Interview. ‘If [Moro] has a project for the country, let him present it, this time without hiding behind a robe. But people are not interested in empty promises, because what is empty now is the dinner tables and the refrigerators of Brazilians.’

Interview with Lula: It’s time to rebuild Brazil

In Brazil, literally crumbling from the failure of the Bolsonaro government, the engines are revving up for October’s elections, and Lula, who emerged victorious from his judicial trials, could be up against his great accuser, Judge Sergio Moro, among the competitors for the presidency. Whoever wins the position of head of government will, in any case, have to lay the foundations for the reconstruction of a country in the throes of a full-blown economic and health emergency, rebuild the fabric of democratic dialogue, regenerate the mechanisms of integration between investments and social justice and pacify a deeply polarized people.

The challenge seems enormous, but it is very similar to that of 2002-2003, when the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) won the government for the first time and led Brazil from recession to being the sixth-largest economy in the world. The past 20 years have left their mark on a country that has been radically transformed, crossed by a burning crisis and internal contradictions within the left itself, which, in the difficult task of regaining credibility, is struggling to rebuild the democratic-popular process that led to its victory.

President Lula, after the failures of the Bolsonaro government, the strategy of the denialist and populist far right is still receiving support from a part of the Brazilian people. Not only elites, but also a part of those popular sectors that have benefited from the policies of the PT. How do you explain this?

In a context of democratic normality, Bolsonaro would not have won the election. All the polls predicted that I would win with a large lead. He would not have been elected if it were not for the exceptional circumstances created by the coup against President Dilma Rouseff, the demonization of democratic politics, the persecution of the PT and my illegal imprisonment. We cannot forget that the major media were decisive in this process of breaking the rule of law. They have promoted a fearsome campaign of annihilation against us, and, at the same time, forged a false image of Bolsonaro as the “savior” of the country. They invented a Bolsonaro “myth,” which, in that context, deluded many people, including segments of the working classes.

Today, the situation has been completely reversed. The disappointment with the current government is enormous, and it is even greater with regard to Bolsonaro himself, despite the strong media support he continues to have. His absurd denialism has already cost the country thousands of lives. Misery and hunger have once again become the everyday reality of millions of Brazilians, the country is sinking into a deep economic crisis, with unemployment and hunger reaching frightening levels, not to mention Brazil’s international isolation, which seems to have become something of a worldwide joke. But, fortunately, most of the population is aware of Bolsonaro’s responsibility in this disaster and wants to defeat him in next October’s elections. Today, the only area in which Bolsonaro continues to prevail is that of economic privilege: an elite, extremist minority that is not ashamed to invent falsehoods and that, in fact, exists in almost every country, but has already been defeated in Chile, in the United States, and will be defeated in Brazil as well.

In 2018, in the midst of a judicial and political storm, when the outcome was still uncertain, you wrote the book Truth Will Win. The People Know Why I Was Convicted. Now that you have been acquitted, do you feel stronger? Can we say that the truth has won? After all, that book is not only a judicial defense, but most of all a political one.

The trial against me was entirely political, not something personal against Lula. It was against the Brazilian people and the achievements made. The consequences for Brazil and for the majority of our people are much more important than any of my feelings about this injustice. Because it was Brazilians who saw the economy crumble and lost their jobs due to the destruction of major companies and entire sectors of the economy because of Lava Jato. And it’s Brazilians who are living with hunger, misery and the backwards march of their rights today. This is exactly what they wanted, to create falsehoods to criminalize politics, and mainly the PT and Lula.

But I never doubted that I would prove my innocence and that those who persecuted me would answer for their manipulations and illegalities. That was the reason why I never thought of exiling myself, for example, to avoid prison. That was how I endured each of the 580 days I was imprisoned. This certainty and the solidarity of the people who were in permanent mobilization for me, the demonstrations of international support and backing, gave me the strength to resist.

If Sergio Moro will really be a candidate in the next elections, do you think that the electoral campaign could be altered by political-judicial strategies of interference and that the great issues of social equality, agrarian reform, the fight against hunger, the right to housing, climate justice, public education could take a back seat?

Whoever wants to run, let them run. The democracy that we fought so hard for in Brazil allows this. Moro will have the free right to be a candidate, something he denied me in 2018. If he has a project for the country, let him present it, this time without hiding behind a robe. But people are not interested in empty promises, because what is empty now is the dinner tables and the refrigerators of Brazilians. People are hungry, they don’t have work, or they work precariously, many live on the streets, others on ever lower wages and with prices rising ever higher.

