Lula: “A conservative offensive”

An exclusive dialogue with ex president of Brazil, Luis Inacio Lula de Silva, before and after the conviction aimed at making it impossible for him to run for president.

An Argentine, with 25 years residence in Brazil, the Secretary of Clacso, Pablo Gentili, reconstructed a day that will be a key moment for Brazil and the region: Wednesday January 24, when the Justice system left Lula on the verge of not being able to postulate for the Presidency. Here is his conversation with Lula in the moments before and after the sentence of the chamber of justice of Porto Alegre.

Lula leans his face on his left hand. He does not appear tired, although his whole support team is exhausted by weeks of tension and nerves. It is a few hours until the 4th Regional Federal Tribunal confirms the sentence of judge Sergio Moro. Lula is realistic and takes on the task of keeping up the spirits of his family members, collaborators and friends. He was always like this. In the most difficult moments of his work as President, he would arrive at the Planalto Palace and when he saw someone depressed he would say to them “Why that face? You’re not reading the newspapers, are you?” Then he’d let out a roar of laughter, that was contagious, balsamic, refreshing. He was Lula the President, the one who supported, consoled and animated everyone. He is still like that.

Like Lula, those who are with him this January 24 in the Union of Metalworkers of the Paulist ABC, know that they are attending the chronicle of a pre-defined sentence. It is a repeat of the legal farce initiated by Judge Sergio Moro, with whom the ex-president had dialogues that would have made Kafka embarrassed and would be envied by the Marx Brothers. A trial in which there is nothing to prove. Against Lula, everything has been taken as true through the legal artifact of the judge’s conviction, by the so-called “domination of the facts”, by ignoring due process and by the indolent attempt to transform vengeance into an act of justice. This is known as lawfare: the use of judicial power to eliminate political adversaries.

The team of the ex-president follows the session by television and notices how the appeal judges read their interminable sentences, written before hearing Lula’s defence, when he was given only 15 minutes to expose his arguments. A privileged observer of the trial, the Australian jurist Geoffrey Robertson, present in the audience chamber of Porto Alegre, would later maintain: “This has not been a fair session. The judges spoke for five hours, reading a script that had been written before listening to any argument. In an appeal court, the judges should first hear the parties before emitting a sentence”.

Everyone is following the updates on social networks, except for Lula. One of the tweets that generated the most impact is the one circulated by journalist Rodrigo Vianna: “In the most important trial of the history of this country, a black lady serves coffee to three white men who are judging a migrant from the North East. If we do not grasp the symbolism of this, we will never understand this country”.

Who knows what Lula is thinking about.  No one bothers him or interrupts what appears to be an intimate ritual of introspection that this great workers’ leader keeps to himself; a man born in one of the poorest regions of the planet, this migrant Northeasterner. He embraces one of his children, whispers something to him and before the intervention of the last judge, he goes home.

At the Union, there are more than 500 people: collaborators, leaders, activists, union militants, others from the Landless Movement and dozens of journalists from 34 countries. In the Union, that had always also been a home to the ex-president, sadness prevails. There, some months ago, Marisa Leticia, the wife of Lula, was waked. The judges now cite her as a partner in a crime that no one has committed. In the union sadness prevails. Just a year ago, on January 24, Marisa Leticia suffered a stroke that took her life. This was the day that Brazilian justice chose to condemn Lula over again.



At home, Lula is accompanied by his family and a few friends. He is calm and attempts to relax for the long day that awaits him. Thousands of activists, hundreds of social movements, union organizations, students, professionals and rural workers had come together the day before, in a huge day of protest, in Porto Alegre. Women, responding to the call of various feminist organizations, and with the presence of ex President Dilma Rousseff, had a leading role in the events and mobilizations that brought together over 70 thousand people in that city that had become the icon of the successful “petista way of governing”[1]. A heroic city in the memory of the leftist world, now transformed into the scenario of a tragic moment for the democratic history of Brazil and of Latin America.

Many of these organizations and political leaders from around the world travelled on the Wednesday to São Paulo. On that day, once the session to condemn Lula had ended, thousands of people began to assemble in the Plaza of the Republic, where that night there was to be an event where, in defiance of the official prepotency, the PT was to launch the candidacy of Lula for the Presidency of the Republic.

There the former President once again showed his most energetic face. It is these public events, in the proximity of the people, that keeps Lula active. The embraces, kisses, photos, hugs, that are so bothersome to certain leaders, are the fuel that nourishes his will, the vigor that keeps him young and gives him strength to face any kind of adversity.

– What new challenges are present for the PT and the Brazilian progressive forces?

“The challenge of avoiding the backward steps occurring in democracy and in workers’ rights. Especially now, with the proposal of social security reform put forward by the coup-monger government of Michel Temer. Also, guaranteeing really free and democratic elections in October of this year. A conservative offensive is attempting to anesthetize the country. They claimed that the problem of Brazil was the PT and the Dilma government. Thus they unseated a President elected by 54 million voters, promising that everything would improve. Afterwards, they said that the problem was workers’ rights. And they suppressed those rights. Now they say that I, and the pension system, are the problem. But the Brazilian people are awakening and discovering that, instead of curing the sickness as they promised, they are robbing the vital organs of the country: our natural resources, the rights of the people, the public heritage. All that we had achieved with the sacrifice and labor of various generations, they are selling off at the price of bananas.”

