An ex-pres­i­dent’s im­pris­on­ment splits the na­tion

The Week (US) - - News 15 -

Half of Brazil is in mourn­ing, said Hilde­gard

in Jor­nal do Brasil (Brazil). For­mer Pres­i­dent Luiz Iná­cio Lula da Silva of the left-wing Work­ers’ Party re­ported to prison this week to be­gin serv­ing 12 years for cor­rup­tion, an­other ca­su­alty of the mas­sive bribery and kick­back in­ves­ti­ga­tion known as Oper­a­tion Car Wash. Prose­cu­tors said Lula re­ceived a beachside apart­ment in return for help­ing a con­struc­tion com­pany get gov­ern­ment con­tracts. Lula and his sup­port­ers—who thronged the streets of his home­town of São Bernardo do Campo, weep­ing at the ver­dict— con­tend he is the vic­tim of a right-wing witch hunt. For a day af­ter his lat­est ap­peal was re­jected, he re­fused to turn him­self in. Lula even­tu­ally suc­cumbed to the in­evitable, but be­fore head­ing to prison gave “his most mov­ing and in­dig­nant” speech, rail­ing against ac­tivist judges and ex­hort­ing the crowd to keep fight­ing for the poor. “I will not be stopped,” he pro­claimed, “be­cause I’m not a hu­man be­ing: I’m an idea.”

This was no mis­car­riage of jus­tice, said Car­los Al­berto di Franco in Es­tadão de São Paulo (Brazil). Lula was sen­tenced to nine years and six months af­ter a fair trial last sum­mer. On ap­peal, a higher court up­held the ver­dict and in­creased his sen­tence to 12 years. A sec­ond ap­peal was re­jected this week by the Supreme Court. To say that Lula still has a pre­sump­tion of innocence and should stay out of prison pend­ing yet an­other ap­peal “would mock Brazil­ians’ in­tel­li­gence” and “throw open the doors of im­punity to white-col­lar crim­i­nals” across the coun­try. Lula’s in­car­cer­a­tion is still “a tragedy,” said Teresa de Sousa in Público (Por­tu­gal). As pres­i­dent from 2003 to 2011, he lifted 20 mil­lion Brazil­ians out of poverty. His elec­tion was a tri­umph of hope for longig­nored work­ers and slum dwellers, yet he was no so­cial­ist ide­o­logue: He sup­ported glob­al­iza­tion and was a friend of the U.S. But his Work­ers’ Party “quickly showed its true na­ture,” be­com­ing en­trenched and dom­i­neer­ing. The back­lash against the party ended up “politi­ciz­ing the jus­tice sys­tem.” Lula’s hand­picked suc­ces­sor, Dilma Rouss­eff, was im­peached in 2016 for a mi­nor fi­nan­cial vi­o­la­tion, and Lula him­self has been locked up while Car Wash tar­gets on the Right— in­clud­ing cur­rent Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer—walk free. So while it may be true that Lula is guilty, “that is not the whole truth.”

The pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Oc­to­ber is now wide open, said in an ed­i­to­rial. Lula was the front-run­ner, but his con­vic­tion has barred him from seek­ing the pres­i­dency, leav­ing the Left dis­cred­ited and frag­mented. It’s alarm­ing that a can­di­date of the ex­treme right, Jair Bol­sonaro, is now in as­cen­dance. But even more dis­turb­ing is the “med­dling of mil­i­tary lead­ers in pol­i­tics.” Ahead of Lula’s lat­est court hear­ing, army com­man­der Gen. Ed­uardo Vil­las Bôas sug­gested the for­mer pres­i­dent shouldn’t be al­lowed to file ap­peal af­ter ap­peal, say­ing the mil­i­tary “re­pu­di­ates im­punity.” For a coun­try once ruled by a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship and cur­rently suf­fer­ing “deep in­sti­tu­tional in­sta­bil­ity,” such com­ments are omi­nous in­deed.

Lula and sup­port­ers in São Bernardo do Campo.

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