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Lula da Silva, Convicted of Corruption, Takes Brazil’s Reins Again: What’s His Story?

Lula, condenado por corrupción, asume nuevamente las riendas de Brasil: ¿cuál es su historia?, EFE

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Socialist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office last Sunday as president of Brazil. The leftist’s electoral triumph came after twelve years of his last government and after being convicted for acts of corruption.

On July 12, 2017, Lula was sentenced by Judge Sérgio Moro to nine years and six months in prison. This was the first time in Brazil’s history that a former president was convicted of corruption. He turned himself in on April 7, 2018, and spent 580 days in prison and was unable to run in the 2018 presidential elections, which were won by Jair Bolsonaro.

How did his career start?

Lula da Silva is a socialist referent in Latin America and since his beginnings, he has been associated with so-called social justice. For example, in 1966 he began working at Villares Industries and, despite describing himself as a “depoliticized” worker, he was initiated into trade unionism because in 1968 his older brother, Frei Chico, nicknamed “José” and affiliated with the outlawed Brazilian Communist Party, was arrested and tortured by the military.

Thus, the da Silva brothers were elected in 1969 to form the union’s Executive Committee, José as secretary and Lula as an alternate. From that moment on, Lula’s long career with the unions began.

On Sunday, October 27, 2002, Lula was elected president of Brazil for the first time, but corruption scandals were not long in coming. His political rise was tainted by corruption scandals in his party, which received the name “Mensalon” in 2005.

On July 12, 2017, Lula was sentenced to nine years and six months in prison by Judge Sérgio Moro. For the second time in his life, Lula returned to prison, claiming he was innocent. Lula spent 19 months in prison and was released by the Supreme Federal Court, which in 2021 overturned his convictions, due to alleged bias by Judge Moro.

“I was sure this day would come. The day came with the vote of (STF judge) Fachin, to recognize that there was never a crime committed by me, to recognize that I never had any kind of involvement in Petrobras. All the suffering I went through is over,” the former president said last year in a statement reported by BBC Mundo.

Lula was referring to the decision of Supreme Court Judge Edson Fachin to annul the proceedings tried by Moro in Curitiba so that they could be tried by another judge in Brasília. The decision of the Brazilian justice system was criticized by several political forces that claim that the proceedings were annulled for technical reasons and not because of Lula’s innocence.

The new president of Brazil faced a series of accusations during Operation Lava Jato, involving the construction company Odebrecht. It involved allegations of bribes that Odebrecht allegedly delivered to several Latin American politicians, using banks in the Brazilian system.

In addition to corruption, Lula’s governments have been marked by their links with the Latin American radical left and their steps to stay in power.

It is no secret that there was a great alliance between the leftist governments under the leadership of Hugo Chávez and the impulse given to the São Paulo Forum under the presidency of Lula da Silva and with the support of Cuba’s dictator, Fidel Castro.

The election of the leftist military officer Hugo Chávez in 1998 in Venezuela represented the coming to power of the first leftist government in many decades in Latin America and the first government of a member party of the São Paulo Forum (the then MVR which is now the PSUV) after Cuba.

Hugo Chávez’s triumph was followed by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party in 2002. From that moment on, the control of power by the left in Latin America began to be promoted under the coordination of the São Paulo Forum and Castro’s influence.

So close was Lula’s relationship with the Cuban dictator that in 2019 he said he was the most loyal person he had ever met. “I am more willing to fight than ever before. I will lead this country, not only to infer their lives, but to defend the Brazilian people, who do not deserve to live what they are living,” Lula said in a message published by Fidel Castro’s official website.

What to expect from his government?

Lula, Convicted of Corruption, Takes Brazil's Reins Again: What's His Story?, EFE
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva delivers a speech on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2013, at the Havana Convention Palace, during the III International Conference “For the Balance of the World”. (EFE)

Following Lula’s arrival to power, El American consulted political analyst Miguel Velarde on what this electoral result meant for the American region, now tinged with red, and the challenges he will face in his government.

Velarde stressed that the election result is a demonstration of a country that is divided, but, above all, in his opinion, it shows that Bolsonaro has greater and more consolidated support than had been said.

“In Brazil, two countries coexist with two opposing positions and visions. One that has always supported Lula and that longs for or remembers the years when he was president, in which evidently an important sector improved their lives. The other part is much larger than many said, which is Bolsonarismo, which has basically consolidated in the last few years.”

He explained that this triumph will not be as significant for the left in Latin America as it could have been in previous years, mainly because there are leftist leaders who are no longer around and do not have the same resources of at least a decade ago, as when, for example, Chávez governed Venezuela and promoted socialist unity in the continent. The expert commented that Lula will face the challenge of governing under greater popular pressure and a possible economic crisis.

“In this new wave of 21st century socialism, power is not the same as in the first wave. Not only because some of its main actors are gone, such as Hugo Chávez in Venezuela or Correa in Ecuador, but also because they do not have the same resources,” said Velarde.

Several analysts have warned that Lula’s arrival would mean the consolidation of the left in Latin America.

“Lula’s triumph will mean that Venezuela will have one friend less and our country needs friends. Especially after the fact that in the U.S. there is an administration that is friendly with the progressivism proposed by the left”, said analyst Roderick Navarro, in an interview with El Nacional.

Williams Perdomo es periodista y escritor, especializado en las fuentes Política y Cultura.