Monday, April 22, 2024
HomeCountriesBrazilBrazil: the judges, the generals and all the president's men

Brazil: the judges, the generals and all the president’s men

The Supreme Court's narrow decision to deny Lula his freedom threatens to exacerbate political violence


In a decision as closely watched as a World Cup final, Brazil’s Supreme Court decided by 6 to 5 to reject a habeas corpus application for ex-president Lula, opening the way for his imminent arrest.  The eleven judges spent 11 hours proffering their votes in erudite, legal language peppered with Latin expressions, impossible for the man or woman in the street to understand.  Five voted for the habeas corpus, which would have allowed Lula to remain at liberty while appealing his case to the Supreme Court, five voted against. It then fell to the court president Carmen Lucia to cast the deciding vote. In the run up to the hearing, the Judges had been subjected to a bombardment of pressures, appeals and threats, on social media, in the press, on the streets.  Thousands of judges, lawyers and prosecutors gathered at the court in Brasilia to present petitions for and against the habeas corpus.  In a flagrant defiance of the constitution, army generals joined the battle.

The sound of sabres

A retired general declared that a decision in Lula’s favour would encourage violence, and if Lula were allowed to run for president there would be no alternative but military intervention to ‘restore order’, with the crisis being solved with bloodshed and bullets.   Another general, who seemed to think he was still in the 19th century, tweeted that he was booted and spurred, his horse saddled, ready to follow his chief.
The tweet by Gen Villas Boas
While these outbursts were not taken seriously, the tweet of the army chief himself, General Eduardo Villas Boas, criticising possible ‘impunity’, was interpreted as veiled pressure on the court to decide against Lula, pressure that is clearly illegal as the constitution bans political declarations by the military.  “In a democracy, the Armed forces should surround the supreme court with neither tanks nor words”, was one journalist’s succinct comment. Judge Gilmar Mendes, who flew back from Portugal to cast his vote for Lula was critical of the barrage of armchair lawyers. “We used to say we had 100 million soccer coaches in Brazil, now we have 100 million constitutional experts.”
The international repercussions of the supreme court verdict. Video: Jornalismo SBT/Youtube


The consequences of the Supreme’s narrow decision against Lula could be a ramping up of the radicalization which has already led to violence against the ex-president and other leftwing parties.   Lula’s recent campaign tour in the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná was met with organised hostility in many places – not just barrages of eggs and stones but in one place bullets were fired at the buses and, in another, barricades were erected to stop him entering a town.
The leadership of the Workers Party (PT) held an emergency meeting in São Paulo to discuss the supreme court verdict. Video: Jornalismo SBT/Youtube This radicalization is encouraged by the lame duck government of Michel Temer, more concerned with saving his own neck than saving Brazilian democracy. Temer had thought he was out of the woods, and even begun to talk about running for re-election, but a new accusation by Chief Prosecutor Raquel Dodge which involves him and a group of his close friends in a corruption scheme at the Port of Santos, could lead to another attempt to get him impeached in Congress. This time several of Temer’s friends and collaborators, including a retired military police colonel, were temporarily detained for questioning. With practically all the president’s men, both ministers and now friends, accused of corruption, Temer’s political future looks bleak. Although as he has shown before, he is remarkably resilient, or perhaps impervious, shaking off the flood of accusations, incriminating e-mails, recordings, videos, etc., like a real duck.

Saving skin

This time, however, congressistas facing the ballot box in October will probably be more interested in getting re-elected than in saving Temer’s skin. And Rodrigo Maia, speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, himself a potential candidate, might relish the chance to stand in as president for the last months of Temer’s term, from where he can conduct his own campaign, pen in hand. Unable to approve any reform in congress that would reduce the government’s deficit, but instead pouring money into attempts to buy support, Temer’s prestige in the business and financial community is also at rock bottom.
Lula’s supporters on the streets. Video: Telesur/Youtube Brazilians can now choose between following the real-life drama involving corrupt politicians, melodramatic court judgements, and federal police raids on posh mansions and offices, and a thinly disguised fictional version in a Netflix serial entitled The Mechanism, involving corrupt politicians, melodramatic court judgements and federal police raids on posh mansions and offices. Director Jose Padilha has spiced up his version with lots of sex, but has been criticised by the PT for putting MDB senator Romero Juca’s  infamous phrase ‘we must stop the bloodletting’ -interpeted as a threat to the Lava Jato investigation –  into the mouth of the Lula character.

No justice for Marielle

Meanwhile, over three weeks after she was killed, the police have failed to produce any information about PSOL councillor Marielle Franco’s killers. Two people who witnessed the crime have not even been questioned, while all Marielle’s aides, colleagues and friends have been intensively interrogated.  Experts agree that it had all the hallmarks of a political crime, carried out by professional killers.
15 March demonstration for Marielle, Rio. Photo: Catalytic Communities
The summary execution of five youths in Maricá, a coastal town near Rio is also believed to have been a political crime, because they all belonged to the local Young Socialist party. Maricá has been governed by the PT for nine years, and become something of a showcase for the party, with oil royalties invested in social programmes, including free transport. These crimes, attributed to right-wing militias, are a chilling foretaste of what radicalization might lead to in the elections this year. Lula’s arrest is being celebrated not only by the right, but by many ordinary people who have come to believe his is the only face of corruption, encouraged by the media’s obsessive hammering away at the PT and Lula’s alleged crimes, while other parties and politicians, including most of the government, are treated with kid gloves.
Judge Sergio Moro
LAB adds: a few hours after the Supreme Court announced its decision, Judge Sergio Moro issued an order for Lula to present himself to the federal police in Curitiba by 5pm on Friday 6 April, to begin his 12-year prison sentence. Moro stated that a special room had been prepared in the Superintendencia of the Federal Police, where the ex-president could begin his sentence, separated from the other prisoners and with ‘no risk to his moral or physical safety’. Judge Moro had led the prosecution of parties to the Lava Jato bribery scandal, but sullied his crusading reputation by a zealous pursuit of Lula that was manifestly partisan and cavalier in the leaking of evidence and selective use of judicial procedure. In São Bernardo do Campo, the São Paulo metal-workers union (of which Lula was president in the 1970s) staged a solidarity vigil planned to continue throughout Friday 7 April. PT Senator Lindbergh Farias stated: “They already invaded the offices of this union during the military dictatorship to grab Lula. Today we will have a sea of people here to resist, alongside Lula”.
The contradictions and ‘schizophrenic posture’ in the procedure and verdict of the Supreme Court are analysed by Aury Lopez Junior, professor of Criminal Law at the Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (read here, in Portuguese). He highlights the way in which the judges avoided ruling on the central issue: whether it is constitutional, in Brazil, to enforce a sentence of imprisonment while an appeal is pending. He mentions, in particular, the contradictory position of judge Rosa Weber: “é um imenso paradoxo dizer que é contra uma execução antecipada e negar um habeas corpus no qual se discute a execução antecipada”

This article is funded by readers like you

Only with regular support can we maintain our website, publish LAB books and support campaigns for social justice across Latin America. You can help by becoming a LAB Subscriber or a Friend of LAB. Or you can make a one-off donation. Click the link below to learn about the details.

Support LAB

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.

Recent Jan Rocha's Blog Posts

More from Jan Rocha's Blog >