Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva opened his press statement to rebut the allegations made by federal prosecutors against him and his wife, Marisa Letícia, by declaring that those were the words of “a citizen outraged by the things that happened and are happening in this country.
I believe that, in this country, few people have a life more public and more scrutinized than mine.”
Lula praised the Workers’ Party (PT), saying he is “proud to have founded Latin America’s most important leftist party.” He further pointed out that, “a mere 20 years after the party was created, we won the presidential elections in this country. It wasn’t to be expected.”
Mentioning Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, he noted that the same thing had been attempted in 2005. “They thought I was defeated. I didn’t bleed, and in 2006 I was reelected in the biggest electoral scandal seen until then.”
Against Rousseff, Lula said “they managed to mount an easy, peaceful coup, with no military out on the streets,” he added.
Kubitschek, Vargas, and Goulart
Lula compared himself with former presidents Juscelino Kubitschek, who suffered an attempted coup, Getúlio Vargas, who committed suicide in 1954 and João Goulart, who went into exile in Uruguay in 1964.
“Juscelino was targeted by more inquiries than I have been. I don’t have Getúlio’s calling to shoot myself, or Jango’s to leave Brazil.” And he added, challengingly, “If they want to push me offstage, they’ll have to fight me on the streets.”
If he had failed in his administration, Lula argues, his opponents would have been pleased, “and the PT would not be subject to so much hatred. What sparked so much anger was the success of my government, the biggest policy for social inclusion in this country,” he said.
In two moments of his speech, Lula was moved to tears: when he said he earned the right to “walk tall,” and when he talked about his poor childhood, when he felt hunger. “Only God can stop me from fighting for what I believe in. I have a reason and motivation, when you have it, you have no time to feel tired.”
The former president reminded his opponents that “none of them is greater than the law.”
Outside the hotel, dozens of people gathered in an act to express their support for the former president.
The former president was indicted for the first time under Operation Car Wash. The charges also target his wife, Marisa Letícia da Silva, and six other people: Paulo Okamotto, head of the Lula Institute, Léo Pinheiro, former CEO at construction company OAS, and four other people linked to the same firm. Lula was accused of money laundering, passive corruption, and misrepresentation.
Prosecutors claim that the former president received illicit advantages in connection with the renovation of a triplex apartment in the beach city of Guarujá, São Paulo, carried out by OAS. According to the officials, the refurbishment was offered as compensation for Lula’s actions in a corruption scheme at Petrobras.
In a note, the PT likened the allegations against the onetime president to summary trial, and added that the goal of prosecutors is to remove Lula from the presidential race in 2018. “We urge all democrats to resist.”
In a snide reference to the unelected government that has overthrown his successor Dilma Rousseff, Lula said that “it has been shown that bureaucracy is more powerful than the President of the country.”
Popularly known simply as Lula, da Silva said at the press conference that his Worker’ Party “government was the most inclusive Brazil has ever seen,” and invested heavily in education, and had made every effort to rid the country of longstanding corruption.
The implication couldn’t be clearer. Rousseff is a woman, and she has been replaced by an unelected administration of white men, nearly half of whom are under investigation for corruption, public malfeasance, bribe-taking and influence peddling while in office.
Rousseff, on the other hand, was impeached for “cooking the books” to make Brazil’s financial situation appear better than it was in the runup to her reelection campaign.
Lula called the whole process a “spectacle.” He also hinted that he will indeed run in the next presidential election.
“If my adversaries want to bring me down, they will have to fight me with votes.”
According to allegations from federal police, Lula was the mastermind of the corruption scheme at the state-managed oil company, Petrobras, and directly benefited in the form of a gifted apartment in Guarujá and a farm in Atibaia, both in the state of São Paulo.
Supporters argue the actions against Lula are politically-motivated and an attempt to prevent him from running as president in the next election in 2018.
Lula remains a popular figure, and some believe he is the odds-on-favorite to win the next presidential poll.
Sérgio Moro, the judge who in charge of the Lula case should decide on Monday if he will accept the charges against the former president, in which case he will become a defendant.
The charges filed against Lula and seven others was met with immediate reactions in the Senate. Even before the prosecutors’ press conference was over, senators historically opposed to Lula had issued statements commending the efforts of the Federal Prosecution Service (MPF).
“The public prosecutors have done an excellent, meticulous, lengthy job of unraveling this scandal that originated from the mensalão (big monthly allowance). The Workers’ Party (PT), led by Lula, has always behaved like a gang that only cared about obtaining benefits for their group and remain in power. They all should be tried and convicted for their crimes,” said Senator Ronaldo Caiado, leader of DEM party.
For Green Party Senator Álvaro Dias, the charges confirmed “an intricate, sophisticated corruption plot with long-term power ambitions.” He noted the case should not be “prejudiced”, but added that the charges are of “utmost gravity”.
Senator Paulo Bauer, leader of PSDB, the party that is the main nemesis of Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT), said that “no Brazilian citizen is above the law, so we should let justice do its job.”
For Workers’ Party members, however, the charges against the former president “had been expected.” According to Senator Paulo Paim, the only question was whether they would be filed before or after the municipal elections in October 2016.
“They decided to file them before,” he said. For Paim, “Lula and the Workers’ Party face accusations every week, there’s nothing new about that. But charges are not the same as conviction, and it doesn’t mean they are true,” he said.
At the House of Representatives, Workers’ Party leader Afonso Florence said prosecutors in Operation Car Wash have not provided proof that Lula is the owner of the beachfront triplex apartment over which he is accused of receiving improper advantages.
“Investigating is not enough, there must be evidence. They are indicting him without investigation and robust evidence, but they haven’t investigated the six allegations implicating Aécio [Neves, national president of the PSDB] and several testimonies implicating [Foreign Minister José] Serra [who is also a PSDB member],” he complained.
The deputy leader of the Workers’ Party, Paulo Pimenta, also said the prosecutors’ actions are part of “a political strategy that as one of its main aims is trying to tarnish former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the Workers’ Party as criminals.” He said the charges are weak and no evidence has been provided of Lula’s involvement.
The former president’s opponents in the lower house celebrated the indictment. One of them was Deputy Rubens Bueno, who says Lula has used his position as president to obtain improper advantage. “We are seeing a confirmation of all we thought: Lula is the mastermind behind this [corruption] scandal,” he said.
Bueno said, however, that the defense still needs to be heard, and it is up to the court to decide if Lula is liable or innocent. “As a defendant, he [Lula] will have to give explanations before the court and tell about the crimes committed by the Workers’ Party in the 13 years of its reign,” he said. “But that’s for justice to tell […] Let’s wait and see,” he said.
Deputy Onix Lorenzoni (DEM) said Lula and the Workers’ Party are not being politically persecuted through Operation Car Wash. “Public prosecutors are making a careful job, and the charges confirm information gathered by Federal Police. I’m sure the charges will be accepted. There is no question that the triplex belongs to Lula,” he said.
Former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC) recommended caution before commenting on the allegations made by prosecutors of the Operation Car Wash against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
“We have to wait to see what the judiciary says. The charges are one part, the other is to examine what is right and wrong,” said the former president in Rio de Janeiro.
According to the allegations made by the prosecutors of the Operation Car Wash task force, Lula received undue benefits from companies involved in Petrobras corruption scandal. Lula said that the complaints have a political motivation to prevent him from running as candidate to the presidency in 2018 elections.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso declined to comment on the statement. “I sincerely lament that a person with the history that President Lula traced now faces so many difficulties, so I prefer not to comment.”