Tensions run high ahead of Brazil court’s ruling on Lula prison

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, seen here addressing a rally of leftist parties on April 02, is seeking a third term in office and leads easily in opinion polls
AFP Mauro Pimentel

Brasília (AFP) – Tensions ran high Tuesday in Brazil ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on whether former president and election frontrunner Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva should start serving a 12 year prison sentence for corruption.

The court showdown scheduled for Wednesday has become a focal point for Brazil’s deeply divided electorate in the runup to October’s presidential election.

Those on the left, who remember Lula for lifting tens of millions of people out of poverty during his two terms between 2003-2010, see the threat of prison as an attack on democracy.

At 72, the Workers’ Party founder is seeking a third term in office and leads easily in opinion polls.

“I did not accept the military dictatorship and I will not accept this dictatorship of the prosecutors,” Lula said late Monday to a crowd of supporters in Rio de Janeiro.

His backers were organizing a rally in Brasilia on Wednesday, with opponents also set to gather, separated by a metal fence and a heavy police presence.

Anti-Lula protesters were also planning rallies in Sao Paulo and Rio later Tuesday.

– Pressure on Supreme Court –

Lula was sentenced after being convicted last year of accepting a seaside apartment as a bribe from a huge construction company seeking government contracts. He appealed in a lower court but lost.

Under current law, that means he should go immediately to prison, while conducting further appeals. However, Lula has asked the Supreme Court to allow him to remain free while pursuing those appeals.

The case has put the top court under huge pressure.

On Monday, more than 5,000 judges and prosecutors signed a petition against granting Lula his habeas corpus request.

Deltan Dallagnol, the chief prosecutor in the giant “Car Wash” anti-graft investigation that has upended Brazilian politics over the last four years, tweeted that he was fasting and praying for the court to rule against Lula.

On Monday, the chief justice of the Supreme Court warned against violence — a real fear just days after shots were fired at two of Lula’s campaign buses in the south of Brazil, without causing injuries.

“This is a time when we have to ask for calm,” said Carmen Lucia, president of the court. “Calm so that ideological differences don’t become the source of social disorder, calm to break with the picture of violence.”

– Temer safe for now –

Lula is not the only one causing waves this week.

Current center-right President Michel Temer, who already faces two corruption charges, is embroiled in new controversy following the arrests of several close associates on graft charges.

They were charged last Thursday in connection with a “Car Wash” probe into whether port logistics company Rodrimar was given contracts at Sao Paulo’s huge Santos port after bribing Temer.

A third charge could be announced, although for now, Temer is at little risk of facing prosecution.

When two corruption charges were filed against him last year, Congress — in which many members are themselves embroiled in corruption investigations — voted to bar the cases from going to trial.