Brazilians in Italy still phone their friends back home — starting from the fellow nuns who had to flee their country 40 years ago after helping Lelio Basso prepare the proceedings of the International Peoples’ Tribunal, which denounced the horrors of Brazilian dictatorship (and have since been a pillar of the Foundation). Attendees of the World Social Forum in Puerto Alegre send angry texts from Rio, and Workers Party mates text from Sao Paulo.
The most beautiful text comes from storyteller Gustav Prado: “End of the race for you, former alejado (‘with his fingers cut off’) president. They did not convict you because of the three apartments. It’s because of your courage to help kids become lawyers, to contribute to the rise of black people in the favelas who now believe they can go on to study medicine, break the barriers of poverty and maybe even see the Sistine Chapel. End of the race for you, foolish ex-president. You are convicted not because you stole — this has not been proved. Your mistake was to be part of history and to make Brazilian history — with an 80 percent approval rating — to believe in equality, to govern. End of the race for you, ex-president.”
Adolfo Perez Esquivel calls from Buenos Aires. For years, he was the president of the International League for the Rights of Peoples, the political branch of the Basso Foundation (and I had the honor of being his deputy), raising support behind a petition to give Lula the Nobel Peace Prize — as happened to Martin Luther King.
Writing a heartfelt article on a dramatic events, even having a close friendship with their protagonist, is not something that happens often. It is happening to me now and to many others here in Italy: because we met Lula when he was still leading the metalworkers union in Sao Paulo. But we also met him many times here in Europe as part of our shared effort to free Latin America from dictatorships and oppression. Then finally, we got to know him when he became a symbol of hope for redemption, proof that “another world is possible.”
I don’t think what is happening in Brazil has a precedent: a huge crowd of working class and poor desperately trying to defend a president, sentenced to over 12 years in jail, from arrest, shortly before an election in which he remains the favorite (by far).
In fact, Lula’s popularity is what explains an unprecedented judiciary frenzy against him that led to a proceeding that would be unthinkable in a democratic country. The blatantly outspoken goal was to block him from running for election, removing him through the judiciary.
The army, the primary threat in all Latin America’s coups, spoke out in favor of the latest expedient to restore ‘normality’: a government that returns to favor the rich, ending the ‘scandal’ of a government trying to help the poorest to get out of destitution and misery — in Lula’s case with a remarkable degree of success.
Lula’s case is not the only one. President Dilma Rousseff was ousted in the same way. And Argentina is following suit. And it’s difficult to stand up against what’s going on: 42 journalists have been murdered in Latin America in 2017 alone.
But we have to remain appalled at how the Italian media are describing the events around Lula: mostly in short articles, and whoever gives the issue more space never really mentions how the proceedings really went. Nobody has outright lied, but the omissions are eloquent.
It’s up to all of us to organize in order to support the ones fighting against the umpteenth attempt to put out their hope. And the last decade was a great hope in Latin America.