, and the party might well ditch him in favour of a more dynamic person. The ones making most of the running at the moment are the PDT (Democratic Labour Party)’s Ciro Gomes and the PSL’s (Social Liberal Party) Jair Bolsanaro. While it is well-known that the latter, a former army captain, stands for an ultra-rightwing agenda of intolerance, law and order, nobody really knows what a Ciro government would look like, as he is contemplating alliances with parties from left to right. This gives smaller parties like the PSB huge leverage, as they are not only courted by Ciro, but by the PT, by Marina Silva’s Rede, and by the PSDB. Though they are called the Brazilian Socialist Party, only in the state of Pernambuco, where the legacy of their founder Miguel Arraes is still strong, do they do justice to the name, offering instead a range of centre-right candidates. Their attraction for the other parties is that they have 26 seats in Congress. Besides a new president, Brazilians will be electing a new Congress, two-thirds of the Senate, and state governors and deputies. This means that local alliances, regardless of ideology, are all important. Right, left and centre get into bed together, because what counts are the numbers – the number of minutes of free TV propaganda and the amount of money from the general election fund, divided up according to the number of seats in Congress. Programmes take a back seat. So while the PMDB, Brazil’s largest party, might not even field a presidential candidate, its presence and weight at local and regional level make it impossible to ignore.

Postcode violence

While the parties jostle and bargain, a spate of reports has brought sobering information about the reality of life for most Brazilians. “Poor Brazilians (the lowest income band of 10%) will take nine generations to achieve the country’s average income”, concluded an OECD study recently. In other words, more than 250 years. “A social abyss divides the most violent cities in Brazil from the safest” says a report by the government’s IPEA (Institute of Applied Economic Research), on the basis of its Map of Violence, which correlates violent deaths with social, health and education factors. The report concludes that in Brazil public security is confused with police activity, when it is really only one relevant factor among many. The report states: The focus is on the number of police stop and searches, or the confiscation of drugs, which might have no effect on improving security and, even worse, might even do the opposite, by increasing violent deaths, (deaths from) stray bullets, and fear. Another IPEA study showed that within the most violent cities, just 10% of the districts accounted for over half the deaths. Targeted actions could make a huge difference, it says: “By concentrating on those communities, we could change the situation.  For example, by investing in early childhood.” But are the candidates reading these studies, taking them on board? The media devotes a lot of space to the names of their economic advisers, but no space at all to their plans for reducing violence and improving social conditions, except for vague promises about more police and more Bolsa Familia. Four months before the elections, Brazilians still do not know what to expect. Lula’s hopes now rest on the Supreme Court, in a session still to be scheduled, let alone heard.                    

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Jan Rocha's Blog

Jan Rocha is a former correspondent for the BBC and the Guardian and lives in São Paulo, Brazil. She is the author of a number of LAB books, and contributes this regular column for LAB, known for its incisive analysis of current Brazilian politics.

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