What to take from Lula’s first interview behind bars

. Apr 29, 2019
What to take from Lula 's first interview behind bars

On Friday afternoon, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva gave his first press interview since being jailed in April of last year for corruption and money laundering. The existence of the interview itself was the cause of much controversy, involving the Supreme Court and allegations of censorship and restricting press freedoms.

Brazil’s biggest newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo, requested an interview with Lula in prison last year, during the presidential election campaign. However, Supreme Court Justice Luiz Fux ruled against the interview taking place, a decision which was only overturned last month.

Lula spoke to Mônica Bergamo, of Folha, and Florestan Fernandes Jr., of El País, for over two hours. The full interview can be watched at this link. Below, we have analyzed some of the main topics addressed by the ex-president.

</span></p> <h2>Lula <em>v.</em> the Government</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While declaring the country to be run by &#8220;a bunch of crazy people&#8221;—a comment which made its way into headlines all over the world—Lula was less directly critical of President Jair Bolsonaro as one might expect, with the majority of the criticism and fury directed towards the president&#8217;s sons and cabinet ministers.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">About Jair Bolsonaro himself, there was less scolding and more analysis and advice. &#8220;Either [Mr. Bolsonaro] builds a solid political party or the way things are won&#8217;t last for long,&#8221; he pondered. &#8220;He needs to have negotiation ability, desire, he&#8217;s going to have to like doing politics to make this work.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Furthermore, in a surprisingly conciliatory tone, Lula stated that Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s success in the presidency is tied to the success of Brazil as a whole. However, he warns that the government is becoming increasingly untenable. &#8220;The people are patient, but they don&#8217;t have all the patience in the world.&#8221;</span></p> <h2>Lula puts his faith in the Supreme Court</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">From his answers, it would appear that Lula is placing his hopes of acquittal on the Supreme Court, the highest tribunal in the country. After saying he believes in &#8220;the construction of a better world, a world of justice,&#8221; Lula then goes on to list major decisions taken by the Supreme Court in the past, such as approving gay marriage, legalizing stem cell research, and ordering the creation of indigenous reservations, all of which went against powerful economic interests and lobbies. &#8220;[The Supreme Court] showed that it has courage, and acted as such,&#8221; Lula declared.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The ex-president also makes it clear that he is &#8220;not looking for favors,&#8221; rather he hopes that justices vote in relation to the case record—which Lula believes proves his innocence.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;I think there will be a day in which the people who will judge me will concern themselves with the case record, with the evidence, and not with the headlines on the news, the magazine covers, the fake news.&#8221;</span></p> <h2>Critique of the U.S.</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A recurring facet of the &#8220;Free Lula&#8221; discourse is the claim that the conviction and &#8220;persecution&#8221; of the ex-president is led by the Department of Justice of the United States, presumably out of interest in Brazilian oil. The narrative has often been dismissed as a &#8220;conspiracy theory,&#8221; even from those in favor of Lula&#8217;s release—or, at the very least, a distraction from the more pressing issues at hand.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It was interesting, however, to note how often the United States were brought up by Lula during his interview, principally with regard to President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s attempts to get closer with the Donald Trump administration. &#8220;I&#8217;ve never seen a president salute the American flag. I&#8217;ve never seen a president say &#8216;I love the U.S.,&#8217; (&#8230;) does anyone think the United States is going to favor Brazil?&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;Americans think about Americans first, they think about Americans second, Americans third, Americans fourth, and if there&#8217;s any time left they&#8217;ll think about Americans,&#8221; Lula joked.</span></p> <h2>The 2018 election</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Upon speaking about the 2018 election and the defeat of the Workers&#8217; Party, Lula gives a somewhat different explanation to that which was widely accepted by pundits and analysts. Despite his removal from the ballot having looked inevitable at the time, Lula claims he was told by every lawyer he spoke to that he would be able to run for president in the election, behind bars or not.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;And I was very proud of being able to win while in jail. It is worth remembering that I gained 16 points [in opinion polls] while being in here, not being able to speak.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">He then claims a feeling of surprise when he was made ineligible, having to then sign a letter declaring Fernando Haddad as the party&#8217;s candidate. &#8220;That&#8217;s when I thought we were running a risk,&#8221; claimed the ex-president. &#8220;Transferring votes isn&#8217;t simple, [it&#8217;s not] automatic. It takes time.&#8221; </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, at the time of the campaign, the perception was different. All signs pointed toward Lula eventually being removed from the ballot, and political analysts highlighted the Workers&#8217; Party&#8217;s insistence to keep the former president as its candidate as a strategy to continue consolidating Lula&#8217;s votes, before transferring this support to Fernando Haddad at the last minute. </span></p> <h2>The Workers&#8217; Party and the left</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though his Workers&#8217; Party has lost its first election in the new millennium and has unable to embody the role as leader of the opposition, Lula sees no reason for panic, claiming that the party has not been &#8220;destroyed.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, when attempting to describe the &#8220;strength of the Workers&#8217; Party,&#8221; Lula inadvertently only gives examples of his own popularity and influence, not that of his party. While trying to show that the Workers&#8217; Party lives on with him in jail, Lula ended up showing that the party&#8217;s influence is limited that of himself.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;It&#8217;s important to recall the strength of the Workers&#8217; Party. Personally, I&#8217;ve had more than 80 magazines against me. When I was arrested, there were 80 hours of [television news] against me (&#8230;) and they didn&#8217;t manage to destroy me. That means the Workers&#8217; Party is very strong indeed.&#8221; </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Beyond his party, however, Lula speaks highly of the Brazilian left, citing defeated presidential candidates Ciro Gomes and Guilherme Boulos, and governor of Maranhão Flávio Dino, as strong figures of leadership going forward. Interestingly, however, he did not mention Fernando Haddad among these names.

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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