Cleared by Justice, Lula Seems Ready for a Third Presidential Run

Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva showed that his political career is far from over. Lula, as he is more commonly known, returned to address the nation after the annulment of his corruption convictions.

Lula was previously known for his casual attire, including many red shirts, in honor of the Workers’ Party, which he founded in 1980. This time, sporting a sharp dark suit with a powder blue dress shirt, the 75-year-old’s message was clear. He is back.

Earlier this month, a justice of Brazil’s Supreme Court annulled Lula’s two bribery convictions, clearing the way for the former president to run in the 2022 elections and challenge the far-Right president Jair Bolsonaro. Lula, who led Brazil between 2003 and 2011, said he remained unsure about whether to seek a third term.

Barely looking down at his notes during a speech that lasted nearly two hours, Lula showcased his trademark confidence and charisma throughout. A metalworker who rose to prominence in the 1980s as a union leader, Lula used everyday language to discuss the economy and to criticize Bolsonaro for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis that has besieged the country, claiming that Brazil currently “has no government”.

Although it remains unconfirmed whether his name will be on the ballot next year, many pundits and members of the public are certain it will. Certainly, his public appearance this week bore all the hallmarks of a presidential campaign.

Addressing journalists while standing in front of a famous picture of himself being held aloft by a crowd of supporters, and with a banner in the top right-hand corner reading; “Health, jobs and justice for Brazil”, Lula immediately took aim at the injustice that had been bestowed upon him.

Declaring himself “the victim of the biggest judicial lie told in the country’s 500-year history”, Lula went on to describe the suffering he endured in prison from April 2018 to November 2019, when the Supreme Court ruled that defendants may remain free while their appeals are pending.

Lula was sentenced to 26 years after being convicted of accepting bribes from Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned, multinational oil company, in two separate corruption and money-laundering cases.

He was investigated as part of the largest anti-corruption effort in Brazil’s history, Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato), which was led by a mega taskforce from the federal police’s Curitiba branch.

Scandal, Ambition and Operation Car Wash

Lula’s conviction and subsequent arrest prevented him from running in the 2018 presidential elections, which took place six months after his sentencing. While sitting in jail, Lula still led Bolsonaro in the polls, with many harboring suspicions that his arrest was engineered to ensure a Bolsonaro victory.

While Lula’s star dimmed in jail, the man who was hailed by many to be the solution to Brazil’s deep-seated corruption problems, Sergio Moro, shot to stardom. The former judge gained widespread recognition for his active role in the taskforce and for ordering Lula’s arrest. He became a hero in the eyes of half of the population in a divided nation.

The other half believed him to be a self-serving careerman with political aspirations. When Bolsonaro announced he had picked Moro as his justice minister, the accusations of bias grew louder. Nevertheless, admirers of Operation Car Wash stood by his decision to accept a political office.

However, the situation changed in mid-2019, just six months into Bolsonaro’s presidency and Moro’s new role. On 9 June, the online publication The Intercept Brasil, led by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, began publishing a series of leaked messages exchanged on Telegram between figures involved in the taskforce.

Many of them seemed to suggest that Judge Moro communicated frequently with prosecutors and that he even counseled the team behind Lula’s corruption charges.

That was to prove the beginning of the end for Moro. After falling out of favor with Bolsonaro, the former judge resigned in April 2020, less than a year after the scandal that became known as Vaza Jato (roughly translated as Car Wash Leaks).

Even before The Intercept’s bombshell revelations, jurists often pointed out the inconsistencies and contradictions in the case against Lula. In the eyes of his supporters, Lula was a political prisoner, and inspired the Free Lula movement (Lula Livre). The leaked messages renewed hopes among his supporters that his convictions would be overturned.

Lula’s defense team asked the Supreme Court to judge whether Moro had acted with the necessary impartiality. On Tuesday, the five justices assigned to the case tabled the decision. They tied in a 2-2 vote after the fifth judge, who joined the court in November, said he was unable to cast an opinion because he lacked sufficient knowledge of the case.

Pathway to the Presidency

While connected to the accusations against Moro, this week’s annulments stemmed from a different argument.

Justice Edson Fachin – who voted against the prejudice charge against Moro back in December – ruled that the four cases against Lula fell outside of the jurisdiction of the 13th Federal Court of Curitiba, contending that the crimes did not happen in the city, located in the southern state of Paraná. The cases will be forwarded to the capital of Brasilia for reconsideration.

