Brazil: An ex-president’s imprisonment splits the nation
Half of Brazil is in mourning, said Hildegard Angel 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 long-ignored 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 Brasil.ElPais.com 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.