Brazil: Sentenced to a Decade in Prison, Leftist Lula Launches Presidential Campaign Tour

Former Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (red shirt) participates in a congress of the Unified Workers Central (CUT) in Rio in August 2017
AFP/Apu Gomes

Former socialist Brazilian president—and current convict on high-profile corruption charges—Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva launched a tour of Brazil’s most impoverished communities this week in the hopes of establishing himself as the frontrunner in the October 2018 elections.

Lula remains, largely thanks to name recognition, the front-runner in presidential election polls, though candidates are not yet legally allowed to campaign and the names used in surveys are purely speculative. He is the founder of the socialist Workers’ Party (PT), ran Brazil from 2003 to 2011, and in the process brought Brazil closer diplomatically to rogue states like Venezuela, Cuba, and Iran.

Lula announced his intention to run for president in July, the day after Judge Sergio Moro sentenced him to nine and a half years in prison for taking bribes and funneling money from the state-run oil company Petrobras into the coffers of political allies. On Thursday, however, he hit the road on his “Lula for Brazil” tour.

According to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, Lula began the tour on Thursday in the coastal city of Salvador, where he accused right-of-center politicians of supporting coup attempts and all but announced his own candidacy. While he cannot officially announce it, he told the crowd, “I am 71 and have the will to fight of a 30-year-old. I am no revolutionary, I am an awakener of consciousnesses and I want to travel the country again to move the conscience of the people and prove that for 300 years they did nothing for the country and we did do something.”

Lula is expected to spend 20 days on the road, hitting 24 northeastern cities and spanning nearly 2,500 miles—a tour that O Globo wryly notes will pass the locations of several failed infrastructure projects that Lula failed to complete during his tenure. In another setback for Lula on his tour, a state judge prevented a local university from granting Lula an award on Friday as part of the tour, calling awarding the convicted felon a “duplicit act offending the moral order, because it was issued on the eve of the inauguration of the laureate’s northeastern campaign trail.”

O Globo also notes that Lula is not alone in the idea of touring the country. Other would-be contenders like Geraldo Alckmin of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) and right-wing contender Jair Bolsonaro of the Social Christian Party (PSC) are also reportedly planning tours. João Doria, also of the PSDB, is reportedly visiting the same region as Lula—the populous northeast. They are facing an uphill battle against Lula largely based on name recognition. Recent polls, according to the Argentine newspaper La Nación, find on average that Lula has the most support—30 percent. He also, however, earns the largest disapproval rating of any of the names floated around for president at 55 percent.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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