Three Days that Shook Brazil

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Former Brazilian president Lula da Silva has had his political rights restored after the collapse of persecution attempts by the state. Hugo Albuquerque, publisher of Jacobin Brazil, reports from the country on the new dynamics and the looming confrontation with Bolsonaro.

To the surprise of the world, in the middle of the international women’s day (March 8 2021), former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had criminal convictions that removed his political rights annulled by the Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF), the powerful supreme court of Brazil. Suddenly, Lula is back in the game and could be a presidential candidate in 2022.

The supreme court judge Edson Fachin’s decision is based on the fact that former federal judge Sergio Moro could not even have tried Lula, as he had no jurisdiction to do so. Lula’s condemnations, as is well known, are the result of an enormous judicial plot comparable, in its nature, to Mccarthyism. This plot has a name: Operation Car Wash.

Brazilian Supreme Court as deus ex-machina

Fachin’s ruling can still be reversed, but it would have to be overturned by a vote of the majority of the 11 ministers of the Brazilian supreme court. Meanwhile, his decision has further consequences; the lawsuits have not been dismissed, they must start from scratch. Lula will no longer be judged by the federal court in Curitiba, the largest city in the southern region of Brazil, but in Brasília, the Brazilian federal capital in the midwest. Moro is from Curitiba, which is a stronghold of the right. 

Lula is far from out of the woods, and the legal process surrounding him remains mired in intrigue. As the decision on  March 8 did not address the great scandal of judicial manipulations revealed by the website The Intercept Brazil in 2019, on March 9, another Federal Supreme Court judge, Gilmar Mendes, ordered the judgment on the subject of Moro’s corruption. This new vote was suspended again by the new supreme court judge, Nunes Marques, Bolsonaro’s first and only nomination. Indeed, Lula’s lawyers’ attempt to file habeas corpus on these grounds has itself been suspended for years.

However, as there is a tie between ministers who have already voted, Marques will have more time to decide and his next vote will be decisive.

The lawsuits against Lula, long before we knew the revelations of the courageous hacking action that unmasked the Lava Jato operation, were obvious frauds that only served to get the former Brazilian president out of the 2018 elections, in which he was leading. Today, Walter Delgatti, the hacker who revealed the nature of Operation Car Wash to the world, is facing prosecuted  and although he responded to the house arrest lawsuit, he was again threatened with arrest due to recent interviews where he provides more details about illegal conversations between federal prosecutors and the judges in Operation Car Wash.

There were a number of legal details that already made it possible to see this: as the issue of Moro’s lack of jurisdiction has been known for a long time. Moro, the judge of the cases, was appointed Minister of Justice by Bolsonaro in 2018, when he was elected in a scenario where Lula was not only imprisoned, but still unable to run for election or even grant interviews and express support for the candidate of his Workers Party, Fernando Haddad.

The contents of the leaks, however, prove that Moro effectively manipulated the operations, agreeing with prosecutors about how and what should be done, including how to compel witnesses and prisoners in other aspects of Car Wash to blame Lula. Meanwhile, Moro and the chief prosecutor saved former centre-right wing president Fernando Henrique Cardoso from being prosecuted only on the grounds that he was an ally.

Nothing – but everything – again under the sun

None of this is new. Only the Supreme Court’s decision after years of delay is both new and significant. But it has a very clear explanation: the Brazilian crisis is profound, the pandemic is uncontrolled in the country, with up to two thousand deaths per day, hospitals are collapsing, and the economy is in a shambolic state. Bolsonaro, by allowing the spread of the virus, and believing in a supposed “herd immunity”, only saw new and more deadly variants of the virus appear in Brazil.

The oligarchy that supports the extreme right is truly frightened and Lula’s return is being received without the same usual aggression fromthe neoliberal media, which has spent years comparing him to Bolsonaro as if they were “two equal but opposite radicals”. Today, few Brazilians endorse this cynical view.

As it stands, the return of Lula’s political rights is a demonstration of the severity of the Brazilian situation. It seems like a tropical version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, where a farcical coup d’etat results in the return of a banished leader. .

Yet, Lula overcoming his enemies is a sign of the growing confidence of the working class, social movements and left parties, after years on the ropes and being massacred. But it is also an outcome of institutional, social and economic destruction that “civilized and polite” Liberal Democrats subjected Brazil to, by going on an insane ‘all in’ against reformist and democratic policies.

The same bourgeoisie that defrauded an impeachment process against Dilma Rousseff in 2016, illegally arrested Lula in 2018 and elected Bolsonaro, is now desperate to save itself from the pandemic and the fascist monster that rules the country as a result.

The inspiring, powerful, but conciliatory speech of Lula in the epic metalworkers trade union offices of São Bernardo, where he started his social leadership career, on March 10, capped the three days that shook Brazil, considerably changing the political game a year and a half from the presidential elections.Lula hammered Bolsonaro’s pandemic and economic failure while the deaths add up and there is no safe prospect of vaccination.

Although the situation requires caution, Lula’s release is a tremendous relief for working class and progressive forces in Brazil. They will now face their greatest test – overcoming Bolsonaro’s far right regime.

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