“You shouldn’t vote for that troglodyte Bolsonaro again.”
A few minutes after the ruling of the Federal Supreme Court that annulled all his convictions for lack of standing, Lula was already on the attack, throwing barbs against the man that the judges, rather than the voters, have made president of Brazil in his place. Because that was “his” place, since in 2018 there was no poll—no matter how dubious the provenance—that did not give the leader of the Partido dos Trabalhadores as the winner of a landslide victory. Of course, polls are not elections, but still.
The last three years should not have existed, the proto-fascist president Jair Bolsonaro should not have been there, the Amazon should not have burned, indigenous gay women and trade unionists should not have been persecuted, insulted and occasionally killed, COVID should not have massacred 265,000 Brazilians, and maybe there would not have been time for it to mutate into the fearsome South American variant. It was a prank, so sorry, let’s press rewind… Lula libre!
Instead, Luiz Inàcio da Silva was condemned by Judge Sergio Moro, the man who had photos of Di Pietro in his office instead of Pelé, and who claimed he could judge every accusation against the leftist president in his fiefdom of Curitiba. Lula was sentenced to nine years in jail for various charges of corruption. He was re-sentenced on appeal so fast that it set world records, with hundreds of thousands of pages of documents “revised” in a few days—and his sentence became 12 years. He was prevented from running for office by the Clean Records Act that he himself had pushed for. And he was replaced by an ultra-right-wing firebrand chosen by powers that thought they controlled him—and ended up with a deranged man leading the country, along with COVID, which Bolsonaro denied and promptly got infected with at a 4th of July party at the U.S. Embassy in honor of his friend and fellow virus denier Donald Trump.
It was the outcome of what Brazilians call “lawfare,” the judicial route to power or the destruction of others’ power.
It was an operation that began after the Lula presidencies of 2002 and 2006, included the attack on Dilma Rousseff—the PT economist who succeeded Lula in 2010, ousted in 2016 by a palace coup and replaced by the exponent of the traditional kleptocracy, Michel Temer—and was based on the investigations led by Judge Moro, who, after the success of his lawfare campaign, was appointed Minister of Justice in the Bolsonaro government. It didn’t last long: El Capitan Bolsonaro is too much for almost everyone, and threatening people with the pau de arara (the torture implement consisting of a pole passed behind the wrists and knees of prisoners who are hung from it) at every turn certainly doesn’t help.
In short, the “corrupt” PT leader was probably not corrupt at all, and in any case will be judged in Brasilia, a decidedly more neutral jurisdiction than the hostile Curitiba. Not that the moral issue does not also concern the PT, let’s be clear. In the Brazilian right-wing, the habit of being in government has almost always accompanied that of robbery, while the left—excluded by coups, military juntas and economic shenanigans—has not had the chance to practice the art of lining its own pockets while in power.
When it began to do so, it did corruption in an amateur way—the ola roja, the red wave of Latin American progressive governments of the 2000s, did not even pose the question of its own corrupt people, and ended up producing a certain amount of them. And in Lula’s Brazil, the mensalão, the “salary” that the PT paid to various politicians to guarantee their votes, became very famous: in 2012, 25 bigwigs in politics and finance were jailed, from Lula’s right-hand man, José Dirceu, to the boss of Banco do Brasil, Henrique Pizzolato, who fled to Italy thanks to a providential Italian passport but was arrested months later in Maranello, where expensive cars are produced. There shouldn’t have been so much wrongdoing.
In November 2019, Lula came out from the cell made just for him on the fourth floor of a police barracks in Curitiba and gave a clenched fist salute. He could watch his favorite soccer team, Corinthians, on live TV thanks to the courtesy of his jailers, but he had also spent 580 days behind bars and suffered the theft of the presidential elections he had been close to winning. Now he is a candidate again.
The PT spoke of “measured joy” at the sentence that clears Lula’s record (while there will still be an ordeal of new trials to face). It also spoke of a “final defeat” for the lawfare operations, and especially for the Lava Jato investigation, conducted by Moro in such a partisan manner that he will now have to defend himself. And the party insisted that being able to run does not automatically mean being a candidate. They took four years from his life, and now he is 75 and with more than one ailment, but the Supreme Court’s ruling returned him to politics, and running against Bolsonaro in 2022 remains the most likely scenario: the Estado de São Paulo, a conservative newspaper, published a poll on Sunday that showed Lula at 50% and Bolsonaro at 38%.
But he could also support Fernando Haddad again, the candidate that the PT chose after his conviction, or a candidate that would come out of a coalition of left-wing parties, or even the candidate of a possible progressive coalition enlarged by the right wingers who broke with Bolsonaro—and there are a few.
In the meantime, Lula is enjoying the congratulations of half the world, including those of some Italians in the progressive camp: Nicola Zingaretti, Enrico Letta and Massimo D’Alema, and even Beppe Grillo, have all expressed satisfaction at the return of the metalworker who became president. This seems odd for someone accused of corruption—but most likely, the accusation was “odd” in itself.
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