This week former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva formally launched his campaign to challenge Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro this October. Fear is growing Bolsonaro might try to stay in office even if he loses, possibly with help from the Brazilian military. Lula, a union leader who held office from 2003 through 2010, is running on a platform to lift up Brazil’s poor, preserve the Amazon rainforest and protect Brazil’s Indigenous communities. In 2018, he was jailed on trumped-up charges, paving the way for the far-right Jair Bolsonaro to rise to power, but his convictions were annulled last year, restoring his political rights to challenge Bolsonaro. The presidential front-runners hold “two visions for Brazil,” says reporter Michael Fox, former editor of NACLA and host of the new podcast “Brazil on Fire.”
AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour looking at Brazil, a country at a crossroads. On October 2nd, voters will head to the polls for one of the world’s most important elections of the year. Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is challenging Brazil’s current far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. Lula is running on a platform to reduce inequality, preserve the Amazon rainforest and protect Brazil’s Indigenous communities. He is a former union leader who served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. During that time, he helped lift tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty. In 2018, he was jailed on trumped-up charges, paving the way for Bolsonaro’s election. Lula was eventually freed last year after a Brazilian judge annulled all convictions against him.
On Tuesday, Lula held his first campaign rally at a car factory outside São Paulo. Lula denounced Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed nearly 700,000 Brazilians.
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Bolsonaro, you didn’t believe in medicine; you believed in your lie. Because if there’s someone who is possessed by the devil, it is Bolsonaro. He’s a liar like I have never seen anyone lie. … I want Bolsonaro to hear my words: There will be no lies and no fake news that will keep you ruling this country, Bolsonaro. … We don’t want a government that distributes weapons; we want a government that distributes books. We don’t want a government that feeds hate; we want a government that feeds love.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva speaking Tuesday. While polls show Lula in the lead, fear is growing that President Jair Bolsonaro may try to steal the election, possibly with help from the Brazilian military. On Tuesday, Bolsonaro also formally launched his reelection campaign.
PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO: [translated] Our country does not want to take steps back. We don’t want gender ideology in schools. Our country does not want to legalize drugs. Our country respects life from its conception. Our country does not want to become an ally to communism in other countries; a country that wants a president who defends private property, a country that increasingly preaches its people the freedom to raise their children. We are going to talk politics today, so tomorrow no one will prohibit us from believing in God.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the Brazilian election, we’re joined by Michael Fox, freelance journalist, former editor of NACLA, host of the new podcast Brazil on Fire. Fox’s most recent piece for NACLA is headlined “Brazil on Fire: Democracy and Dictatorship.” We are reaching him in Flores, Guatemala. Usually he lives in Brazil.
Michael, welcome back to Democracy Now! We’re about, in our next segment, to talk about the murders of the journalist Dom Phillips and the Indigenous researcher Bruno Pereira and then talk about a new film about the struggle of the Indigenous in the Amazon. Put this in a broader context of the significance of this week, Lula’s announcement that he is running for president in the October election, and Bolsonaro possibly intimating that he might not leave even if he loses.
MICHAEL FOX: Thanks so much, Amy. Great to be back.
No, this is huge. And obviously you’re seeing two different visions for Brazil. One, Lula is pushing, is about democracy, saying we need unity, we need to bring back the country, what we had many, many years ago. And Bolsonaro is obviously pushing a much more authoritarian stance. That’s what we’ve seen in Brazil over the last four years. That’s what led, in large part, to kind of the Wild West attitude up in the Amazon, like you’re going to be talking about in a little bit, where Bolsonaro called for the development of the Amazon, and we saw this huge uptick in the amount of violence, invasions of Indigenous territories, killings and whatnot in that region. But this is extremely significant, what we’re seeing.
And it’s also really important to look at the two places that the different candidates went to just this week. ABC, São Paulo, where Lula was, that’s his home base. That’s where he got his start as a former union leader back in the 1970s, led the major marches that would then show the beginning of the end of the dictatorship. And Bolsonaro, in Juiz de Fora in Minas Gerais, that was actually where he got stabbed back four years ago in the lead-up to the campaign.
So they’re both kind of going back to their origins — Bolsonaro, kind of this renewal, using this kind of religious language, because, obviously, Bolsonaro, one of his main groups of support are the evangelicals, obviously, and so his focus on family values and whatnot, and Bolsonaro [sic] saying, “We can take this country back.” And that’s what many, many people have been talking about for a very long time. They’ve been excited about Lula’s candidacy since, you know, before he was jailed four years ago, with the idea of coming — returning to some sort of democratic normalcy.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, you were there outside the jail when he went to prison and when he came out. The significance of being exonerated of all the charges?
MICHAEL FOX: Oh, it was huge. I mean, he was not — and we have to put this into context, right? It wasn’t just one conviction that was against him. There were roughly two dozen accusations and convictions against him, and they’ve all been tossed out. And what it basically shows is we had a legal system that was being used in order to try and tank Lula and tank the left, take the Workers’ Party.