Fachin’s decision does not exonerate Lula, as the judge did not determine whether the former president was innocent or guilty of the charges brought against him. Regardless, Lula is now free to run for office until he is re-tried in the capital, which could take years. To become ineligible again, Lula would have to be convicted before submitting his candidacy in mid-2022, which is unlikely to happen.

Brazil’s attorney general’s office has appealed against Fachin’s decision, asking the Supreme Court to reverse it. However, Fachin’s arguments are in line with previous decisions taken by the country’s highest court, which legal experts claim are unlikely to be overturned.

Seeing that Fachin sided with Moro in the prejudice accusations against him, the internal assessment in the Supreme Court is that he opted to overturn the convictions against Lula to prevent others from using the same argument against the former judge, starting a domino effect that could jeopardize the entire Car Wash inquiry.

Economic Decline and the Amazon

Though Lula is now free to run for office, the political landscape has changed since he left the president’s office in January 2011 with a record 83% approval rate, which made him Brazil’s most popular president in modern history.

Following his speech on Wednesday, the dollar dropped by 2.5% and the Brazilian stock exchange rose by 1.3%. This week’s polls place Lula just six percentage points behind Bolsonaro in the 2022 presidential election, a gap that is likely to narrow after the court’s ruling.

Lula’s re-emergence comes at a time where Brazil is still struggling with the pandemic, with a death toll of more than 280,000 – the world’s second highest. Bolsonaro has consistently been criticized for downplaying the pandemic and his denial of science, aggravating the problem in a country where implementing social distancing measures is already challenging given that 41.4% of the population depend on informal jobs and at least 13.6 million live in overcrowded, marginalized neighborhoods known as favelas.

Despite Bolsonaro being elected partly thanks to his ultraliberal economic promises, Brazil’s GDP, which had grown by a disappointing 1% in the first year of his presidency, has shrunk by 4.1% amid the pandemic – the worst setback since 1996.

Bolsonaro, with his growing far-Right agenda, has lost support among the financial elite and investment in the country has fallen by half. His disregard for the environment – particularly the Amazon, which has had record deforestation rates under his administration – has also hurt Brazil’s relationship with some of the world’s most powerful economies: US President Joe Biden has threatened Brazil with sanctions, while European companies have threatened boycotts of Brazilian products.

Although Brazil’s current predicaments may encourage Lula, especially after the recent events, there is still room for caution. The annulment of his conviction is not a definitive victory for him or his supporters.

In a country with a 400-page constitution and a complex judicial system, decisions can be made and unmade in a matter of days. But Lula and his supporters will certainly be celebrating while they can. After all, Bolsonaro seems shaken.

Manuella Libardi is a Brazilian journalist and the Brazil editor for democraciaAbierta. She holds a Masters degree in International Relations. Twitter: @ManuellaLibardi

