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Brazil’s Former President Lula on U.S. Intervention in Latin America & 15th Anniv. of Iraq Invasion

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We continue our conversation with former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The former union leader co-founded Brazil’s Workers’ Party and served as president from 2003 to 2010. During that time, he helped lift tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty. As he runs for president again, we discuss the 15th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and U.S. interference in Latin America.

To watch the interview in Portuguese click here:

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to our conversation with the former Brazilian president, the current presidential candidate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

AMY GOODMAN: Mr. President, I want to ask you about what’s happened in Honduras, with the Organization of American States saying that the election there of the incumbent President Hernández was deeply flawed, with the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley going to Honduras, clearly the ambassador there, the U.S. representative there, deeply involved in what has taken place, with the swearing-in of the president before a correction of the elections. Your thoughts on what’s happened in Honduras, the U.S. involvement there, and also the U.S. attitude towards, the U.S. actions towards, Venezuela, putting certain Venezuelan leaders on a list of those banned from entering the United States, and taking other punitive measures against Maduro, President Maduro?

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Amy, it’s quite visible that the United States is interfering in the countries of Central America. It’s not just today that there’s U.S. interference. In many countries of Central America, the U.S. ambassador behaves as though they were elected by the far right in the countries of our dear Central America. What I deeply regret is that the United States has not learned to live democratically with the countries of Central America and with the countries of Latin America.

Amy, in January of 2003, I had been president of the republic for less than one month, and there was already a conflict underway between the United States and Venezuela. And I was in Ecuador participating in the inauguration of the president of Ecuador, when I met with Chávez. And I proposed the creation of a group of friends of Venezuela, so as to be able to guarantee democracy in Venezuela. I told the United States that they should participate in the group. Colin Powell participated in the group. And I also got Spain involved, and Aznar participated in the group. Why? Because Spain had been the first country to recognize the coup, and the United States was accused of being involved in the coup. And I put Brazil and Argentina there, and I think France, as well. And we were able to give Venezuela a time of peace, be able to hold elections.

And something like that should happen today. Self-determination of the peoples is a sacred matter. The right of the United States, the United States has a right to decide matters pertaining to the United States. That is called sovereignty. And it is up to Venezuela to make the decision within the sovereignty of Venezuela. I, several times, did what I could to get President Bush to meet with President Chávez. When President Obama was recently in power, he went to Trinidad and Tobago, and then we had a meeting with him and with Chávez, trying to create the conditions for the United States to have a more peaceful relationship with Venezuela. But it seems to me that it’s not possible. There’s a certain irrationality at the U.S. State Department that doesn’t want to negotiate peace in Venezuela. But we need to understand that if Central America grows, it’s going to improve the economic situation generally. No one wants to see democracy at risk anywhere in the world, and that is why I regret that there’s not understanding on the part of the United States with respect to Venezuela.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. CIA, U.S. government, is well known to have been involved in the 1964 coup in Brazil. Do you see any evidence of that, both in the ouster of President Dilma Rousseff and also your own case? Do you see any evidence of foreign involvement, particularly the U.S.?

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Well, it took almost 40 years to prove that the United States indeed did participate in the 1964 coup. Now, even though I am not a defender of conspiracy theories, I am convinced, and people in the United States, some, don’t accept Brazil playing such a proactive role in foreign policy. There are extraordinary interests in our Petrobras, and there is interest in Brazil’s influence in Latin America and in South America. There are interests that—not wanting to necessarily see the bank of the BRICS countries go forward. And there is—the Brazilian press always talks about the close relationship between the Office of Attorney General in Brazil and the Department of Justice in the United States around Petrobras issues. And we are trying to investigate. Brazilian legislators go to the U.S. Congress. They talk with U.S. congresspersons.

And all we want is to continue working so that Brazil will be a sovereign country, a country that knows how to use its tremendous potential for development to benefit the people of Brazil. I ask myself every day: Who would be interested in trying to destroy Petrobras? Who would be interested in destroying Brazil’s engineering industry? Who would be interested in destroying the largest company in protein in the world here in Brazil? Who is interested in fracking in Brazil?

AMY GOODMAN: Mr. President, Monday marks the 15th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. You opposed that invasion. Your thoughts today, with the U.S. continuing its presence in both Iraq as well as in Afghanistan?

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Amy, I am so sorry that on December 10th, 2002, I spoke with President Bush at the White House, and I told him that Iraq did not have chemical weapons, because the head of the international agency was a Brazilian, Ambassador Bustani. The president of the United States and the prime minister of Great Britain told the world a lie, saying that there were chemical weapons in Iraq. And Saddam Hussein was lying to the world, pretending that he had them, when Saddam Hussein could have saved his country from the U.S. invasion by asking for international presence to inspect. So, two lies: the lie by the U.S. government saying there’s chemical weapons, and the lie by Saddam Hussein pretending that he had them.

