Brazil’s Conservatives: Court Case Freeing Ex-President Could Free 200,000 Other Criminals

SAO BERNARDO DO CAMPO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 09: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (L), Brazil's former president, outside of the Sindicato dos Metalurgicos do ABC on November 9, 2019 in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil. Brazil accepted former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silvas request for immediate release, according to …
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SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Conservative leaders in Brazil expressed deep discontent at the Supreme Court’s decision to free criminal socialist ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva this week — and warned the ruling sets the table to free as many as 200,000 convicted murderers, rapists, and other criminals nationwide.

According to Poder360 and data from the National Justice Council, over 193,000 criminals could take advantage of this decision and be released from prison.

Brazil’s top court freed Lula on November 10, arguing that convicts who had not fully exhausted their appeals process could not be kept behind bars. Lula had been sentenced to over a decade in prison for using tax dollars, in the form of contractor kickbacks, to buy a luxury beachfront condominium. The decision suggests that no court outside of the Supreme Federal Court (STF), which is in charge of interpreting the Constitution, and the Supreme Court of Justice (STJ), which oversees the interpretation of federal laws in lower courts, can jail a person, because no conviction by a lower court is final.

Therefore, any criminal serving time in prison who has not exhausted all available appeals can petition to be freed and use the Lula ruling as established precedent.

In a country where crime rates are still significant, despite the marvelous job the Bolsonaro administration is doing on the subject, this decision endangers the lives and safety of 200 million Brazilians.

“We cannot allow the Supreme Court to impose [legal] interpretations of matters that are of high cost for the population,” said Congresswoman Caroline de Toni during an intervention at Parliament. “The interpretation [of the law] in favor of imprisonment before the exhaustion of appeals was established until 2009, when Mensalão [a widespread corruption scandal] broke out.”

This ruling, assures the Congresswoman in a video, “puts in risk operation Lava Jato, and will insert into society a real legion of thugs.”

Lava Jato, or Operation Car Wash, is a sprawling, nationwide corruption investigation that has resulted in dozens of politicians from nearly every political party behind bars. Law enforcement officials revealed a scheme, developed under Lula, in which private contractors would overcharge on public infrastructure projects and kick back a percentage of the people’s money to ensure politicians did not find a cheaper contractor. It worked, at an industrial scale, for nearly a decade.

De Toni is leading the charge in Brazil’s Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overruling the Supreme Court decision freeing Lula and allowing the imprisonment of convicts while they process appeals.

“We need to pass the constitutional amendment as soon as possible. It is absurd for a country to judge criminals three times in order for them to go to prison. It takes too long!” Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro of São Paulo told me. President Jair Bolsonaro’s son added, “Plus it is irrational, considering the size of Brazil and the number of people we have.”

Bolsonaro assured “the need to attack from all sides possible, via a bill or constitutional amendment. The [constitutional amendment] is being debated at the CCJ [Constitution and Justice parliamentary commission], and we have the necessary votes — as long as the Centrist congressmen don’t change their votes against prison after the second appeal. If the current scenario in the Commission remains the same, we surely will approve it.”

Conservative activists have expressed support for the legislation.

“The Brazilian Conservative Movement [MBC] will support any possible measure to revert or to reduce the damage caused against Brazil” by the Supreme Court decision, Mauricio Costa, leader of the Movement, told me. “Whether it be constitutional amendment 410 … or impeaching Supreme Court judges.”

The MBC is one of the biggest conservative movements in Brazil. They describe themselves as “based on the restoration of the pillars of Western civilization and the combat against the cultural domination of destructive revolutionary ideologies in our country.”

The group has suffered physical attacks from left-wing agitators, just as the nation’s president suffered an assassination attempt last year a month before the election at the hands of a socialist assailant. Two days before speaking to me, Costa was the victim of a vicious assault by communists caught on video.

MBC has called, along with other conservative movements, for a huge national protest to push Davi Alcolumbre, the president of the National Congress, to accept the request for the impeachment of STF judges, beginning with Justice Gilmar Mendes, hoping it would later trigger a domino effect against other judges.

Mendes has strongly opposed Lava Jato publicly and used his position to neutralize investigations against Aécio Neves, another politician imprisoned by Operation Car Wash. The judge has also been denounced for obstruction of justice and collaboration with a Lava Jato suspect, former governor of Mato Grosso state Silval Barbosa.
Rafael Valera is the Communications Director of the Venezuelan conservative movement Rumbo Libertad.

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