In a Democracy Now! exclusive, we spend the hour with Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is now running for president again. We begin our discussion with the assassination of 38-year-old Rio city councilmember and human rights activist Marielle Franco, who was killed last week. Franco, who was a black lesbian, was known for her fierce criticism of police killings in Brazil’s impoverished favela neighborhoods. Her death comes at a pivotal moment for Brazil and the future of democracy in South America’s largest country. Just last month, President Michel Temer ordered Brazil’s military to assume control of police duties in Rio. “The only thing that she did was to work against the assassination of black people in the peripheral areas in the defense of human rights,” says Lula da Silva.
AMY GOODMAN: Brazilians continue to mourn the loss of 38-year-old Rio de Janeiro city councilmember and human rights activist Marielle Franco. Franco was assassinated, along with her driver, last Wednesday night, after a pair of gunmen riddled her car with bullets as she returned from an event on the topic of empowering black women. Franco, who was a black lesbian, was known for her fierce criticism of police killings in Brazil’s impoverished favela neighborhoods. The night before her death, Franco wrote on Twitter, “How many more must die for this war to end?” In January alone, government figures show police killed 154 people in Rio state.
Franco’s death comes at a pivotal moment for Brazil and the future of democracy in South America’s largest country. Just last month, President Michel Temer ordered Brazil’s military to assume control of police duties in Rio. Two years ago, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party was impeached by the Brazilian Senate, in a move she denounced as a coup. Brazil is holding elections later this year. The front-runner is Rousseff’s ally, former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, commonly known as Lula. While he’s leading all opinion polls, he’s facing a possible prison sentence, after being convicted on what many believe to be trumped-up charges of corruption and money laundering.
Last year, President Rousseff said, quote, “The first chapter of the coup was my impeachment. But there’s a second chapter, and that is stopping President Lula from becoming a candidate for next year’s elections,” Rousseff said. British human rights attorney Geoffrey Robertson told the New Internationalist that, quote, “extraordinarily aggressive measures” are being taken to put Lula in jail, quote, “by the judiciary, by the media, by the great sinews of wealth and power in Brazil,” unquote.
Lula 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 the poverty. President Barack Obama once called him the most popular politician on Earth.
Well, late Friday, I had a chance to speak with Lula. He was in São Paulo, Brazil. I began by asking him about the assassination of Rio City Councilwoman Marielle Franco.
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Amy, we have two problems in Brazil. The first is that her assassination is unacceptable, the assassination of Marielle, a young woman. The only thing that she did was to work against the assassinations of black persons in the peripheral areas, in the defense of human rights, in the defense of the lives of people.
It’s clear that her death was a premeditated killing. Now, I don’t know if it was a militia or a police, but what is clear is that it is unacceptable and that all of us Brazilians should come together in a single voice and shout out loud to immediately demand punishment of those responsible for that killing.
And President Temer should have learned a great lesson with this killing, which is that the problem of violence in the peripheral areas of our Brazil is not going to be resolved by turning to the armed forces. It is necessary that the state have a presence in the peripheral neighborhoods of Brazil—with jobs, education, healthcare, cultural activities, employment and salaries, so that people can survive and live with dignity. The armed forces were not trained to deal with common crime in the favelas in Brazil. They were trained to defend our country from outside enemies. In other words, when people understand that violence in Brazil is associated with the very poor quality of life that people are subjected to and the lack of proper living conditions for people living in peripheral areas, then there will be less violence in the peripheral areas, especially against children, young people and black people in our country.
The case of Marielle is an emblematic case, because it requires all democratic-minded persons in the world, all those who love life, all those who love freedom, and all of those who struggle for human rights—all should protest loudly so that the assassins of Marielle are put in prison and are given exemplary punishment. That’s what we all want.
AMY GOODMAN: Cecília Olliveira of The Intercept, on Twitter, tweeted, “The lot of 9mm ammo used in the execution of #MarielleFranco & Anderson Pedro—UZZ-18—was purchased by the Federal Police & matches casings found at the scene of the Osasco massacre, that killed 19 in São Paulo in 2015. 2 cops & 1 municipal guard were convicted.”
Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept then tweeted, “To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the preliminary evidence is establishing links between the police and the assassins who killed Marielle Franco. Nothing is conclusive yet at all in this regard, but the preliminary evidence is pointing straight in that direction.”