This article appeared originally in Open Democracy –



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It seems the future never arrives in Brazil What Lies Ahead in Brazil? Brazil Has No Exemplary Past or Present. But What Lies Ahead for the Country? Europeans, US, developed country, developing country. Bolsonaro, future B. Michael Rubin For years, experts have debated what separates a developing country from a developed one. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of a country is one simple way to measure its economic development. Another way to measure a country's progress is the extent of public education, e.g. how many citizens complete high school. A country's health may be measured by the effectiveness of its healthcare system, for example, life expectancy and infant mortality. With these measurement tools, it's easier to gauge the difference between a country like Brazil and one like the U.S. What's not easy to gauge is how these two countries developed so differently when they were both "discovered" at the same time. In 1492 and 1500 respectively, the U.S. and Brazil fell under the spell of white Europeans for the first time. While the British and Portuguese had the same modus operandi, namely, to exploit their discoveries for whatever they had to offer, not to mention extinguishing the native Americans already living there if they got in the way, the end result turned out significantly different in the U.S. than in Brazil. There are several theories on how/why the U.S. developed at a faster pace than Brazil. The theories originate via contrasting perspectives – from psychology to economics to geography. One of the most popular theories suggests the divergence between the two countries is linked to politics, i.e. the U.S. established a democratic government in 1776, while Brazil's democracy it could be said began only in earnest in the 1980s. This theory states that the Portuguese monarchy, as well as the 19th and 20th century oligarchies that followed it, had no motivation to invest in industrial development or education of the masses. Rather, Brazil was prized for its cheap and plentiful labor to mine the rich soil of its vast land. There is another theory based on collective psychology that says the first U.S. colonizers from England were workaholic Puritans, who avoided dancing and music in place of work and religious devotion. They labored six days a week then spent all of Sunday in church. Meanwhile, the white settlers in Brazil were unambitious criminals who had been freed from prison in Portugal in exchange for settling in Brazil. The Marxist interpretation of why Brazil lags behind the U.S. was best summarized by Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer, in 1970. Galeano said five hundred years ago the U.S. had the good fortune of bad fortune. What he meant was the natural riches of Brazil – gold, silver, and diamonds – made it ripe for exploitation by western Europe. Whereas in the U.S., lacking such riches, the thirteen colonies were economically insignificant to the British. Instead, U.S. industrialization had official encouragement from England, resulting in early diversification of its exports and rapid development of manufacturing. II Leaving this debate to the historians, let us turn our focus to the future. According to global projections by several economic strategists, what lies ahead for Brazil, the U.S., and the rest of the world is startling. Projections forecast that based on GDP growth, in 2050 the world's largest economy will be China, not the U.S. In third place will be India, and in fourth – Brazil. With the ascendency of three-fourths of the BRIC countries over the next decades, it will be important to reevaluate the terms developed and developing. In thirty years, it may no longer be necessary to accept the label characterized by Nelson Rodrigues's famous phrase "complexo de vira-lata," for Brazil's national inferiority complex. For Brazilians, this future scenario presents glistening hope. A country with stronger economic power would mean the government has greater wealth to expend on infrastructure, crime control, education, healthcare, etc. What many Brazilians are not cognizant of are the pitfalls of economic prosperity. While Brazilians today may be envious of their wealthier northern neighbors, there are some aspects of a developed country's profile that are not worth envying. For example, the U.S. today far exceeds Brazil in the number of suicides, prescription drug overdoses, and mass shootings. GDP growth and economic projections depend on multiple variables, chief among them the global economic situation and worldwide political stability. A war in the Middle East, for example, can affect oil production and have global ramifications. Political stability within a country is also essential to its economic health. Elected presidents play a crucial role in a country's progress, especially as presidents may differ radically in their worldview. The political paths of the U.S. and Brazil are parallel today. In both countries, we've seen a left-wing regime (Obama/PT) followed by a far-right populist one (Trump/Bolsonaro), surprising many outside observers, and in the U.S. contradicting every political pollster, all of whom predicted a Trump loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016. In Brazil, although Bolsonaro was elected by a clear majority, his triumph has created a powerful emotional polarization in the country similar to what is happening in the U.S. Families, friends, and colleagues have split in a love/hate relationship toward the current presidents in the U.S. and Brazil, leaving broken friendships and family ties. Both presidents face enormous challenges to keep their campaign promises. In Brazil, a sluggish economy just recovering from a recession shows no signs of robust GDP growth for at least the next two years. High unemployment continues to devastate the consumer confidence index in Brazil, and Bolsonaro is suffering under his campaign boasts that his Economy Minister, Paulo Guedes, has all the answers to fix Brazil's slump. Additionally, there is no end to the destruction caused by corruption in Brazil. Some experts believe corruption to be the main reason why Brazil has one of the world's largest wealth inequality