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Reportage. At home and abroad, activists have rallied around the former president of Brazil, Lula da Silva, after his politically tinged conviction on corruption charges Thursday.

Brazil takes to the streets for Lula

“No prison for Lula. Down with the coup.” Trade unions and movements are mobilizing in Brazil, after the first instance ruling that sentenced former President Lula da Silva to nine years and six months in prison and forbade him from public office.

His conviction for corruption and money laundering in the Brazilian corruption scandal Lava Jato was an unprecedented decision. It’s the first time in Brazil’s history that a former president is sentenced to prison for corruption.

Lula was accused of receiving bribes from the developer OAS, specifically an apartment on the Brazilian coast, through the state oil company Petrobras. The former metalworker has always denied any wrongdoing and his lawyers have provided extensive exculpatory evidence. However, according to Judge Sérgio Moro’s theory, Lula pulled the strings of the entire operation, diverting about $30 million from Petrobras. The centerpiece of the prosecution’s case — for which they did not present direct evidence — are the statements of informants. Lula’s legal team and the opposition left have repeatedly denounced the political use of these statements.

The lawyers of the former president have called the ruling “a disgrace” and announced they will prove Lula’s innocence in all national courts and even the United Nations. They say the real goal of the case is to get rid of the most popular candidate in the October 2018 elections. Lula is still the favorite in the polls.

“President Lula has always fully cooperated with the investigators, showing to Judge Moro and the prosecution that the place to settle political disagreements is at the polls, and not the court,” his lawyers said. “The investigation has had a terrible effect on his family, especially for his beloved wife, who died tragically earlier this year.” They said the whole process was a waste of taxpayer money and has “discredited Brazil internationally. It’s time to rebuild trust in the rule of law and have judge Moro answer for his abuse.”

The defense has filed an appeal, which means Lula can remain free until the second instance. According to the complicated Brazilian legal system, Lula’s political disqualification only applies after a second conviction. However, if a guilty sentence is awarded after the registration of his candidacy, the prohibition would stand with one exception: In the event the candidate wins, the Constitution provides for a possible suspension of the legal process.

There are legal precedents for this. The congressman Paulo Maluf was sentenced for administrative irregularities when he was mayor of Sao Paulo, and he appealed while he was campaigning for Congress. Pending the ruling, his candidacy stood. The Regional Electoral Court of Sao Paulo sentenced him, but the top electoral court ruled in his favor and Maluf — who is not exactly a saint, given the mountain of charges for embezzlement of public funds — entered Congress.

Lula, a political figure unparalleled in modern Brazil, is facing four cases. However, if the appeal judgment is not issued before October 2018, he will be the presidential candidate for the Workers’ Party and the coalitions of trade unions and movements that support him. Everything indicates, however, that the judiciary headed by Moro wants to accelerate the process. This ruling has already broken all speed records, compared to the average of 16 months for similar cases.

His supporters say elections without Lula would be a fraud and called the Brazilian courts the new “Condor Plan” against progressives in Latin America. From Argentina to Ecuador, from Bolivia to Venezuela, progressive presidents and popular organizations condemned the “judicial coup.” The Partido Comunista do Brasil (PCdoB), expressing “indignation,” wrote that Lula “is the endowment of the Brazilian people, an icon of our history and will be defended tooth and nail by all those who dream of a fairer country for all.”

Former president Dilma Rousseff has condemned the ruling, while her party and the Landless Workers’ and Homeless Workers’ movements are calling for demonstrations. The Argentinian Nobel Peace Prize winner Perez Esquivel, who expressed closeness to Lula, said that in Brazil “the state of exception is moving forward.”

The mobilization combines the solidarity behind the former trade union leader and the rejection against the liberticide reforms on work and pensions wanted by Temer. The labor reform passed in the Senate with 50 votes in favor, 26 against and one abstention. The legislation was armored against amendment in the House and is now before Temer. To persuade the undecided in his coalition, the de facto president has promised to amend certain particularly punishing points on over 100 issues that violate the Labor Law. But his powerful ally Rodrigo Maia (Speaker of the House and leader of the Conservative Democratic Party) wrote on Twitter that there will be no changes. Maia took office after the dismissal of Eduardo Cunha (PMDB), who is serving 15 years for corruption in the Petrobras case.

He could become Brazil’s next president if Temer resigns, if the Federal Supreme Court or the Electoral Court suspends him from office or if the impeachment is approved. In fact, Temer is under investigation and could be prosecuted if the Chamber decides to proceed based on the allegations of the Attorney General’s Office, taken by the corresponding parliamentary committee. The decision is forthcoming.

The report will be voted on by 513 members of Congress, and it will pass if approved by two thirds. The national leadership of the PMDB, Temer’s party, said it will punish any party congressmen who vote in favor of the admissibility of the complaint for corruption against the de facto president.

If Temer falls, Maia will have to convene indirect elections in one month. In this case, Congress would have to elect Temer’s replacement, who would govern until Jan. 1, 2019, when the winner of the October 2018 presidential elections would take over. But the alternative left is pressing for early direct elections.

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