Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) is now free to run for President in Brazil and progressives the world over should be celebrating his potential (and likely) victory. The former President’s entry into the Presidential race in Brazil is yet to be confirmed, but it could spell the end for sitting President Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right government.
On Monday, The Daily Beast confirmed that Lula is now free to run for office in next year’s Presidential election, after a judge has scrapped the corruption convictions against him.
Lula, who was Brazil’s President from 2003 until 2010, was imprisoned on corruption charges that prevented him from running again in 2017, ruling him out of the 2018 Presidential campaign (which he was the favourite to win, despite his imprisonment) against Bolsonaro, who faced no real competition with Lula being held as a political prisoner.
However, Lula was freed from prison after 580 days in November 2019 due to a Supreme Court decision that scrapped mandatory imprisonment of convicted criminals after their first appeals fail. And now, with several criminal cases against the former President being tossed out by a Supreme Court justice, Lula can run again.
Lula: The Best President of the 21st Century?
Lula began his career as a Union leader in a labour movement in the 70s, before founding the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) or Workers’ Party, a left-wing party with progressive ideas created in the midst of Brazil’s military dictatorship.
After he first ran for office in 1982, for the state government of Sao Paulo, which he lost, Lula won a seat in Brazil’s congress in 1986 where he helped write the country’s post-military constitution. Lula then ran for President as the PT’s candidate in 1989 and lost, but eventually won the 2002 elections after gaining crucial experience in Brazil’s democratic regime during the 1990s.
Lula promoted far-left ideas and inspired millions of Brazilians. He was a tremendously successful President after his introduction of sweeping social programs such as the Bolsa Família and Fome Zero, which were intended to reduce poverty and support the country’s large working class. Brazil was the most unequal country in the world at the time and Lula lifted 20 million people out of extreme poverty through his programs. Albeit, Lula was blessed with a thriving economy at the time due to the high prices of commodities at the time. His foreign policy record was equally commendable, given the key role he played in the Iran Nuclear Deal, the BRICS trade agreement as well as several key Climate Change agreements.
Bolsa Familia is a government programme introduced in 2003 by Lula. Through the program, low-income families receive cash transfers on the condition that they, for example, send their children to school and ensure they are properly vaccinated. The conditional cash transfer model successfully reduced levels of inequality and hunger – with significantly fewer people living below the poverty line – and closing the historical rural-urban gap.
In Brazil, the Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) social welfare programme has created innovative links between public nutrition and food security programmes and rural development initiatives through mediated market support for the family farm sector.
Lula was true to his word when he campaigned on promises of uplifting the working class, restoring economic dignity and national pride in Brazil. He was helped by the circumstances in Brazil at the time, but he delivered and can be considered an icon for any progressive or leftist advocating for equality, economic freedom and democratic values.
Operation Car Wash
However, Lula’s administration was riddled with corruption scandals, including the Mensalão scandal and Escândalo dos Sanguessugas in his first term. However, no evidence of Lula’s involvement in the corruption scandal meant his public image remained largely unscathed.
However, after Lula had left office, in 2014, Operação Lava Jato (Operation Carwash) began in Brazil. It was an unveiling of a series of corrupt activities, which resulted in several arrests, including nine lawsuits against Lula. The Public Ministry brought charges of influence peddling in his post-Presidency years (2011-2014), alleging that he had lobbied for foreign contracts and that he had accepted legal bribes from, among others, the construction company, Petrobras.
His home was raided in 2016, On 12 July 2017, he received a sentence of nine and a half years in prison. However, he remained free pending his appeal. for one of the nine charges while the other eight are still in legal proceeding. On 26 March 2018 that same court upheld its own sentence, thus ending the case on that court. On 5 April , the Supreme Federal Court (STF) voted 6–5 to deny Lula’s habeas corpus petition. The court ruled that Lula must begin serving the sentence relating to 12 July 2017 conviction, despite not having exhausted all of his appeals. He was told to surrender himself the next day and his supporters formed a human barricade to prevent police from detaining him, fully understanding that Lula was about to become a political prisoner. The next day, after an impassioned speech (see below, I highly recommend), he surrendered himself to custody, beginning a sentence that was later increased to 17 years.
Thus began the Free Lula Movement, a rallying cry for leftists all over the world to get the working class icon out of prison and back into office where he can once again take Brazil to the global stage like nobody has ever done.
And, in November 2019, when Lula was released, it was a political victory all on its own.
He’s back… and it’s a good thing for the world
Through major social media campaigns, such as Facebook petitions, Lula was able to appeal to the UN Human Rights Committee in April 2018 on the grounds that his political rights were being suppressed. By April the UNHRC launched an investigation into violations of basic judicial guarantees, such as the presumption of innocence. Pope Francis was a particularly notable figure that came out in public support for the restoration of Lula’s political rights.
However, the rush to free Lula in time for the 2018 Presidential elections failed after his candidacy was denied by the Superior Electoral Court on 31 August 2018, when the majority of the seven-judge panel voted to bar Lula from running in the presidential race.
However, he can run again in 2022 and President Jair Bolsonaro knows it. Bolsonaro is a Trump-like figure who rode the wave of right-wing populism all over the world between 2015 and 2017, along with the Phillipine’s Rodrigo Duterte and Marie La Penne, who came within touching distance of the French Presidency.
Now, particularly after Bolsonaro’s approval ratings plummeted, following Brazil’s horrendous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen them record the third-most cases (11,122,429 and counting) and second-most deaths (268,370) in the world, Lula is looking more and more like he will once again be elected into office next year– if he confirms his candidacy.
And, with Bolsonaro and Trump being the driving force behind right-wing populism, the departure of both from their respective offices in Brazil and the United States could be a very good thing for progressive politics all over the world, if other countries follow the trend. And in the midst of a global pandemic, the politicians that are committed to running for much needed social programs such as free healthcare, social stimulus packages and the kind of pro-worker programs that Lula used to turn Brazil into a global leader, are the politicians that we desperately need.
Don’t be mistaken, the fact that Lula is now able to run for President is very much a geopolitical and symbolic victory for the left. And supporting similar movements to that of the Worker’s Party is what we need to make the world a better place.
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