Protests are continuing in Brazil over the imprisonment of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Two weeks ago, Lula began serving a 12-year prison sentence for a highly controversial corruption conviction. Lula had been the front-runner in this year’s presidential election. His supporters say his jailing is a continuation of a coup that began in 2016, when his close ally, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached as president. Both Lula and Rousseff are members of the left-leaning Workers’ Party, which has been credited with lifting tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty since Lula was first elected in 2003. Last month, Lula spoke on Democracy Now! in one of his final TV interviews before being jailed. Earlier this week, Lula was dealt another setback when Brazil’s Fourth Federal Regional Court denied Lula’s latest appeal. Meanwhile, hundreds of Lula supporters have set up an encampment outside the prison where Lula is being held in the the southern city of Curitiba. We speak to former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Her impeachment in 2016 ended nearly 14 years of rule by the Workers’ Party. Rousseff is a former political prisoner who took part in the underground resistance to the U.S.-backed Brazilian dictatorship in the 1960s. She was jailed from 1970 to 1972, during which time she was repeatedly tortured. She was elected president in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.
AMY GOODMAN: Protests are continuing in Brazil over the imprisonment of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Two weeks ago, Lula began serving a 12-year prison sentence for a highly controversial corruption conviction. Lula is the front-runner in this year’s presidential election. His supporters say his jailing is a continuation of a coup that began in 2016 when his close ally, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached as president. Both Lula and Rousseff are members of the left-leaning Workers’ Party, which has been credited with lifting tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty since Lula was first elected in 2003.
Last month, Lula spoke on Democracy Now! in one of his final TV interviews before being jailed.
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] We are awaiting the accusers, for the accusers to show at least some piece of evidence that indicates that I committed any crime during the period that I was in the presidency. Now, what is behind that is the attempt to criminalize my political party. What is behind that is the interest in a part of the political elite of Brazil, together with a part of the press, reinforced by the role of the judiciary, in preventing Lula from becoming a candidate in the 2018 elections.
AMY GOODMAN: You can go to democracynow.org to see the full hour with Lula.
Earlier this week, he was dealt another setback, when Brazil’s Fourth Federal Regional Court denied his latest appeal. Meanwhile, hundreds of Lula supporters have set up an encampment outside the prison where he’s being held in the southern city of Curitiba. On Thursday, the Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel traveled to the prison but was blocked from visiting Lula. Esquivel recently announced he would nominate Lula for the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in fighting poverty and economic inequality in Brazil. Esquivel spoke to supporters of Lula outside the prison.
ADOLFO PÉREZ ESQUIVEL: [translated] I think that today Brazil is in a state of exception. There was a coup d’état against President Dilma Rousseff, and now there’s the entire campaign against President Lula. So we have to think: What type of democracy do we have, not only here in Brazil, but in all of Latin America? And we have to continue developing an international campaign until Lula recovers his freedom. Free Lula!
AMY GOODMAN: The Nobel Peace Prize winner Esquivel was speaking outside the Curitiba prison. Meanwhile, about a hundred members of the Homeless Workers’ Movement and the People Without Fear briefly occupied the vacant beach apartment which is at the center of the Lula case. Lula was accused of receiving the apartment as a bribe, even though no documents have emerged actually linking the former president, Lula, to the apartment, which he never lived in. The protesters hung a banner reading, “If it’s Lula’s, then the people can stay here. If it isn’t, why is he in jail?”
Well, earlier this week, I had a chance to interview former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Her impeachment in 2016 ended nearly 14 years of rule by the Workers’ Party. Rousseff is a former political prisoner who took part in the underground resistance to the U.S.-backed Brazilian dictatorship in the 1960s. She was jailed and tortured from 1970 to 1972. She was elected president in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. I spoke to her while she was on a speaking tour in Berkeley, California. I began by asking her why she had come to the United States and about the political crisis in Brazil.
DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] It’s a pleasure to be speaking with you on Democracy Now! once again. I’d like to say that the purpose of my trip to the United States and to Spain is to clarify and raise awareness, among people who live outside Brazil and everybody, that Brazil is suffering a new sort of coup d’état. This began with me in 2016, when I suffered an impeachment without having committed any high crime or misdemeanor. The truth be told, I find myself in a situation, and Brazil finds itself in a situation, in which there is a sort of legal protection, a legal cover, that is hiding acts of corruption, acts of corruption by all others. And it produces indictments against members of the Workers’ Party and against President Lula. I suffered an impeachment. That impeachment was the opening act of the coup. I was impeached without committing any crime.
