Stand with Lula

We need to step up international solidarity campaigning for Lula’s freedom, and democracy and social progress in Brazil.

As many who follow Latin America will know, Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been detained in jail since April 7.

This imprisonment has been widely condemned as politically motivated by the international labour and trade union movement. Over the last month alone, Britain’s largest trade union Unite and AFL-CIO, the largest trade federation in the US, have added their support to the campaign for Lula’s freedom. Unite also expressed its solidarity with Brazil’s trade union movement and demanded an end to the attacks on democracy and social progress that have taken place in Brazil since the coup of summer 2016.

This “parliamentary coup” saw Dilma Rousseff — who had received 54 million votes — removed from the presidency without a single vote from the Brazilian public.

Incredibly, despite the fact that Lula is now in jail — and the widespread and persistent attacks and smears on Lula in much of Brazil’s privately owned media in recent years — opinion polls show he is still the leading choice of Brazilians in opinion polls for October’s presidential election.

Lula has faced this trial by media as part of a concerted campaign against him, where his basic human rights have been breached. When he was convicted of ‘undetermined acts’ with no material evidence provided against him, the bias against him and injustice of case was made clear, but he and his supporters are still fighting.

Lula remains the most popular politician in Brazil because he oversaw a period of success, lifting millions from poverty with his ground-breaking social programmes and reducing inequality.

When I was mayor of London I had the privilege of meeting Lula and what was absolutely clear was how improving the lives of ordinary Brazilians was his passion and his reason for being involved with politics.

As the International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow has recently said: “Democracy must be restored urgently and the only way to achieve that is through fair and democratic elections in which Lula has the right to be a candidate.”

But this struggle isn’t just about one man — we must also make a stand for democracy and social progress in Brazil, and in solidarity with all the movements resisting the coup government across the country.

Since the summer of 2016, the unelected government of Brazil has imposed hard-line neoliberal measures, including a 20-year public spending freeze and plans to privatise the state oil company.

Indeed, the current right-wing, unelected government in Brazil is so bad that it even relaxed the definition of slavery in a controversial measure criticised by the UN special rapporteur on modern-day slavery, who said that the government decree “would weaken the protection of poor and excluded populations that are vulnerable to slavery.”

All of this has been done without any electoral endorsement, and the current president is sitting on a 2 per cent popularity rating.

Additionally, the imprisonment of Lula has gone alongside increased repression from the current government of the unelected president, which has included ripping up established trade union rights, repression of social movement protests, and particularly worrying developments such as the politically motivated assassination of socialist, black and bisexual councillor Marielle Franco in March.

Nonetheless, resistance is taking place across the country against the illegitimate government, through strikes, protests, land occupations and more.

The stark reality is that 54 million Brazilians voted for a left-wing president but had a right-wing president imposed on them. It seemed they would be facing a choice of only hard-right or centrist candidates at the next election if Lula were to be kept off the ballot.

Thankfully, the Brazilian left have united around the jailed world leader’s plight and an agreement has been made for Fernando Haddad, the former Mayor of Sao Paulo, to run in his place if Lula is denied the right to run.

Despite having a backup in place, Lula is the candidate and Haddad himself has said he will “travel nationwide carrying Lula’s voice” and It’s clear that thousands of progressives around the globe are not giving up on Lula and his ideals.

Unless we do all we can internationally for Lula, democracy in one the worlds most populous and diverse countries be diverted for the second time in two years. With the polices of the coup government already damaging social welfare and healthcare for the country’s poorest, the fight in Brazil for democracy and social progress is our fight too.

And this struggle is also important more broadly in Latin America for the future of progressive movements and trade unions.

The Trump administration has supported the backward steps in Brazil, and this is part of a worrying trend of the US backing up reactionary, right-wing, anti-worker governments and movements in the region.

Lula’s future and whether he can run as a candidate will be decided next week — let’s step up the international pressure so the stunning victory for the left in Mexico last month is not the only major gain for the progressives in Latin America this year.

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