Do you agree with this, President Lula? And what do you think needs to be done immediately right now, as thousands of people have taken to the streets?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Look, the first thing is, if it is true that the weapon that killed Marielle was a weapon purchased by the federal police and that was already used in another massacre here in São Paulo two years ago, then we would have a very strong indication. We must know whether at some point in time during that period between the massacre in São Paulo and the killing of Marielle, whether the federal police denounced that any weapons had been or munitions had been stolen from the federal police. Or, if there was a robbery and the munitions or weapons were purchased by the federal police, it’s necessary that the federal police explain to Brazilian society why is it that those weapons were in the hands of the assassins.
So, there needs to be clarification with this evidence, if the weapons were stolen and they did not denounce it, because they were ashamed that weapons had been stolen from the federal police. Well, in this case, Amy, it’s very important that people be careful to make sure they’re not making untrue accusations or accusations looking for a headline. Now, what is true is that for the police, for the armed forces, for the government, for the police intelligence, should be able to—in the shortest time possible, they should figure out who the assassins were, and then punish those assassins.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He’s now running again for president and is the current front-runner, but may soon be heading to jail. We’ll continue our interview with Lula in a minute and ask him about the charges against him, which his supporters say are politically motivated, and also talk with him about U.S. intervention in Latin America, about this 15th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and much more. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, as we continue our exclusive, a conversation with Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula. The highly popular former union leader is running for president in this year’s election but is facing a possible prison term on what many believe to be trumped-up corruption charges tied to a sprawling probe known as “Operation Car Wash.” Lula was convicted of accepting a beachside apartment from an engineering firm vying for contracts at the state oil company Petrobras, but many of Lula’s supporters say the conviction was politically motivated.
The Intercept recently reported, quote, “The indictment against Lula is rife with problems. The apartment’s title was never transferred to Lula or his associates; he and his wife never used the property; the prosecution could not identify an explicit quid pro quo or benefit related to Petrobras; no official or internal documentation linking Lula to the apartment was produced; and the case rests almost entirely on the testimony of the executive who hoped to gain sentencing leniency for his cooperation,” unquote.
During the interview on Friday, President Lula responded to the charges and conviction against him.
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. We are awaiting the accusers, for the accusers to show at least some piece of evidence that indicates that I committed any crime during the period that I was in the presidency.
Now, what is behind that is the attempt to criminalize my political party. What is behind that is the interest in a part of the political elite in Brazil, together with a part of the press, reinforced by the role of the judiciary, in preventing Lula from becoming a candidate in the 2018 elections. And I continue challenging the federal police, the Office of the Attorney General. I continue challenging Judge Moro and the appellate court to show the world and to show Brazil a single piece of evidence of a crime committed by me. The behavior of the judiciary in this instance is a political form of behavior.
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. President, last year, the ousted President Dilma Rousseff said, “The first chapter of the coup was my impeachment. But there’s a second chapter, and that is stopping President Lula from becoming a candidate for next year’s elections.” Do you see it the same way, that this is the final chapter of the coup, if your conviction is upheld, that you will be prevented from running in the October elections?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Amy, the Workers’ Party, in 12 years in the government, at the helm of the government in Brazil, was able to do many things that had never been done at any time in the 20th century. In this country, in 12 years, we brought 40 million people into the middle class. We drew 36 million people out of poverty. While Europe was shedding 62 million jobs as of the 2000 date, we created 20 million jobs in the formal sector in this country. For 12 years, all Brazilian workers were able to overcome inflation. It was the time of the greatest economic growth in the history of Brazil. It was the most distribution of income in the history of Brazil. To give you an idea, in 12 years, 70 million people began to use the banking system who had never walked into a bank.
And when they got rid of Dilma, they did want Lula to come back, because they know that the relationship between the Brazilian people and President Lula was the strongest relationship that the people of Brazil had ever had with a president in the entire history of the country. And even more important, they know I am absolutely certain that the best way to ensure economic recovery in Brazil is to lift up the working people of this country. They know that I know how to do that. Now that the poor people had jobs, had a salary, were studying, were eating better, were living—had better housing, when that happens, the economy grows again, and we can become the most optimistic country in the world and the happiest people in the world. And, Amy, that is why I want to be candidate for the presidency of Brazil, to show that a mechanic who doesn’t have a university degree knows better how to take care of the Brazilian people than the Brazilian elite, who never looked after the welfare of the Brazilian people.
AMY GOODMAN: President Lula, why did you decide to run for president again?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] The truth is, I have still not decided, Amy. The ones who are deciding are the Brazilian people. Look, all of the public opinion polls in Brazil, month after month—and there are several of them—in all of them, I’m in first place. And so, I’m beginning to be the candidate who has the lowest negatives and the possibility of becoming a candidate and winning on the first round, and this is making my adversaries very uncomfortable. And I am sure, Amy, that at the Supreme Court I will be acquitted and that I will be candidate, and Brazil could once again be a protagonist in international policy, the economy could grow again, create jobs and improve the quality of life of the people. This is something I know how to do very well.