From there, the process has become much more radical. An agenda was adopted that was not approved in the elections, an agenda that is about curtailing the rights of the poorest and of workers, to destroy social policies [that] guaranteed that 36 million would be lifted out of poverty, that took Brazil off of the map of hunger of the U.N. So many gains that we saw in the last decade.
And what has happened? The coup mongers today do not have any political expression. They were condemned by the population. And so they don’t have a relevant situation for the upcoming elections in 2018. What they have done, actually, is to open up a Pandora’s box, a box of the monsters. And they took out of this box the extreme right, which today is represented by president candidate Captain Jair Bolsonaro, who on the day that my impeachment was voted on in the Lower House, he voted in favor of torture and a military dictatorship.
So what is the situation in Brazil? There is a strengthened far right, and the center right, in going along with the coup, has dissolved itself and has a minimal political expression today. They were our greatest adversaries in the last four presidential elections. Today, they’re no longer politically significant, because not only did they help carry out the coup, but they were also discovered to be involved in situations of corruption. The Workers’ Party and President Lula were to be destroyed. But they weren’t. President Lula, from the beginning of last year, in every opinion poll, has twice as many votes as the candidate Captain Jair Bolsonaro. Lula has more than 30 percent, and Bolsonaro has less than 16 percent support. And there is not a center. The center gets 5 percent, 4 percent, sometimes 6 percent, of the support in the polls.
So why have they convicted Lula? The political reason is because if a coup d’état is carried out, if a president who is legitimately elected is removed, if a set of illegalities are carried out, including the coup, one cannot not allow the election of Lula to be closed off. So what do they do? They removed Lula from the presidential campaign, accusing Lula, falsely, of having committed a crime of corruption.
What is the crime of which they accuse Lula? They accuse Lula of committing a crime of passive corruption, which entails a 280-square-meter apartment or a home with three floors. They say that he committed a crime in order to receive that house. Now, Lula is not the owner of that house. He does not have possession of the house. He doesn’t use the house. He has never been in that house.
So what we are seeing in Brazil is lawfare. The law is being used to destroy the citizen status of one’s enemy. The enemy in this case is President Lula. That means that they’re using the law and legal procedures to wage a political struggle and to engage in political persecution. In a way, it’s very similar to what was done against me, because in the process of my impeachment, they said, “But we are following through on every single legal procedure,” yet the accusations were unfounded. They accused me of engaging in acts that every president before me has carried out. They were not crimes when the other presidents engaged in such acts. And they weren’t crimes when I took such action. They were provided for by the law.
Many have asked us, “Why don’t you choose another candidate, since the polls show that a person supported by the Workers’ Party and supported by Lula would be well positioned to run in the election?” Our answer is: because accepting this is accepting that Lula is guilty. And for us, it is more than proven that he is innocent. So, accepting that is accepting political persecution, and it would make it official.
They have taken Lula prisoner for two reasons. First, to make the argument that he can’t be a candidate. But also for a very strong reason. That is, not to let him speak. And that is clear, in the very argument of the measure that requires that he begin serving the sentence immediately, because Lula today is in a situation in which he is being isolated. He is in a situation of solitary confinement.
I was a political prisoner during the military dictatorship that followed the military coup. At that time, no doubt, the situation was one of open violence. People were taken prisoner. They were killed. They were tortured. All rights were violated—the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of the press, the right to organize. All of these rights were done away with.
In our current situation—and this is typical of Latin America—you have a coup that is not a military coup. It doesn’t destroy the rights of everyone. It corrodes the institutions from within, as if it was a sort of parasite corroding democratic institutions. So, in this case, what are they doing with Lula? Lula can’t speak. But we can speak for him. Brazil’s democracy is being mitigated. It’s being diminished.
What is our role, and why am I traveling, and why am I here in Berkeley? I went to Catalonia. I went to Madrid. I was already in the East Coast and some U.S. universities. I have been in France and Germany. Why? Because we have to draw on all possible means to not allow this way of wounding democracy, which in our case is a fragile democracy. We emerged from the dictatorship in the 1980s, and Lula is an example of this phenomenon. Because they don’t want Lula to speak. They want Lula to be isolated from the whole world at this time, because they see him as a representation of everything that turned back the coup in Brazil. Like any coup process, it cannot be sustained if it doesn’t become radicalized, if it doesn’t become deepened.
And so, it’s a very risky situation for Brazil’s democracy. Indeed, it goes to the very cornerstone of democracy, which is to say that the justice system must not be politicized. The justice system has to be absolutely neutral. And it has to enforce the law, not as a political instrument, but as an instrument for the truth expressed in the constitution.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. She’s now running for the Brazilian Senate. When we return, we’ll speak with her about the rise of the far right in Brazil and the assassination of human rights activist Rio City Councilmember Marielle Franco. Stay with us.
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