Time Magazine revealed Brazil’s socialist former president and current presidential frontrunner, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, as its cover star on Wednesday, publishing a glowing interview profile branding Lula a “white knight” saving Brazil from incumbent conservative Jair Bolsonaro.
The profile largely excuses Lula’s conviction, which at one point resulted in a prison sentence of up to 25 years, on charges of using public money to buy a luxury beachfront property and his role in “Operation Car Wash,” a government infrastructure kickback scheme that resulted in dozens of arrests of politicians of nearly every political party. Brazil’s top court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF), overturned the sentence last year on grounds that the judge presiding over the initial case, Sergio Moro, was “biased” and out of his jurisdiction when presiding over the case – leaving Lula able to run for office again at age 76.
TIME's new cover: Brazil's most popular President returns from political exile with a promise to save the nation https://t.co/qmLcrH61W7 pic.twitter.com/gHdVpY7jY1
— TIME (@TIME) May 4, 2022
In contrast to the STF’s treatment of Lula, it recently attempted to sentence a conservative lawmaker, Daniel Silveira, to eight years in prison for criticizing the STF on Youtube (Bolsonaro pardoned Silveira), and launched violent police raids on comedians and vloggers in 2020 on dubious “fake news” grounds.
The STF has 11 ministers. Lula appointed three of them, his impeached protege Dilma Rousseff appointed four, and her vice president Michel Temer appointed one: Alexandre de Moraes, tasked with persecuting conservative voices for “criminal speech” and “fake news.” Only two of the 11 were appointed by a conservative president.
Lula currently maintains a comfortable, but narrowing, lead against Bolsonaro.
Time largely avoids delving into the erosion of trust in the STF that Lula’s legacy has created, or the growing attacks on free speech from the left in the country – which appear to have contributed to rising support for Bolsonaro – or his failure to assemble a large crowd of supporters even on May Day, the world’s largest Marxist holiday. It also failed to mention bizarre campaign promises like fighting to create a pan-South American currency similar to the Euro.
Instead, Time branded him a “white knight” and “hero” out to “save the nation” from the alleged evils of Bolsonaro’s presidency. The profile claimed, without explaining how both are possible simultaneously, that Lula’s tenure was defined by both “progressive social programs” and “fiscal conservatism” at the same time.
“Through progressive social programs, paid for by a boom in Brazilian products like steel, soy, and oil, Lula’s government lifted millions out of poverty and transformed life for the country’s Black majority and Indigenous minority,” Time claimed. “Bolsonaro has taken a hammer to all that, scrapping policies that expanded poor people’s access to education, limited police violence against Black communities, and protected Indigenous lands and the Amazon rain forest.”
The article did not note the dramatic reductions in violent crime, particularly homicide, under Bolsonaro, or that Lula’s presidential term, from 2003 to 2011, saw the highest rates of forest fires in the Amazon in recent memory.
Time praised Lula in the profile as a “jovial grandfather” and “white knight,” proving somewhat less complimentary to Lula than Lula himself is. The socialist former president compared himself to NFL legend Tom Brady.
“In American football, there is a player—as it happens he’s ended up with a Brazilian model,” Lula said, referring to Brady’s wife Gisele Bündchen. “He’s been the best player in the world for a long time, but in each game, his fans demand that he plays better than he did in the last one.”
“For me, with the presidency, it’s the same thing,” Lula said. “I am only running because I can do better than I did before.”
In 2016, responding to the charges against him for misappropriating public funds, Lula compared himself to Jesus: “Only Jesus Christ can beat me in Brazil.”
Elsewhere in the Time interview, Lula detoured from praising himself to condemn Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During his tenure as president, Lula focused Brazil’s foreign policy on befriending Russia and China and has repeatedly defended Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and his proxies in socialist Venezuela and communist Cuba. Lula dismissed Zelensky as a “nice comedian” who deserved more condemnation for the Russian invasion of Ukraine than Putin.
“I see the President of Ukraine, speaking on television, being applauded, getting a standing ovation by all the [European] parliamentarians,” Lula told Time. “This guy is as responsible as Putin for the war. Because in the war, there’s not just one person guilty.”
“You are encouraging this guy [Zelensky], and then he thinks he is the cherry on your cake. We should be having a serious conversation. OK, you were a nice comedian. But let us not make war for you to show up on TV,” Lula concluded.
Bolsonaro has abstained from involving Brazil – which is now economically dependent on Russia thanks to Lula’s policies – in the Ukrainian conflict, but has stopped short of antagonizing Zelensky.
Lula used the interview to further call for “a new global governance,” in which Brazil would play a major role, that would have more leverage over the actions of sovereign states.
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