As for the judiciary, everything tells me that its most serious and democratic sectors will not allow a repeat of the political favoritism of 2018. Moro’s and Lava Jato’s illegalities have ruined a great part of the image of the judiciary. In truth, Moro used the judiciary to become Bolsonaro’s “superminister.” And he went on to attack justice itself. We must be vigilant, with the help of the same international public opinion, but the Constitutional Court has already made it clear that it will not allow the elections to be manipulated again.

Recently, the traditional parties have experienced a political crisis, swept away by the wave of populism, including from the left. It seems that a mere acronym can be more effective than a party that carries with it the weight of its history. Do you think that the PT, for its part, with its traditional party structure historically allied to social movements, is still attractive to the new generations?

I don’t know if the PT is a traditional party. Honestly, in the usual sense of the word, I think it’s not. We have our path of 42 years that has given us strong popular roots. But, at the same time, the PT has shown great capacity for self-renewal, for creative and courageous responses to new national and global challenges. Perhaps this is why the PT continues to be, in all polls, and to the surprise of many, the favorite party of Brazilian youth.

I believe that all this has to do with the very origin of the PT. We were born heterodox and plural. We were born out of the struggles against the military dictatorship and for the democratization of the country. From the beginning, we have united quite distinct movements, sectors and political cultures: the new trade unionism of the late 1970s, the grassroots Christian communities, the great intellectuals of democratic socialism, the peasants and family farming movements, the Black, feminist and ecologist movements, as well as various leftist groups that were emerging from the clandestine struggle against the military. What unites us is not a system of thought, an ideology, but the freedom-loving spirit and a project of emancipation for Brazil. I think that in Latin America there are other older parties that also have a great capacity for innovation, as, for example, in the case of the Frente Amplio in Uruguay. Do you know any leader who is more traditional and more innovative than Pepe Mujica? And there are more recent attempts that have had extraordinary outcomes, such as those of Lopez Obrador in Mexico, Xiomara Castro in Honduras and Gabriel Boric in Chile. I am convinced that by uniting the old and the new, we will have an excellent chance of resuming the process of integration and development in Latin America.

In any case, I don’t think that the properly traditional left-wing parties — especially those with a centuries-old social democratic tradition — are going through a bad time. Certainly, they went through a difficult period at the height of neoliberal hegemony in the world. In that era, there were also some parties that allowed themselves to be seduced by the song of the neoliberal sirens. But today it is clear that neoliberalism is a failed economic and social model. The fight against the coronavirus has itself shown that it is necessary to redeem the persuading and coordinating role of the democratic state. The economic crisis of 2008 had already revealed the senselessness of an unregulated economy, the tremendous risk of a financial capital that irresponsibly devotes itself to the search for easy profit alone. I see that in Europe, despite the growth of the extreme right, there is a return to valuing welfare and social policies. I think this explains why the Social Democratic Party is governing Germany in alliance with the Greens, who are an important force for renewal; why the Socialist Workers Party is governing in Spain, together with Podemos and other progressive parties; and why the Socialist Party is governing in Portugal, for example.

We must unite democratic and progressive forces to give greater effectiveness to the project of a peaceful, balanced and just international system, which will necessarily have to be multilateral and multipolar, in which all peoples would have real chances for prosperity and social justice.

Many political analysts consider that the PT has attained hegemony through a popular-business pact and the strategy of “class pacification.” In the event of an electoral victory, in the midst of a pandemic crisis, with inflation, new poverty, unemployment and the devaluation of the national currency, do you think this is still the right strategy for rebuilding the country?

Whoever governs Brazil will have the mission of rebuilding the country. And it is not possible to think of rebuilding the country with millions of people who are left hungry. Guaranteeing three meals a day for everyone is the number one priority. The second objective, which is not separate from the first, is to generate work and income. For this, the country needs stability and credibility. The state must return to investing to guarantee people’s rights, build hospitals, get schools working, expand the universities — all of this helps move the economy. Investing in infrastructure and logistics, maintaining strong exports while recovering and expanding the domestic market, making the economy work, and showing businesses that it’s worth investing in Brazil.

I mean, it’s not very different from what we have already done, because when we first went into government, the situation was already one of economic crisis. And from a country in crisis we came to be the sixth largest economy in the world, with a vast process of social inclusion and reduction of inequality and with an exciting growth in the self-esteem of the Brazilian people. In Brazil, the “new” will be to regain what we have lost, and which was already pointing towards a path for the future. With a lot of democracy and dialogue.

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