AMY GOODMAN: If the case does not go well for you in the Supreme Court, would you consider stepping aside?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] First of all, Amy, I’m very optimistic, very optimistic. Now, if that were to happen and I was not able—were not able to be a candidate, if my name is not on the ballot, I think that the party would call a convention and discuss what to do. I am going to require that and call for justice to be done in the country.
Now, if my innocence is proven, then Judge Moro should be removed from his position, because you can’t have a judge who is lying in the judgment and pronouncing as guilty someone who he knows is innocent. He knows that it’s not my apartment. He knows that I didn’t buy it. He knows that I didn’t pay anything. He knows that I never went there. He knows that I don’t have money from Petrobras. The thing is that because he subordinated himself to the media, I said, in the first hearing with him, “You are not in a position to acquit me, because the lies have gone too far.” And the disgrace is that the one who does the first lie continues lying and lying and lying to justify the first lie. And I am going to prove that he has been lying.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you raise two issues, President Lula: the media as prosecutor and the judge as prosecutor. Can you talk about both? Start with the media.
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Well, Amy, it’s important that you come to Brazil to see what’s happening with the Brazilian press. I was president for eight years. Dilma was president for four years. And for 12 years, all the press did was to try to destroy my image and her image and the image of my party. I have more negative subject matter about me in the leading television news program of Brazil than all of the presidents in the whole history of Brazil. In other words, it’s a daily attempt to massacre me, to tell untruths about Lula, about Lula’s family. And the only weapon that I have is to confront them. And they’re irritated, because after they massacred me for four years, any opinion poll by any polling institute showed that Lula was going win the elections in Brazil.
Now, second, the Office of the Attorney General and the Car Wash scandal. I respect very much the institution. I was a member of the constitutional assembly, and I helped to strengthen the role of the Office of the Attorney General. But it created a task force, organized by a prosecutor, who went to television to show a PowerPoint, and said that the PT, the Workers’ Party, was established to be a criminal organization, that the fact that Lula was the most important person in the PT meant that he was the head of a criminal organization.
And on concluding the indictment, he simply said the following: “I don’t have evidence. I don’t have evidence. I have conviction.” I don’t want to be judged by the conviction of the prosecutor. He can keep his convictions to himself. I want whoever is prosecuting me to come forward in the proceeding and to tell the people of Brazil what crime I committed. The only thing, Amy, that I really want now is for the merits of my trial to be judged. I want him to discuss it. I want him to read the prosecutorial brief and the defense brief, and then make a decision. What I really want at this time is that justice be done in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: The candidate polling second in Brazil’s elections is a far-right-wing congressman and former soldier named Jair Bolsonaro. He’s been called the “Brazilian Trump.” Can you talk about who he is, what he represents, and if you understand there’s any communication between him and the U.S. government right now?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I cannot. I cannot level accusations against an adversary. The only thing that I would like is to have the right to run in the elections here in Brazil, to win the elections and to recover the right of the Brazilian people to live well. I cannot pass judgment on the president of the United States, just as I cannot pass judgment on the president of Uruguay, and much less can I pass judgment on my adversaries.
AMY GOODMAN: But if you can explain what he represents, how you differ from him?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] He is a member of the federal Congress. He was an Army captain in the Brazilian Army. The information that we have is that he was expelled from the Brazilian army. And his behavior is far-right-wing, fascist. He is very much prejudiced against women, against blacks, against indigenous persons, against human rights. He believes that everything can be resolved with violence. So, I don’t think he has a future in Brazilian politics. He has the right to run. He speaks. He projects a certain image to please a part of the society that is of the extreme right. But I don’t believe that the Brazilian people have an interest in electing someone with his sort of behavior to serve as president of the republic.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think he was happy with Marielle’s death?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I think so, because he’s preaching violence every day. He preaches violence. He believes that those who defend human rights are doing a disservice to democracy. He thinks that those who defend women’s rights are doing a disservice to democracy, likewise those who defend the rights of the black community. He is against everything that is discussed when one is talking about human rights.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue with Brazilian presidential candidate, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in 30 seconds.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to our conversation with the former Brazilian president, the current presidential candidate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. President, I want to ask you about what’s happened in Honduras, with the Organization of American States saying that the election there of the incumbent President Hernández was deeply flawed, with the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley going to Honduras, clearly the ambassador there, the U.S. representative there, deeply involved in what has taken place, with the swearing-in of the president before a correction of the elections. Your thoughts on what’s happened in Honduras, the U.S. involvement there, and also the U.S. attitude towards, the U.S. actions towards, Venezuela, putting certain Venezuelan leaders on a list of those banned from entering the United States, and taking other punitive measures against Maduro, President Maduro?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Amy, it’s quite visible that the United States is interfering in the countries of Central America. It’s not just today that there’s U.S. interference. In many countries of Central America, the U.S. ambassador behaves as though they were elected by the far right in the countries of our dear Central America. What I deeply regret is that the United States has not learned to live democratically with the countries of Central America and with the countries of Latin America.
