Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former Brazilian socialist president sentenced to decades in prison over extensive corruption while in office, will hit the campaign trail now that he is free, Brazil’s O Globo reported Monday.
Brazilian officials released Lula on Friday following a Supreme Court decision that made it illegal to keep convicts in prison if they are still appealing their case. Lula’s conviction has not been overturned and he remains banned, for now, from running for office.
Prior to his arrest last year, though, Lula attempted to run in the 2018 presidential election again as a hard leftist, claiming that the corruption probe known as “Operation Car Wash” – which has resulted in the arrests of dozens of politicians from multiple parties across the political spectrum – was a right-wing conspiracy to crush dissent.
Lula was initially sentenced to nearly a decade in prison, then another 25, for using government money to buy a luxury beachfront property and maintain it.
According to Brazilian prosecutors, during Lula’s presidency the state made lucrative infrastructure deals with major contractors – most prominently the criminal enterprise Odebrecht – in which the contractor would overcharge on a given project significantly and then use a percentage of the extra pocketed taxpayers’ dollars to bribe politicians into creating more contracts. This is the money the court system found Lula used for his beach property.
Lula was responsible for bringing in a prodigious number of government infrastructure projects by securing hosting duties for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics, both of which brought the regions they occurred in to the brink of bankruptcy.
While Lula’s attorneys continue their attempt to overturn his conviction, Lula will use his free time to travel the country and galvanize support, ostensibly to run in the 2022 presidential race against incumbent conservative President Jair Bolsonaro. His first stop will be the Brazilian Northeast – the nation’s poorest region and a traditional socialist stronghold. The Northeast is the only region Bolsonaro lost in the 2018 election.
Lula will reportedly participate in a music festival next Sunday, named “Lula Livre,” or “Lula Free,” to celebrate his return to politics, according to O Globo. He may arrive earlier for a Workers’ Party (PT) meeting on Thursday, the socialist party Lula founded. He is reportedly expected to travel to Sao Paulo for the PT party congress on the 22nd.
Bolsonaro is also scheduling visits to the region; he has already visited the Northeast five times since taking office in January, heavily emphasizing using government resources to help build stronger institutions in the region. Bolsonaro will reportedly arrive in the state of Paraíba on Monday for an event inaugurating a new housing complex.
Lula has already made a public statement at a rally celebrating his release on Saturday, after spending his first night out of prison at a lavish party hosted by wealthy leftist sympathizers. Lula addressed a metalworkers’ union in Sao Bernardo do Campo where he reportedly began his career, telling the crowd, “I’m back!”
“They don’t know how much I want to fight for this country,” Lula reportedly said, promising to “travel throughout all of Brazil because it is not possible for us to live in a country in which the rich get richer and the poor are always poorer.”
He did not specifically address his personal riches and how they put him in prison, but dismissed the ongoing criminal charges against him as “one lie after the next.”
“I could have gone to an embassy, to another country, but I needed to prove the lies and that [Justice Minister] Sergio Moro isn’t a judge, he’s a scoundrel,” Lula said.
Sergio Moro was the local Curitiba judge responsible for giving a green light to “Operation Car Wash” and permitting dozens of arrests of corrupt politicians, turning him into a folk hero in Brazil. Bolsonaro rewarded his tenacity against government corruption by offering him the job of Minister of Justice.
Lula also used the opportunity to demand that Brazil “remain in solidarity with the people of Venezuela,” by which he meant the socialist dictatorship repressing the people of Venezuela, against American President Donald Trump. “Trump should solve the problems of the Americans and not bother Latin Americans. He was not elected to be sheriff of the world. Let him go take care of poverty over there.”
He concluded by refusing to call for an overthrow of Bolsonaro but repeating the false reporting that has tied Bolsonaro to the 2018 killing of local Rio de Janeiro politician Marielle Franco.
Bolsonaro has refused to engage with Lula’s outburst.
“I will not respond to criminals who are for now free,” Bolsonaro said on Twitter in response to Lula’s rant on Saturday. “My party is Brazil!”
– Não responderei a criminosos que por ora estão soltos.
– Meu partido é o Brasil! pic.twitter.com/dqitYsHqCj
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) November 9, 2019
Bolsonaro did take the opportunity to address the Brazilian right and urge them to “not make mistakes.”
“Lovers of liberty and of good, we are the majority. We cannot make mistakes,” he wrote. “Without direction and command, even the best troops become a gang shooting off everywhere, even friends. Do not give ammunition to the scoundrel [Lula] who is momentarily free, but full of guilt.”
Amantes da liberdade e do bem, somos a maioria. Não podemos cometer erros. Sem um norte e um comando, mesmo a melhor tropa, se torna num bando que atira para todos os lados, inclusive nos amigos. Não dê munição ao canalha, que momentaneamente está livre, mas carregado de culpa. pic.twitter.com/NSMjtytuDO
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) November 9, 2019
Moro issued a statement also calling for resolve.
“The response to momentary advances by criminals cannot be frustration,” he said, but instead action to prevent criminals from going free.