And, in fact, the Supreme Court came out just last year saying that Judge Sérgio Moro, who was the anti-corruption judge, was heralded by many on the right, in conservative sectors, for kind of attacking corruption across the country — and even the Supreme Court came out saying that he was biased in his conviction. And, of course, that was largely — we knew that, because of the leaks from The Intercept that came out back in June of 2019 that showed that Judge Sérgio Moro was actually in connection with prosecutors, was training them, was teaching the prosecutors, telling them what they needed to do, and also the prosecutors were trying to scheme about how to keep the Workers’ Party from coming back to power. So, it’s extremely complicated. This is the history of Brazil. But, you know, very, very important and extremely exciting that we see Lula now back and running.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to 2018, when we spoke to Lula, when, at the time, he was running for president. It was right before he was jailed.
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I was not accused of corruption. I was accused because of a lie in a police investigation, a lie in an indictment by the Office of the Attorney General, and in the judgment of Judge Moro, because there is only one evidence, of my innocence, in this entire trial, which my defense counsel explained in a magisterial manner.
AMY GOODMAN: So, at the time he then couldn’t run for president. Bolsonaro became president. Talk about Bolsonaro then being called the “Trump of the tropics,” what happened through the pandemic, and then what he’s talking about for this election, what he’s intimating — again, very similar to what we hear former President Trump saying.
MICHAEL FOX: Extremely similar. And look, the pandemic was a disaster in Brazil. Like you said, almost 700,000 dead. And Bolsonaro, the entire time, fought with governors against lockdowns and restrictions. He said everyone just needed to get back to work. He pushed unproven drugs and basically peddled fake news and conspiracy theories the entire way, said he wouldn’t wear a mask in public, and said it was fine; even if he got sick, it wasn’t a big deal. Even when vaccines came out — many different companies came to him offering those vaccines early — he refused to buy them. And that’s part of the reason why there were so many dead. And, in fact, it came out just last year in a Senate investigation that accused Bolsonaro of nine different crimes about — regarding the COVID pandemic, including crimes against humanity for not protecting Indigenous communities enough, and, of course, the lack of oxygen, when the oxygen ran out in Manaus, which was just a disaster. So, this is just a metaphor. It’s a symbol for what Bolsonaro’s reality has been across the country, where he’s been pushing consistently conspiracy theories, lies and fake news, very, very similar to Trump. And he’s talking about doing the same thing.
Now, one thing, Amy, is really important to understand, however: He’s not focused on the issues. He doesn’t want to talk about inflation and doesn’t want to talk about the rising poverty. What he wants to talk about are so-called family values. He wants to talk about issues that are important for evangelicals. He wants to dive into the culture war of good versus evil. And he wants to talk about abortion. He wants to talk about fighting homosexuality, gutting LGBTQ rights. These are issues where Bolsonaro really thinks he can gain support. And, of course, roughly — he basically won the 2018 election because of the evangelical vote. That was extremely important. It’s important to remember also that evangelicals have risen across the country in huge numbers, now make up roughly a third of the population. And this is the world’s largest Catholic country. And so, this is really important for Bolsonaro.
But Lula is also fighting back. Lula, you know, he’s been embracing evangelicals more and more. And like you heard in that quote, he said that Bolsonaro is possessed by the devil. And so, he’s also trying to use that terminology to kind of push back there.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think he can get the military to stop this election or to change the results of it?
MICHAEL FOX: Amy, this is one of the biggest questions, right? He’s been calling on his people to turn out in the streets on September 7th, which is, of course — is Brazil’s Independence Day. It’s also the bicentennial Independence Day this year. Many people are concerned about what may happen. Is he going to be able to do some sort of a January 6th coup moment? And the big question is: Will the military support him? And that’s really up in the air. Now, we [inaudible] the military push back at him at times. In fact, just last year we saw the largest military crisis in 20 or 30 years in Brazil, because Bolsonaro was — you know, he was asking his military officials to do things that they did not want to do. And so, the big question on everybody’s mind is: Is he going to try to do something like this? And we don’t really know what it’s going to look like at this point. What I can say is he’s going to continue to push his theme of fraud. He’s going to continue to say that they should be doing paper ballots. And his latest thing was saying that the military should be filming people inside voting booths as a way to ensure transparency.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Michael, we’re going to have —
MICHAEL FOX: What that really means is —
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but I want to thank you so much for being with us. Michael Fox, freelance journalist, former editor of NACLA, host of a new podcast. It’s called Brazil on Fire: Democracy and Dictatorship, the podcast a joint project of NACLA and the The Real News Network. Michael Fox’s wife’s grandmother, her uncle, friends, relatives, all died of COVID in Brazil.