The right made the coup, but more than a year has passed and the only candidate they have been able to put forward is a neofascist, a sexist and violent defender of the military dictatorship, Jair Bolsonaro. A congressman who in the session of destitution of Dilma Rousseff dedicated his vote to the general that had tortured her when she was 19 years old. On the other hand, the candidacy of Lula continues to grow and he leads all the electoral surveys. In spite of the attacks, the PT continues to be the party with the greatest number of militants and the greatest penetration in Brazilian society.

-Why is this happening? –  this is the question for Lula.

“Because the people have realized that the coup was not against Dilma, against Lula nor against the PT. The coup was against workers, against the middle classes, against those who make an enormous effort to survive with dignity. The coup was against the democratic conquests that made it possible for Brazil to significantly reduce poverty, social injustice and hunger. Even a broad sector of the middle class, that supported the coup, is now suffering its consequences. If we do not react in time, Brazil will once again become a country where a third of the population will have rights, while, as is now happening, thousands of children will go hungry in the streets. The social indicators of the country have become frighteningly worse. Brazil can only be a great, important and sovereign country if the economy truly grows.”

–What does it mean to truly grow?

“To grow with inclusion of the poor. When the poor can purchase, when they can consume, trade sells more, industry produces more. Brazil grew and included millions of people in the public budget who previously had had no rights nor the most basic opportunities. They are destroying all this. Brazil was a country with a future. A country of all, not of just a few. We were ceasing to be the empire of the privileged. A country cannot be a mere exporter of commodities, employing few and creating an economy that can coexist with multitudes of unemployed, poor and excluded people.”

Brazil turns its back

In the early afternoon of January 24, the judicial farce was consummated. Lula suffered a new condemnation that seriously compromises his possibilities of being a candidate in the presidential elections of October of this year. While he prepares to go to the rally at the Plaza de la Republica in the centre of São Paulo, he receives calls of support and solidarity from around the world. He is an icon of democracy, in Latin America and worldwide. He is venerated on all continents, not only by progressive leaders and political figures, but also by liberals and conservatives who respect due process.

The manifesto “An election without Lula is a fraud” in a few days gathered over 215 thousand signatures. Outstanding intellectuals, politicians, artists, jurists and progressive social leaders from across the world have signed on to the declaration that has now circulated in ten languages. Cristina Kirchner, José Pepe Mujica, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Rafael Correa, Massimo d’Alema and Ernesto Samper are among the ex-heads of government who signed it. Some 20 thousand Argentines added their names to the manifesto.

“I am immensely thankful for the support and the international solidarity. Especially from countries such as Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, Ecuador, Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, England, the United States and Venezuela”, said Lula.

–What changed in the process of regional integration due to the coup in Brazil?

“Regrettably, Brazil has once again turned it back on its neighbors. We are again disputing with other peripheral countries as to who attracts the greater attention of the United States and who earns the courtesy of dining with Donald Trump, as if this were a solution to our problems, instead of having an international policy of our own; of respecting the world but without maintaining this shameful submission. The government of Michel Temer has no legitimacy. Nor does a foreign policy that only attempts to sell off the assets and heritage of our country. Every nation has its history, its governments, its culture. In international policy, it is fundamental to have dialogue and mutual respect.  I am proud of the period in which I was President of Brazil and could converse with presidents such as Néstor and Cristina Kirchner, with Pepe Mujica, Chávez, Bachelet, Evo, all of them.”·

–What did you have in common?

“We understood the importance of a region without conflicts. We understood that we were stronger together, resolving our differences among ourselves, without foreign interference. We avoided crises and we promoted commercial, educational and social cooperation between our countries. I was always convinced that Brazil could only manage to develop in a sovereign way if our neighbors also developed in a sovereign way. Today these ideas, this energy of integration and solidarity, has stagnated or it is receding. Nevertheless, the integration among our peoples is a relentless vocation and will continue to advance.”

–For a long time, the motto of the PT was: “Hope conquers fear”. Today, many young people are becoming interested in politics because they believe in the validity of this slogan.

“I always tell them one thing: never give up. Never lose hope. Neoliberalism, often sustained by media monopolies, promises a better future for everyone but concentrates wealth and restricts the opportunities to a few, always the same people. In Brazil, we proved that we could govern doing exactly the opposite: that it was possible to include the poor in the public budget, that we could invest more in education, more in health and housing, put an end to hunger, build dignity, extend rights. They want to wipe out the memory of the people of this period of democratic victories. Today they condemn me, but what they want to condemn is this project and our future as a free, sovereign and just nation. They want to do this, but they will not succeed.”

–Is there a special message for youth?

“Millions of young people, in Brazil, for the first time got into university. We were the last country in the Americas to create a university institution. In Argentina they were already undertaking a reform of the universities when we didn’t even have one. We were the last to abolish slavery. We were the vanguard of backwardness. In twelve years of our government, we managed to guarantee the first generation of Brazilians that did not have hungry children. We brought over 40 million people out of poverty without causing detriment to any social sector, without persecuting anyone. This had never happened in the history of our country. It was possible to utilize politics to benefit the majorities. It was possible, through the State, to make public policies of inclusion and promote social justice. We showed that the people know how to govern better than the elites. That is why they hate us. But I’ll tell you one thing: this regressive reaction will not prosper. We will win.”

Brasil, 29/01/2018

(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)

– Pablo Gentili is Executive Secretary of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (Clacso) and Professor at the State University of Río de Janeiro.

First published in Spanish at:

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