The Persecution of Brazil’s Lula is a Danger to Democracy

For those who have been following Brazil closely in recent years, the case against former President Lula da Silva is clear-cut. And no, it’s not about tackling corruption, it’s about subverting Brazilian democracy for the second time in two years.

On January 25th, a travesty of justice occurred when Lula was sentenced to 12 years in jail by a partial judiciary, with evidence of his innocence blatantly ignored. Following the illegitimate impeachment of Dilma Rousseff that saw right-wing President Temer take power, a campaign has been waged by the media and Lula’s trial judge to discredit the former President and keep the country’s most popular politician from running in the 2018 election.

The charges laid against him are that he received a bribe, in the form of an apartment, from construction company OAS. The only problem is that no evidence has been produced that Lula or his late-wife had taken ownership of the apartment.

In fact, the whole case is based on the testimony of a convicted OAS executive, Jose Pinheiro Filho. Remarkably, Filho was initially blocked from a plea bargain -  when his original story matched Lula’s.

This lack of evidence would not be accepted in UK, EU or US courts. The actions and clear bias of Judge Moro would simply not be accepted either.

Worryingly, this case has not just brought the Brazilian judicial system into disrepute, Brazilian democracy now looks at its weakest since the military dictatorship.

Since illegitimately taking office, President Temer has taken the country on a sharp turn right-ward after 13 years of Brazilian Worker’s Party (PT) Governments under Presidents Lula and Rousseff. In just two years his administration has set to work on reversing the huge gains made by the PT, implementing a series of hard-line neoliberal reforms that have affected healthcare, education, workers’ rights and more. All without an election, all without a mandate.

Temer’s 20-year freeze on health and education spending was labelled “devoid of all nuance and compassion” by the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. Temer’s dismantling of Brazil’s Labour law was also criticised internationally, with ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation General) Secretary Sharron Burrow calling it a “recipe for corporate greed.”

These regressive measures have only made Lula grow in popularity. For many, he has become the sole figure standing in the way of a complete transformation of Brazil’s economy and state - away from one of social inclusion to one of a ruling elite.

Lula’s achievements while in office have received huge praise world-wide and the social programmes he implemented are still being used as a model in the UN. His landmark project, the Bolsa Familia programme, which gives financial aid to poor families, covered nearly 14 million households before Temer’s drastic cuts.

Poverty reduction was a key goal of Lula’s administration and he is now credited with lifting 20 million Brazilians from poverty, halving Brazil’s poverty in just seven years while extreme poverty also fell drastically.

While Brazil become also became an economic powerhouse under Lula, his administrations deserve praise for expanding the public education and health systems, housing over 10 million low income Brazilians and tackling exploitation in the workplace.

Following the failure of a series of appeals against his verdict, Lula has been detained in the federal jail in Curitiba, Brazil since April 7. His sentence and imprisonment have been met with demonstrations across the country, with a Free Lula encampment protesting outside the jail.

As part of an increasing trend of violence towards progressives in Brazil, an armed man recently attacked the encampment, shooting at tents and wounding two protestors. His identity is unknown but reports state he was heard shouting “Bolsonaro for President,” referring to the far-right wing candidate currently polling at 15% compared to Lula’s 31%.

Bolsonaro, a former paratrooper who has praised Pinochet, has openly called for a return to military rule of the sort that Brazil broke with less than forty years ago.

Lula has until August to register as an official candidate for the country’s October presidential polls. If elections were held today, polls show that he would win in all scenarios. But his conviction will keep him off the ballot unless his next appeal is upheld.

It is not just Lula who is under attack from a vicious right-wing, but his ideals, his achievements and the millions who support him. That is why it’s vital we build support for Lula internationally, so that on the world’s stage justice will be served and Lula will be able to run again for President of Brazil.

* Show your support for Brazilian democracy and social progress - add your name to the No coup in Brazil statement in support of Lula: http://bit.ly/standwithlula

 

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