As the aggressive Brazillian-right seeks to bar the most popular leader from contesting elections, global demand for Lula’s release amplifies, argues Patrick Foley
Since a parliamentary coup took place in 2016, against elected President Dilma Rousseff, Brazilian democracy has been under immense threat. October's Presidential election offers a way out of the political crisis, but the country's most popular candidate has been arrested without material evidence against him. Brazilian democracy is still at stake.
Former President Lula da Silva, known as Lula, was arrested in April after being charged with receiving a "bribe" from construction company OAS in the form of an apartment. No evidence has been produced that Lula or his late wife had taken any ownership of the apartment. In fact, the entire case is based upon the plea bargain of a convicted OAS executive, Jose Pinheiro Filho. It has also been reported that Pinheiro was initially blocked from plea bargaining when his original story matched Lula's and that he had already spent six months in pre-trial detention before giving the testimony.
The role of the prosecuting judge in the case, Sergio Moro, has come under heavy criticism within Brazil and internationally. British QC Geoffrey Robertson has taken the case to the United Nations human rights committee and said that the tactics used by Moro "would inevitably get a judge removed from the case" if carried out here in Britain.
Lula has led every single 2018 poll, even in those polls carried out since his arrest. His popularity stems from the huge gains he has made while in office, with the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) lifting millions from poverty and reducing the rampant Brazillian inequality through a series of world-renowned reforms. However, unless the warped conviction and arrest of the former president is overturned, Lula will not be allowed to participate in the 2018 elections.
Second in the polls behind Lula is the infamous ultra-conservative Jair Bolsonaro, who has made a name for himself as the "Latin American Trump." What this translates to is that the right-wing congressman openly holds homophobic, misogynistic, and racist views. While his public support for Brazil's past military dictatorship is worrying, his comments to a female fellow politician are among the most shocking.
Back in 2016, he told Federal Deputy Maria do Rosario: "I wouldn't rape you because you're not worthy of it" and then proceeded to brag about the statement to his followers on social media claiming he had "put her in her place." The coup government itself is extremely unpopular, having implemented hard-line neoliberal reforms that would have never been accepted at the ballot box. These include a 20-year freeze on healthcare and education spending; scrapping environmental and indigenous protections; rolling back Brazil's labour laws; and privatising major public utilities.
Michel Temer, the imposed President and key orchestrator of the coup, is the most unpopular President in Brazil's history. He has an eight-year ban from running for office against him, has been implicated in multiple corruption scandals and was even caught on wiretap discussing a bribe to silence imprisoned former speaker Eduardo Cunha.
The stark reality facing the 64 million Brazilians who supported Rousseff and the PT is that they voted for a left-wing President, had a right-wing President imposed on them and will now face a choice between hard-right and centrist candidates at the next election if Lula is kept off the ballot. Progressive policies were a clear winner in the last election and, yet, they are being wiped off the map.
These attempts to shut down progressive politics are not isolated to the electoral system, incidences of violence against the left are on the rise in Brazil, with Lula supporters facing numerous incidents of targetted attacks.
Before his arrest, a campaign bus of Lula's was shot at by unknown attackers. A few weeks ago, a "Free Lula" protest camp was shot at during the night, injuring two. Peaceful protesters have been beaten with metal poles while attackers have voraciously shouted far-right slogans. These attacks bear all the signs of an intimidation campaign aimed at stopping the movement behind Lula and this is precisely why Brazilian progressives need international support.
This month, Rousseff was in Britain where she met with progressive figures of the labour movement to talk about the situation in Brazil. Among them was Chris Williamson, a Labour MP who has been speaking publicly against the coup since it first took place in 2016, who said that Dilma's "undemocratic impeachment was a tragedy for the Brazilian people." Rousseff also met shadow secretary of state for justice Richard Burgon, who said it was "worrying to hear how a politicised judiciary has excluded Lula."
Internationally, support for Lula is growing and on May 16, five former European leaders penned a letter calling Lula a "tireless journeyman in the reduction of inequalities in Brazil and a defender of the poor" – further criticising his imprisonment.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)