Well, these have led to the destruction of a country, without resolving the problem of terrorism in the world. I think it was a great shame. It was a shame. And so many years have gone by, and to this day no one has been able to show anything of chemical weapons in Iraq. It seems to me that the only chemical weapons were just him pretending that there were. And then terrorism goes on.

AMY GOODMAN: President Lula, what is your assessment of President Donald Trump?

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I don’t have an assessment. I think it’s very unusual that there’s a president of the republic, in the most powerful country of the world, who governs the country by Twitter. I find that very interesting. But in any event, I have to respect him because he was elected by the people of the United States. And if he was elected by the people of the United States, then he is going to serve his term as he wishes, because the people of the United States gave him the authority to do so. I cannot be sitting in judgment of how Trump governs. He governs in his way, and we’ll see how it goes.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on President Trump calling Africa, Haiti and other countries—well, he called Africa a country—”s—hole countries”?

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I think that if a person behaves that way in discussing relations with sister countries, then I don’t think a person would really be qualified to be president of the country, even if in the United States. The poorest countries, that have no chance of growing economically, must be treated with great respect.

Amy, let me tell you one thing: If the rich countries, especially the United States, who have already spent more than $14 trillion to resolve the 2008 financial crisis with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, instead of having used part of that money to help the countries of Africa to develop—well, had they done so, certainly, Africa would be growing more, creating more jobs, strengthening democracy and improving the lives of the people. The first meeting we had of the G20 in London, there, we suggested that the rich countries should make investments in the poor countries so as to create new industrialized regions in the world and new consumers in the world. Unfortunately, the rich countries turned to protectionism once again and took a long time to resolve the crisis of 2008.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read for you from the MercoPress. It says, “A controversial visit and meeting of two branches of government”—the Brazilian government—”was reported in the Brazilian media. In effect last Saturday afternoon president Michel Temer made a visit to the head of the Federal Supreme Tribunal Carmen Lucia at her residence, and 'was not conducted as part of the President’s official schedule.'” I believe they were seen hugging.

“The visit took place five days after Supreme Tribunal Justice Luís Roberto Barroso allowed police to investigate Temer’s financial records. It is the first time in the history of the Brazilian republic that an acting president has had his financial records opened by judicial order.”

You know, this was happening at about the same time that reports emerged that the U.S. special counsel, Robert Mueller, is looking into Trump family finances. But I wanted to ask you about this, because it’s this Supreme Court in Brazil that will also be determining your fate. Is that right, President Lula?

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Look, first, I think that President Temer can meet with Justice Cármen Lúcia either at her office of the Supreme Court or at his office in the presidency. But they apparently had a secret meeting.

Second, Amy, here in Brazil, we need to re-establish the functions of the institutions. Here in Brazil, politics is becoming channeled into the courts, and the courts are becoming politicized. And each institution needs to go back to normalcy. The judiciary, through the Supreme Court, is a guarantor of the constitution. And executive branch executes, carries out. And the legislative branch legislates. If we were to once again have a harmonious and respectful relationship, then we can have Brazil go back to normalcy.

I, too—well, very abnormal things have happened. There are judges talking on television every day. There is a process of disrespecting institutions in Brazil. Part of the judiciary is on strike. They want a housing allowance of almost 4,600 reais. And these people earn 30,000 reais per month, so they don’t need a housing allowance like the Brazilian population, who have no home. Those people need housing assistance.

So, I have the conviction, Amy. I am certain that it is possible to re-establish harmony in Brazil. I’m certain that it is possible to go back to a climate like we had in 2010, 2009, with everyone living harmoniously, people talking among one another, and everybody living democratically in diversity.

AMY GOODMAN: President Lula, you could be arrested at any point. What will you do?

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I cannot be arrested at any moment. This thing about any moment is a desire on the part of my adversaries and my enemies. I can only be arrested if someone proves that I have committed a crime. I am certain, Amy, as I speak with you right now, I have a perfect peace of mind as compared to those who are leveling accusations against me. I have the peace of mind of the innocent. You can rest assured that I have the peace of mind of those who are innocent. And those who are bringing accusations against me know that they are doing so on the basis of a lie, and therefore I don’t think that they are able to place their head on their pillow at night and sleep with the tranquility that I sleep with every day.

AMY GOODMAN: Even if you continue to say you’re innocent, a judge has—a court has ruled that you are guilty and face what? Nearly 10 years in jail. So, even if you disagree with both the conviction and the appeal being denied, that has taken place. Would you resist arrest? Would you resist being jailed?

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] No. I’m working based on the hypothesis that there will be justice before having to make such a decision. I am convinced, because the only thing that I’m looking out for at this time is for them to judge my trial on the merits. The Supreme Court and the appellate court cannot let stand an untruth against the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. Brazil, the sixth-most-populous country in the world. Lula is now running again for president. He is the current front-runner, unless the courts stop him and send him to jail. Special thanks to Charlie Roberts.

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