Lula supporters in Curitiba

On Tuesday afternoon, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva saw his prison sentence reduced by the Superior Court of Justice (STJ), Brazil’s second-highest tribunal. In a unanimous ruling, judges decided to lower Lula’s punishment for the crimes of corruption and money laundering from 12 years, 1 month, and 20 days, to 8 years, 10 months, and 20 days. According to Brazilian law, the move could see the ex-president leave jail and be placed under house arrest later this year.

Brazil’s penal code allows for progressive sentencing, where convicts can move to less restrictive prison regimes after serving a certain portion of their total punishment. For first-time offenders, as is the case of Lula, prisoners may be transferred to minimum security facilities after completing one-sixth of their sentence, with good behavior. As Lula has already served just over one year in prison, he would be eligible for this sentence progression come September of this year.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, as he is over 70 years old, he will have the option to be placed under house arrest, providing he pays a fine of BRL 2.4 million, imposed by the STJ on Tuesday.</span></p> <h2>Forks in the road for Lula</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The ex-president&#8217;s legal situation, however, is far from being clear cut. His current sentence is in relation to the case involving the acquisition of a <a href="https://www.jota.info/justica/stj-lula-triplex-guaruja-22042019">beachfront apartment</a>, but he has another trial court conviction pending in a separate process regarding a ranch house in the São Paulo countryside.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In February, he was sentenced to an additional 12 years and 11 months in this subsequent case, which, if upheld by an appeals court, would be added on to his existing eight-year punishment and remove his right to progressive sentencing for another two years.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Meanwhile, there is another twist in this serpentine judicial situation. The Federal Supreme Court (STF) is set to establish a precedent later this year on whether defendants may begin serving prison sentences before exhausting all of their available appeal routes. If the court was to decide this is unconstitutional, Lula would be set free entirely and given the chance to answer his remaining appeals at liberty.</span></p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/603820614&amp;color=%230092cc&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="166" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <h2>The view of Lula&#8217;s defense team</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While the sentence reduction appears to be a positive result for Lula and his defense counsel, it is, in fact, the opposite. While the STJ panel made alterations to the calculations of punishments dished out by trial and appellate judges, the magistrates also rejected each one of Lula&#8217;s defense team&#8217;s arguments to overturn the guilty verdict originally issued by former federal judge Sérgio Moro, now Justice Minister of the Jair Bolsonaro government.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As Mr. Moro&#8217;s verdict has now been upheld by three appellate judges and four members of the STJ, the chances of Lula being exonerated are extremely remote.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Consulted by </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;">, the ex-president&#8217;s lawyer, Cristiano Zanin, issued a statement saying he will appeal the STJ&#8217;s decision, claiming that there is &#8220;no evidence&#8221; to convict Lula of the crimes of corruption and money laundering, but acknowledging that reducing the ex-president&#8217;s sentence was &#8220;one step toward alleviating the abuse&#8221; committed against Lula. &#8220;Acquittal is the only possible result,&#8221; he claimed.</span></p> <h2>What does it mean for the Workers&#8217; Party?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Even from jail, Lula is the absolute reference point of the Brazilian left, principally its biggest party, the Workers&#8217; Party. However, his ability to act as a political leader is severely hampered by his imprisonment. He is unable to keep up with the day-to-day running of the party, only able to receive visits from his defense counsel.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">If he is eventually placed under house arrest, he will still have several limitations imposed on him with regards to visits. While he is set to be more involved in the party&#8217;s affairs, it will not nearly be as much as he would hope. In reality, this ruling doesn&#8217;t really have any practical effects on Lula&#8217;s role inside the party, according to Cláudio Couto, political scientist and </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;"> columnist.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Lula remains the icon of a large, yet fractured political party. Within there are two main factions within the Workers&#8217; Party, led by current chairperson Gleisi Hoffmann, and last year&#8217;s beaten presidential candidate Fernando Haddad. Ms. Hoffman, at the head of the party, is seen as Lula&#8217;s proxy, representing the former president&#8217;s interests.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As a result, the Workers&#8217; Party&#8217;s platform since last year has been limited to campaigning for Lula&#8217;s freedom, ignoring other pressing political demands. The insistence on the &#8220;Free Lula&#8221; platform in last year&#8217;s election is highlighted by some pundits as a reason for the loss to Jair Bolsonaro. &#8220;[The Workers&#8217; Party] has developed a sort of &#8216;Lula dependency,'&#8221; says Mr. Couto. &#8220;Without a new stance, which is more in sync with the current moment, the party is simply preaching to the choir and retreating further into a smaller and smaller niche.&#8221; </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Despite being the largest left-wing party in Brazil, the Workers&#8217; Party has been unable to mobilize itself as a leading force in the opposition to the Jair Bolsonaro government, with other left-wing and center-left groups forming alliances among themselves, excluding Lula&#8217;s political group.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The party will reach an important summit in November, when it elects its new chairperson. Gleisi Hoffman will run for another term, but her unpopularity among the party&#8217;s state governors and Fernando Haddad could severely hurt her chances. Ms. Hoffman rose to her current position after Lula himself convinced other candidates to step down and back her, and she will depend on the former president&#8217;s endorsement this time around as well. However, that might be difficult for Lula, either stuck at home with an ankle monitor or thrown back in jail.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;"><em>This article was updated on April 24, 2019, at 15:38, to include the contribution of <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> columnist Cláudio Couto.</em>

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.