Amy, in January of 2003, I had been president of the republic for less than one month, and there was already a conflict underway between the United States and Venezuela. And I was in Ecuador participating in the inauguration of the president of Ecuador, when I met with Chávez. And I proposed the creation of a group of friends of Venezuela, so as to be able to guarantee democracy in Venezuela. I told the United States that they should participate in the group. Colin Powell participated in the group. And I also got Spain involved, and Aznar participated in the group. Why? Because Spain had been the first country to recognize the coup, and the United States was accused of being involved in the coup. And I put Brazil and Argentina there, and I think France, as well. And we were able to give Venezuela a time of peace, be able to hold elections.
And something like that should happen today. Self-determination of the peoples is a sacred matter. The right of the United States, the United States has a right to decide matters pertaining to the United States. That is called sovereignty. And it is up to Venezuela to make the decision within the sovereignty of Venezuela. I, several times, did what I could to get President Bush to meet with President Chávez. When President Obama was recently in power, he went to Trinidad and Tobago, and then we had a meeting with him and with Chávez, trying to create the conditions for the United States to have a more peaceful relationship with Venezuela. But it seems to me that it’s not possible. There’s a certain irrationality at the U.S. State Department that doesn’t want to negotiate peace in Venezuela. But we need to understand that if Central America grows, it’s going to improve the economic situation generally. No one wants to see democracy at risk anywhere in the world, and that is why I regret that there’s not understanding on the part of the United States with respect to Venezuela.
AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. CIA, U.S. government, is well known to have been involved in the 1964 coup in Brazil. Do you see any evidence of that, both in the ouster of President Dilma Rousseff and also your own case? Do you see any evidence of foreign involvement, particularly the U.S.?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Well, it took almost 40 years to prove that the United States indeed did participate in the 1964 coup. Now, even though I am not a defender of conspiracy theories, I am convinced, and people in the United States, some, don’t accept Brazil playing such a proactive role in foreign policy. There are extraordinary interests in our Petrobras, and there is interest in Brazil’s influence in Latin America and in South America. There are interests that—not wanting to necessarily see the bank of the BRICS countries go forward. And there is—the Brazilian press always talks about the close relationship between the Office of Attorney General in Brazil and the Department of Justice in the United States around Petrobras issues. And we are trying to investigate. Brazilian legislators go to the U.S. Congress. They talk with U.S. congresspersons.
And all we want is to continue working so that Brazil will be a sovereign country, a country that knows how to use its tremendous potential for development to benefit the people of Brazil. I ask myself every day: Who would be interested in trying to destroy Petrobras? Who would be interested in destroying Brazil’s engineering industry? Who would be interested in destroying the largest company in protein in the world here in Brazil? Who is interested in fracking in Brazil?
AMY GOODMAN: Mr. President, Monday marks the 15th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. You opposed that invasion. Your thoughts today, with the U.S. continuing its presence in both Iraq as well as in Afghanistan?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Amy, I am so sorry that on December 10th, 2002, I spoke with President Bush at the White House, and I told him that Iraq did not have chemical weapons, because the head of the international agency was a Brazilian, Ambassador Bustani. The president of the United States and the prime minister of Great Britain told the world a lie, saying that there were chemical weapons in Iraq. And Saddam Hussein was lying to the world, pretending that he had them, when Saddam Hussein could have saved his country from the U.S. invasion by asking for international presence to inspect. So, two lies: the lie by the U.S. government saying there’s chemical weapons, and the lie by Saddam Hussein pretending that he had them.
Well, these have led to the destruction of a country, without resolving the problem of terrorism in the world. I think it was a great shame. It was a shame. And so many years have gone by, and to this day no one has been able to show anything of chemical weapons in Iraq. It seems to me that the only chemical weapons were just him pretending that there were. And then terrorism goes on.
