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Is Lula’s sentence ‘another coup’?


‘Oh Brazil! This is a coup after a coup!’ said Miguel do Rosário, editor of Rio based O Cafezinho website.

Like many on the Left in Brazil, do Rosário thinks that Sergio Moro, the judge leading the Operation Car Wash (Lavo Jato) corruption investigations, has an agenda beyond the obvious.

The principle purpose, says do Rosário, is to derail the Worker’s Party and to stop Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva becoming the country’s president in 2018.

Recent polls showed Lula as the clear frontrunner, with others trailing way behind. Now, if the appeal court upholds his conviction, and his 10 year jail sentence, he will be barred from office. But it is expected to take at least eight months for the court to rule.

At the outset the Car Wash investigations did seem to be unfairly targeting the Workers Party (Partido Trabalhadores).

In recent weeks, though, the parties on the right have also fallen victim to their interrogations, which have often been conducted in a way that is itself beyond the law.

About a third of the senate and a third of the cabinet of the current President Temer are facing charges. Leading political figures, such as former lower-house speaker Eduardo da Cunha and Aecio Neves have already been imprisoned. In all more than 90 parliamentarians are implicated.

President Temer himself is facing serious corruption charges involving taking bribes from the world’s biggest meat packer, JBS. There are darker accusations too – of pay-offs to potential witnesses to silence them and threats of violence.

Temer, Brazil, Lula
People walk past a sign reading 'Out Temer' at the end of a protest against Brazil's President michel Temer in Sao Paulo, Brazil on 21 May 2017 © REUTERS/Nacho Doce

So now, politicians on the Right also hate Carwash. One conservative congressman recently said that Brazil was living in a ‘dictatorship of judges’. The rightwing media however, is closely aligned with the Car Wash judges, and have received copious leaked information from them.

One theory is that the corporate media and the US-educated Judge Moro are all part of a neoliberal plan to run down Brazil’s social provision, and open the country wide to international, profit-seeking capital. Such economic interests may have no particular allegiance to any one party, just whichever grouping will most successfully deliver what they want.

Meanwhile, the country is in a bizarre and unprecedented crisis, where its institutions are at war with each other, according to activist-academic Leonardo Sakomoto, of Reportér Brasil in São Paulo.

Wednesday’s sentence against Lula related to accusations that he benefited from around $1.2 million in bribes from construction company OAS (aka Odebrecht) in the form of seaside apartment renovated at Lula’s request. Prosecutors say that the payment was part of around over $20 million that OAS paid in bribes to the Workers Party in exchange for lucrative contacts with the state-owned oil company Petrobras.

These charges are denied and Lula’s lawyers have already lodged an appeal. Four more cases are in the pipeline, however. The lawyers say that Lula is innocent, no credible evidence of guilt has been produced, and that the ex-president has been subject to a three-year long politically motivated investigation.

Ardent Lula and Workers Party supporters too believe the charges against the man who Barack Obama called ‘the world’s most popular politician’ are baseless. Lula himself said during his trial: ‘What is happening is not getting me down, just motivating me to go out and talk more. I will keep fighting.’

Some others on the Left, for example from the PSOL party, are doubtful that Lula and those around him are entirely innocent. Part of the problem, they say, is that the party became too institutionalized, too close to corporate power and detached from its social movement base.

There is a general acceptance on the Left that the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2016 for breaking budgetary rules was a ‘soft’ or parliamentary coup, with the purpose of ending the 13-year rule of the Workers’ Party.

Since the coup, there has been a sharp lurch to the right, with the PMDB-led government shamelessly representing large rural landowning and corporate interests. Draconian reforms to change labour laws to the benefit corporations were passed this week, in spite of strong popular and union resistance. Violence against indigenous people has increased significantly, and there are moves to withdraw indigenous land rights and makes swathes of forest available for agribusiness. The rights of women are also under assault, with moves to further restrict access to abortion.

Many Brazilians have come out on the streets, calling for immediate elections as the government of Michel Temer becomes increasingly embroiled in scandal. Each day it seems less likely that Temer will be able to hold onto his presidency until the 2018 elections.

If Lula win his appeal against imprisonment, there is an outside chance that could still run for president. It’s looking unlikely, though.

But there is no clear alternative to Lula. A large number of possible candidates exist, including the rightwing mayor of São Paulo, João Doria. He is presenting himself as ‘non-political’ – which may go down well with the many Brazilians disgusted by their entire political class. He is an authoritarian – as demonstrated during a recent crackdown on homeless people in São Paulo. He is a millionaire media owner featured on the Brazilian version of The Apprentice. He is perhaps the closest to a Trump or Berlusconi figure on the Brazilian landscape.

Further right is Jair Bolsonaro, the misogynist, homophobe, who praised the army officer responsible for the torture of Dilma Rousseff during the military dictatorship in the 1970s.

On the Left, some are talking about Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party, a former São Paulo Mayor, and even Guilherme Boulos, leader of the homeless workers movement the MTST. Marina Silva of the environmental Rede party is also being mentioned, while centre- left maverick Ciro Gomes has thrown his hat in the ring.

For many of the country’s poor and more marginalized people, it makes no difference who wins. ‘For us, it feels like a coup every day,’ one homeless São Paulo squatter told me. The political disengagement is extreme, as the Workers Party has lost touch with its popular base – and, according to the Car Wash judges, corrupt as well.

Look out for the October issue of New Internationalist which looks at Soft Coups, with a special focus on Brazil.

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