gaps. Political corruption robs government coffers of desperately needed funds for education and infrastructure, in addition to creating an atmosphere that encourages everyday citizens to underreport income and engage in the shadow economy, thereby sidestepping tax collectors and regulators. "Why should I be honest about reporting my income when nobody else is? The politicians are only going to steal the tax money anyway," one Brazilian doctor told me. While Bolsonaro has promised a housecleaning of corrupt officials, this is a cry Brazilians have heard from every previous administration. In only the first half-year of his presidency, he has made several missteps, such as nominating one of his sons to be the new ambassador to the U.S., despite the congressman's lack of diplomatic credentials. A June poll found that 51 percent of Brazilians now lack confidence in Bolsonaro's leadership. Just this week, Brazil issued regulations that open a fast-track to deport foreigners who are dangerous or have violated the constitution. The rules published on July 26 by Justice Minister Sérgio Moro define a dangerous person as anyone associated with terrorism or organized crime, in addition to football fans with a violent history. Journalists noted that this new regulation had coincidental timing for an American journalist who has come under fire from Moro for publishing private communications of Moro's. Nevertheless, despite overselling his leadership skills, Bolsonaro has made some economic progress. With the help of congressional leader Rodrigo Maia, a bill is moving forward in congress for the restructuring of Brazil's generous pension system. Most Brazilians recognize the long-term value of such a change, which can save the government billions of dollars over the next decade. At merely the possibility of pension reform, outside investors have responded positively, and the São Paulo stock exchange has performed brilliantly, reaching an all-time high earlier this month. In efforts to boost the economy, Bolsonaro and Paulo Guedes have taken the short-term approach advocated by the Chicago school of economics championed by Milton Friedman, who claimed the key to boosting a slugging economy was to cut government spending. Unfortunately many economists, such as Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, disagree with this approach. They believe the most effective way to revive a slow economy is exactly the opposite, to spend more money not less. They say the government should be investing money in education and infrastructure projects, which can help put people back to work. Bolsonaro/Guedes have also talked about reducing business bureaucracy and revising the absurdly complex Brazilian tax system, which inhibits foreign and domestic business investment. It remains to be seen whether Bolsonaro has the political acumen to tackle this Godzilla-sized issue. Should Bolsonaro find a way to reform the tax system, the pension system, and curb the most egregious villains of political bribery and kickbacks – a tall order – his efforts could indeed show strong economic results in time for the next election in 2022. Meanwhile, some prominent leaders have already lost faith in Bolsonaro's efforts. The veteran of political/economic affairs, Joaquim Levy, has parted company with the president after being appointed head of the government's powerful development bank, BNDES. Levy and Bolsonaro butted heads over an appointment Levy made of a former employee of Lula's. When neither man refused to back down, Levy resigned his position at BNDES. Many observers believe Bolsonaro's biggest misstep has been his short-term approach to fixing the economy by loosening the laws protecting the Amazon rainforest. He and Guedes believe that by opening up more of the Amazon to logging, mining, and farming, we will see immediate economic stimulation. On July 28, the lead article of The New York Times detailed the vastly increased deforestation in the Amazon taking place under Bolsonaro's leadership. Environmental experts argue that the economic benefits of increased logging and mining in the Amazon are microscopic compared to the long-term damage to the environment. After pressure from European leaders at the recent G-20 meeting to do more to protect the world's largest rainforest, Bolsonaro echoed a patriotic response demanding that no one has the right to an opinion about the Amazon except Brazilians. In retaliation to worldwide criticism, Bolsonaro threatened to follow Trump's example and pull out of the Paris climate accord; however, Bolsonaro was persuaded by cooler heads to retract his threat. To prove who was in control of Brazil's Amazon region, he appointed a federal police officer with strong ties to agribusiness as head of FUNAI, the country's indigenous agency. In a further insult to the world's environmental leaders, not to mention common sense, Paulo Guedes held a news conference on July 25 in Manaus, the largest city in the rainforest, where he declared that since the Amazon forest is known for being the "lungs" of the world, Brazil should charge other countries for all the oxygen the forest produces. Bolsonaro/Guedes also have promised to finish paving BR-319, a controversial highway that cuts through the Amazon forest, linking Manaus to the state of Rondônia and the rest of the country. Inaugurated in 1976, BR-319 was abandoned by federal governments in the 1980s and again in the 1990s as far too costly and risky. Environmentalists believe the highway's completion will seal a death knoll on many indigenous populations by vastly facilitating the growth of the logging and mining industries. Several dozen heavily armed miners dressed in military fatigues invaded a Wajãpi village recently in the state of Amapá near the border of French Guiana and fatally stabbed one of the community's leaders. While Brazil's environmental protection policies are desperately lacking these days, not all the news here was bad. On the opening day of the 2019 Pan America Games in Lima, Peru, Brazilian Luisa Baptista, swam, biked, and ran her way to the gold medal in the women's triathlon. The silver medal went to Vittoria Lopes, another Brazilian. B. Michael Rubin is an American writer living in Brazil.

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