AMY GOODMAN: President Lula, what is your assessment of President Donald Trump?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I don’t have an assessment. I think it’s very unusual that there’s a president of the republic, in the most powerful country of the world, who governs the country by Twitter. I find that very interesting. But in any event, I have to respect him because he was elected by the people of the United States. And if he was elected by the people of the United States, then he is going to serve his term as he wishes, because the people of the United States gave him the authority to do so. I cannot be sitting in judgment of how Trump governs. He governs in his way, and we’ll see how it goes.
AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on President Trump calling Africa, Haiti and other countries—well, he called Africa a country—”s—hole countries”?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I think that if a person behaves that way in discussing relations with sister countries, then I don’t think a person would really be qualified to be president of the country, even if in the United States. The poorest countries, that have no chance of growing economically, must be treated with great respect.
Amy, let me tell you one thing: If the rich countries, especially the United States, who have already spent more than $14 trillion to resolve the 2008 financial crisis with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, instead of having used part of that money to help the countries of Africa to develop—well, had they done so, certainly, Africa would be growing more, creating more jobs, strengthening democracy and improving the lives of the people. The first meeting we had of the G20 in London, there, we suggested that the rich countries should make investments in the poor countries so as to create new industrialized regions in the world and new consumers in the world. Unfortunately, the rich countries turned to protectionism once again and took a long time to resolve the crisis of 2008.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read for you from the MercoPress. It says, “A controversial visit and meeting of two branches of government”—the Brazilian government—”was reported in the Brazilian media. In effect last Saturday afternoon president Michel Temer made a visit to the head of the Federal Supreme Tribunal Carmen Lucia at her residence, and ‘was not conducted as part of the President’s official schedule.’” I believe they were seen hugging.
“The visit took place five days after Supreme Tribunal Justice Luís Roberto Barroso allowed police to investigate Temer’s financial records. It is the first time in the history of the Brazilian republic that an acting president has had his financial records opened by judicial order.”
You know, this was happening at about the same time that reports emerged that the U.S. special counsel, Robert Mueller, is looking into Trump family finances. But I wanted to ask you about this, because it’s this Supreme Court in Brazil that will also be determining your fate. Is that right, President Lula?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Look, first, I think that President Temer can meet with Justice Cármen Lúcia either at her office of the Supreme Court or at his office in the presidency. But they apparently had a secret meeting.
Second, Amy, here in Brazil, we need to re-establish the functions of the institutions. Here in Brazil, politics is becoming channeled into the courts, and the courts are becoming politicized. And each institution needs to go back to normalcy. The judiciary, through the Supreme Court, is a guarantor of the constitution. And executive branch executes, carries out. And the legislative branch legislates. If we were to once again have a harmonious and respectful relationship, then we can have Brazil go back to normalcy.
I, too—well, very abnormal things have happened. There are judges talking on television every day. There is a process of disrespecting institutions in Brazil. Part of the judiciary is on strike. They want a housing allowance of almost 4,600 reais. And these people earn 30,000 reais per month, so they don’t need a housing allowance like the Brazilian population, who have no home. Those people need housing assistance.
So, I have the conviction, Amy. I am certain that it is possible to re-establish harmony in Brazil. I’m certain that it is possible to go back to a climate like we had in 2010, 2009, with everyone living harmoniously, people talking among one another, and everybody living democratically in diversity.
AMY GOODMAN: President Lula, you could be arrested at any point. What will you do?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I cannot be arrested at any moment. This thing about any moment is a desire on the part of my adversaries and my enemies. I can only be arrested if someone proves that I have committed a crime. I am certain, Amy, as I speak with you right now, I have a perfect peace of mind as compared to those who are leveling accusations against me. I have the peace of mind of the innocent. You can rest assured that I have the peace of mind of those who are innocent. And those who are bringing accusations against me know that they are doing so on the basis of a lie, and therefore I don’t think that they are able to place their head on their pillow at night and sleep with the tranquility that I sleep with every day.
AMY GOODMAN: Even if you continue to say you’re innocent, a judge has—a court has ruled that you are guilty and face what? Nearly 10 years in jail. So, even if you disagree with both the conviction and the appeal being denied, that has taken place. Would you resist arrest? Would you resist being jailed?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] No. I’m working based on the hypothesis that there will be justice before having to make such a decision. I am convinced, because the only thing that I’m looking out for at this time is for them to judge my trial on the merits. The Supreme Court and the appellate court cannot let stand an untruth against the truth.
AMY GOODMAN: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. Brazil, the sixth-most-populous country in the world. Lula is now running again for president. He is the current front-runner, unless the courts stop him and send him to jail. Special thanks to Charlie Roberts.