Brazilian politics has entered a new phrase with former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in prison, presidential elections six months away and continued political uncertainty.
After a series of judicial decisions (at the Supreme Court first and then an order that he surrender to police) that went against him last week and amid rising tension as the deadline for his surrender passed, Lula was taken into custody on Saturday afternoon to begin serving a 12 year prison sentence following scuffles as his supporters sought to prevent him from turning himself in.
The ex-president has always argued that he is innocent of the charges that lead to his conviction on graft charges, and hours before he was held he gave a defiant speech to supporters outside the São Bernarndo do Campo metalworkers union that has been foundation to the Workers’ Party (PT) political history. In that speech, he once again proclaimed his innocence, offered encouragement to supporters as well as opening the door to two young leftist presidential candidates.
“It’s not worth it, they thought they would stop me, I’m not going to stop because I’m not just one human being, I’m an idea, an idea mixed with your ideas…I will comply with the order and you will have to become, each and every one of you, will no longer be called chiquinho, zezinho, joãozinho, albertinho (nicknames)…all of you will be from now become Lula and will travel this country to do what you have to do every day!” Lula said before supporters from the PT, the CUT union and the MST (Landless Workers’ Movement) and MTST (Homeless Workers’ Movement).
“Many years ago I dreamt that it was possible to govern this country involving millions and millions of poor people in the economy, involving millions of people in the universities, creating millions and millions of jobs in this country. I dreamt, I dreamt that a metalworker without a university diploma could take better care of education than the university graduates who govern this country. I dreamt that it was possible that to reduce child mortality by providing milk, beans and rice so that kids could eat every day. I dream that it was possible to take the students from the periphery and put them into the best universities of the country so that they people wouldn’t have judges and prosecutors drawn from the elite. Not long from now we’re going to have judges and prosecutors born in the Heliópolis favela, born in Itaquera, born in the periphery. We’re going to have a lot of people graduates from the MST, MTST, from the CUT. That’s the crime that I committed.”
Lula was flanked by the PT chair Gleisi Hoffmann, and Guillherme Boulos and Manuela D’Ávila, presidential candidates for the PSOL and the Community Party respectively, and he hinted at them as part of the next generation of leftist political leaders. The PT presidential candidate has been leading the polls and there are question marks over whether he will be able to formally register to run, given the ban on candidates with convictions for corruption cases that have been upheld on appeal.
In yet another case of legal intrigue, the Supreme Court this week may review the constitutionality of mandatory prison time for those convicted of criminal offenses who have had a first appeal rejected while they continue to fight their convictions. The habeas corpus appeal that da Silva filed before the Supreme Court was specific to his case whereas the constitutionality ruling would have broad effects.
The two-time president is now serving his sentence in a Federal Police headquarters in Curitiba, where his supporters have set up a vigil until what they hope is his prompt release. The transfer from Sao Bernardo was not without controversy as threatening audio messages directed towards the plane taking him from Sao Paulo to Curitiba calling for “that trash to be thrown out the window” and “that he never return” were published soon after. The Brazilian Air Force has confirmed that the audio messages took place but denied that air traffic controllers were involve, pointing instead to “anonymous users” who took advantage of open radio frequencies.
Esclarecimento sobre áudios que circulam nas mídias sociais. pic.twitter.com/bO6R2tdtWg
— ForçaAéreaBrasileira (@portalfab) April 9, 2018
Just prior to the Supreme Court’s decision last week, Last night, the head of the Brazilian Army General Eduardo Villas Boas got tongues wagging by tweeting that the Army shared the “anxiety of all upstanding citizens against impunity and respecting the Constitution, social peace and Democracy, as it remains mindful of its institutional missions.” The PT called the tweet “blackmail” against the courts and today Brazilian President Michel Temer’s Security Minister Raul Jungmann defended Villas Boas’s comments as demonstrating “respect for institutions.”