Signaling a possible political comeback by the progressive leader, former Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva this week attacked current President Jair Bolsonaro, comparing Brazil under his rule to a “horror film” in which the current administration, conservative oligarchs, and right-wing paramilitaries are threatening the country’s sovereignty, and where the president is using the coronavirus pandemic as a “weapon of mass destruction.”
Folha de São Paulo reports da Silva, commonly known as Lula, made his scathing attack on Bolsonaro in a wide-ranging 24-minute video released on September 7, Brazil’s Independence Day.
Lula, 74, accused the president of orchestrating an “authoritarian escalation” reminiscent of “the dark times of dictatorship,” when he began his political journey as a labor organizer and activist. The U.S.-backed regime jailed and tortured many dissidents, including his successor Dilma Rousseff, during this 21-year period that ended with the restoration of democracy in 1985.
According to Lula, conservative elites supported Bolsonaro as a way of thwarting the social progress achieved under the administrations of Workers Party (PT) presidents da Silva and Rousseff. He said that the 2018 general election “threw Brazil into an unending nightmare.”
“With the rise of Bolsonaro, militiamen, businessmen, and hired killers left the crime pages and appeared in political columns,” said Lula. “Just like in horror films, Brazilian oligarchs have created a monster they cannot control, but they will support it as long as their interests are being served.”
The oligarchs, added Lula, are “defending torture, apologizing for rape, and financing the spread of fake news.”
Lula also addressed issues as varied as Amazon deforestation and preservation, Indigenous rights, social inequality, racism, violence against women, privatization, and the coronavirus pandemic—which has hit Brazil particularly hard. He said the Bolsonaro administration “does not value life and trivializes death,” and that the “insensitive, irresponsible, and incompetent government disrespects the World Health Organization and has converted the coronavirus into a weapon of mass destruction.”
“The overwhelming majority of those killed by the coronavirus are poor, Black, vulnerable people who were abandoned by the state,” Lula said. “So many deaths could have been avoided.”
The former president also accused Bolsonaro of “taking advantage of the collective suffering” in order to “commit a crime against the country… [and] giving up national sovereignty” by submitting to the United States and President Donald Trump “in a humiliating way.”
“I put myself at the disposal of the Brazilian people,” Lula concludes. “From the bottom of my heart I tell you: I’m here. Let’s rebuild Brazil together.”
Some political observers in Brazil see Lula’s video as the beginning of an attempted political comeback. The former president, who served from 2003 to 2011, was released from prison last November after serving 580 days behind bars following a Supreme Court ruling that found his incarceration unlawful. However, he is currently prohibited from running for office after being stripped of his political rights under Brazil’s Clean Record Law, which bans candidates from seeking election for eight years if they have been convicted of a serious crime, lost their office due to corruption, or resigned to avoid impeachment.
Lula is beloved by millions of Brazilians for his lifelong advocacy for the poor, workers, minorities, and rural and Indigenous people. As president, he lifted millions of Brazilians from poverty through sweeping social programs including Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) and Bolsa Familia (Family Allowance), while presiding over Brazil’s rise into the top tier of world economies. However, his focus on social uplift at the expense of the oligarchy earned him powerful enemies at home, and his solidarity with leftist Latin American leaders and opposition to U.S. imperialism made him a target of many in Washington and on Wall Street.
Celso Amorim, Lula’s former foreign minister, told The Guardian Tuesday that the former president will be a key player in the 2022 general election.
“This is a turning point,” said Amorim. “We are going to see a Lula-Bolsonaro dispute.”
Lula had originally been sentenced to 25 years in prison in two separate corruption scandals. He initially received a 9.5-year sentence after being convicted of accepting a luxury seaside apartment in return for helping the powerful OAS construction company to receive lucrative business deals from the state-owned Petrobras oil company. He was also sentenced to nearly 13 years behind bars for accepting renovation work on a farmhouse in exchange for ensuring OAS and another construction company won lucrative contracts with Petrobras.
The sprawling anti-corruption investigation that netted Lula, Operation Car Wash, was dubbed “the largest foreign bribery case in history” by the U.S. Justice Department. Dozens of powerful Brazilian political and business figures were jailed. Odebrecht, one of Brazil’s largest construction companies, admitted to paying over $780 million in bribes to politicians, political parties, lawyers, bankers, and businesspeople to secure contracts in Brazil and abroad.
Not only did Car Wash result in Lula’s imprisonment, it also ended Rousseff’s presidency, as she was impeached in April 2016 in connection with the scandal, which many critics called a political coup. Rousseff’s successor, right-wing President Michel Temer, was also arrested and charged in connection with Car Wash.
Both Lula and Rousseff maintain their innocence and claim the charges against them were politically motivated.
Lula’s release came after an investigation by Glenn Greenwald and other reporters at The Intercept revealed that Sergio Moro, the judge in the case, had colluded with Car Wash prosecutors. Moro would later serve as Bolsonaro’s justice minister until a falling out—the former accused the latter of politicizing the Justice Ministry—led to his sacking in April.
Last week, a court annulled one of the nine corrpution cases against Lula, citing “insufficient evidence” to proceed with corruption charges.
Bolsonaro has presided over a collapsed economy, diminished prestige abroad, and worsening climate-driven environmental crises. Like Trump, he has cast doubt on human-caused climate change and pursued policies of ecological destruction—especially Amazon deforestation—for short-term economic gain. He also blames immigrants and liberals for many of Brazil’s most pressing problems, and has made headlines for his shockingly racist, homophobic, and sexist comments.