With Charges Dropped, Popular Former President Lula da Silva May Run Against Bolsonaro in 2022

Interview with Alexander Main, director of international policy with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, conducted by Scott Harris

On March 8, a justice on Brazil’s Supreme Court annulled corruption convictions against the nation’s popular former Workers party President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, giving him the option of challenging far right incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro in next year’s national election. Lula, as he’s affectionately known, was convicted following a broad investigation into a bribery scandal called “Operation Car Wash,” preventing him from running against Bolsonaro in the 2018 election. Lula served 580 days in prison before being released in November 2019.

Former federal Judge Sergio Moro, who presided over Lula’s case, will face a trial of his own on allegations that he engaged in ethical violations. Messages leaked by The Intercept in 2019 revealed that Moro had been actively directing prosecutors in the former president’s case. However, Brazil’s Supreme Court could still reinstate charges against Lula.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Alexander Main, director of international policy with the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Here, he discusses Brazil’s recent Supreme Court ruling and the likelihood that Lula, who was widely popular during his eight years in office, will run against Bolsonaro, who now faces record public disapproval for his disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

ALEXANDER MAIN: I mean, this is really reversing an enormous injustice that was done to former president Lula. He was convicted on extremely dubious charges by a very sort of openly politicized judge with a very sort of right-wing political agenda. He really always made that pretty clear. And basically under the Brazilian system, the judge can also serve as kind of investigator and prosecutor. And there is no jury trial. So the fate of Lula really was in the hands of this judge and then a cluster of prosecutors who worked extremely closely with the judge. And in fact, there were leaks of communications between the judge and these prosecutors that showed that really there was extremely unethical collusion going on between all of them on Lula’s case. And that from the outset, their objective wasn’t to determine the guilt or innocence of Lula, but rather to find some way of preventing him from running again for president.

The injustice has to great extent been reversed. There is a possibility still that there might be another review of the case within the supreme court. And so there’s still a little bit of suspense. But it seems fairly certain that this decision is going to hold going forward. And therefore that Lula will be able to participate in the next elections, which are taking place in 2022 and Lula’s quite a bit ahead of Bolsonaro in the polls already. And, you know, yes, he hasn’t started campaigning. He just only just got this case dismissed against him. So, that really changes the political equation in Brazil. At this point, there was no very strong opposition leadership to sort of contest Bolsonaro’s rule, even though it’s been rather disastrous. And you mentioned the pandemic, that’s one area. Brazil at the moment has its highest rate of deaths from the pandemic that it’s had since the beginning. And it’s one of the worst places in the world. The pandemic is growing and Bolsonaro is completely opposed to any sort of lockdown or social distancing measures. He’s come out against them. He’s even come out against the vaccine. In the meantime, there is hope of significant political change now that Lula can be politically active again.

SCOTT HARRIS: Alex, what can you tell us about the media in Brazil and its reporting on Lula being cleared of these charges, enabling him to run for president in 2022? I’ve read that the Brazilian press generally is quite hostile to Lula and the Workers’ party policies, and it’s really setting up the country for a class war of a sort.

ALEXANDER MAIN: The media has certainly been very hostile to Lula and the Workers’ party historically for a very long time. And I think that’s one of the primary reasons that Lula had to run three times for president before he succeeded, before Brazil finally had a left-leaning president for the first time since the military dictatorship there, which of course lasted from 1964 until the early 1980s. Now what’s interesting is that right now, I would say that the media is not quite as hostile in part, because I think Bolsonaro has been so bad for business for Brazil. It’s sort of isolated Brazil internationally. And so I think the very same sort of corporations and banks and so on that supported Bolsonaro originally feel that he’s now a liability. And so I think they’re sort of tentatively more open to Lula. But I think, you know, that could change very quickly if he makes it clear that he is going to continue to defend the more left-wing platform — then they’re very, very likely to grow just as hostile as they have been in the past.

For more information, visit the Center for Economic and Policy Research at cepr.net.

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