Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva walked free from jail on Friday after a year and a half behind bars for corruption, following a court ruling that could release about 5.000 convicts.
Wearing a black T-shirt and suit jacket, Lula pumped his fist in the air as he exited the federal police headquarters in the southern city of Curitiba and was quickly mobbed by hundreds of supporters and journalists.
Lula addressed the crowd, thanking his supporters, colleagues and lawyers, his voice at times drowned out by the cheers of the crowd and fireworks.
“I didn’t think that today I could be here talking to men and women that during 580 days shouted good morning, good afternoon or goodnight, no matter if it was raining or 40 degrees (Celsius),” he said, flanked by his girlfriend Rosangela da Silva, whom he kissed on stage.
Lula’s highly-anticipated exit from the facility where he had been held since April 2018 came hours after his lawyers requested the immediate release of the 74-year-old, who has been serving a nearly nine-year sentence for corruption and money laundering.
Late Thursday, the Supreme Court overturned a rule requiring convicted criminals to go to jail after losing their first appeal. Lula is one of several thousand convicts who could benefit from the decision.
Those convicts would remain free until they had exhausted their rights to appeal – a process critics say could take years in cases involving people able to afford expensive lawyers.
Many of those affected by the 6-5 ruling are political and business leaders caught up in a massive corruption probe dubbed Car Wash that began in 2014.
Lula was “very serene” and the Supreme Court ruling had given him “hope that there could be justice,” his lawyer Cristiano Zanin said earlier.
“Our judicial battle continues, our focus is to get the legal case nullified.
Lula, who led Brazil through a historic boom from 2003 to 2010, earning him the gratitude of millions of Brazilians for redistributing wealth to haul them out of poverty, was serving eight years and 10 months for corruption.
He was sentenced to almost 13 years in jail in February in a separate corruption case and still faces another half dozen corruption trials.
Lula has denied all the charges, arguing they were politically motivated to keep him out of the 2018 presidential election that was won by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
“I’m coming for you, wait for me!”, Lula’s girlfriend, tweeted after the Supreme Court announced its decision.
Bolsonaro has been unusually quiet about the court’s ruling that could free his nemesis.
However on Friday following a ceremony where he delivered hundreds of school busses in Goiás state, and was scheduled to a media conference, the president at the last moment canceled the interview to avoid talking about Lula.
But his sons have taken to Twitter to attack the decision.
“Thousands of prisoners will be released and rattle everyone, regardless of their political beliefs, generating serious internal and external social and economic reactions,” Carlos Bolsonaro tweeted.
Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who convicted Lula when he was a judge in 2017, said the Supreme Court’s decision must be respected, but he noted “Congress can modify the Constitution or the law” to allow the jailing of convicted criminals after losing their first appeal.
Even though he has been freed, Lula’s criminal record will prevent him from resuming his political career. He is the founder of the Workers Party (PT).
That could change, however, if the Supreme Court were to decide in a separate case that Moro had been biased.
Lula’s release could invigorate the left and, paradoxically, also help Bolsonaro, who was swept to power in 2018 on a wave of anti-PT sentiment, said Thomaz Favaro of Control Risks consultancy.
“You will have Lula more present on the political scene and that allows Bolsonaro to reinforce his role as leader of the anti-PT field,” Favaro said.
Talking to the Workers
After having spent 580 days as a political prisoner in Curitiba, Brazil’s former president on Saturday arrived at the ABC Union of Workers of Metallurgical Industry, which is located in São Bernardo do Campo, the city where he began his political life as a worker leader.
Upon leaving the Curitiba prison, Lula said that he will return to politics and work for the unity of the Latin American peoples.
“My goal is to build a very strong Latin American integration; my dream is still to build our great Latin America,” Lula said in a message to the Puebla Group, a forum of progressive leaders among whom is Argentina’s President-elect Alberto Fernandez.
Dozens of caravans from all over Brazil arrived in São Bernardo do Campo, to listen to Lula’s speech. In the streets around the ABC Union headquarters, Lula’s fans sang and waved flags.
“Lula is here to guide us and make a project for Brazil to grow again and for people to be healthy,” PT lawmaker Benedita da Silva said and reported that entire families have no jobs and are homeless.
According to analysts, the release of Lula will have noticeable effects on the politics of Brazil, a country where the population is increasingly dissatisfied with President Jair Bolsonaro’s agenda.
“The release of Lula is the beginning of a new era in Brazilian politics. It means an opportunity to recover democracy and hope. Bolsonaro knows it. He is desperate, weak, fearful. He has no chance of improving his government,” journalist Celeste Silveira said, adding that the far-right President is “lost.”
After being silent for a few hours, the far-right President on Saturday expressed his opinion about Lula’s freedom through aggressive and threatening statements.
“Lovers of freedom and good, we are the majority. Without a north star and a directive, even the best troops become a band shooting at all sides,” Bolsonaro wrote.
“Do not give ammunition to the scoundrel, who is momentarily free but full of guilt,” he added, not referring to Lula by name.
His lawyer, Cristiano Zanin, said “Our judicial battle continues, our focus is to get the legal case nullified.”
Lula governed as leader of the leftist Workers’ Party from 2003 to 2010. He was and remains a popular figure on the left, with his arrest in 2018 and subsequent withdrawal from the presidential race paving the way for the election of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
Lula had already appealed his conviction but it was upheld last year, and he was put behind bars in April 2018. He is known as a working-class hero who is popular for his common touch.
“You are the nourishment of democracy,” he told crowds. “The doors of Brazil will be open for me to travel around the country,” he added.
It is not yet clear what political role Lula may attempt to occupy now that he is free.
Lula’s hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached and removed from office in 2016. Then h was jailed in April 2018 after a group of judges upheld his conviction for corruption and money laundering. That left his leftist Workers’ Party rudderless, and it was further demoralized when routed in the 2018 general elections.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, called for Lula’s release from prison in June and remains the only 2020 presidential candidate to do so. Sanders tweeted Friday that he was “delighted” Lula was free,” calling the Brazilian leader’s imprisonment “something that never should have happened in the first place.”
MP, TS, DW