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Brazil’s Popular Ex-President Lula Ordered to Prison After Politically Motivated Trial & Conviction

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A judge on Thursday ordered former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to turn himself in to police within 24 hours and begin serving a 12-year sentence for a controversial corruption conviction, effectively removing him from Brazil’s presidential election later this year, where he was the front-runner. Lula is a former union leader who served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. During that time, he helped lift tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty. His supporters say the ruling against him is a continuation of the coup that ousted Lula’s ally Dilma Rousseff from power last year. We play excerpts from our recent interview with Lula and get an update from Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy, who argues “the investigation is political, and that everything [Judge Moro is] trying to do is political, including the latest order that Lula surrender today.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Brazil, where a judge on Thursday ordered former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to turn himself in to police within 24 hours to begin serving a 12-year sentence for a controversial corruption conviction. The Supreme Court’s rejection of Lula’s bid to stay out of jail while he appeals effectively removes him from Brazil’s presidential election later this year, where he was the front-runner.

Lula is a former union leader who served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. During that time, he helped lift tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty. His supporters say the ruling against him is a continuation of the coup that ousted Lula’s ally, President Dilma Rousseff, from power last year. On Thursday, Rousseff continued to defend Lula.

DILMA ROUSSEFF: [translated] They want to turn off Brazil’s history, to gloss over what we did the last 13 years in our terms in office.

AMY GOODMAN: Early today, Lula appeared at his party’s headquarters and briefly waved to his supporters, but made no comment. During an interview on Democracy Now! last month, President Lula said his prosecution is part of an attempt to criminalize the Workers’ Party.

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: Well, for more, we go to Washington, D.C., for an update from Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy. Weisbrot’s new book is called Failed: What the Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy.

Mark Weisbrot, first, can you talk about—respond to the Supreme Court ruling, explain what it is and what this means if Lula were to go to jail today.

MARK WEISBROT: Yes, well, the Supreme Court ruled that he could be imprisoned while his appeals are pending, even though the constitution says pretty clearly that no one will be considered guilty until all their appeals have been exhausted. So, and then, of course, with amazing speed, the trial judge—it went back to the lower court and then the trial judge, within hours, yesterday. And the trial judge ordered that he be—he surrender to authorities today by 5:00 Brazilian time.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain this case?

MARK WEISBROT: Yes. Well, I mean, the biggest thing is that he was convicted without material evidence. So, he’s accused—Lula was accused of accepting a bribe in the form of remodeling of an apartment. And the big problem—and Lula mentioned this in his interview on Democracy Now!, which I think was really, really important. I hope people read that transcript, because he explained a lot of this. But, basically, they didn’t have material evidence that he ever accepted this apartment, that he ever stayed in it, that he ever—he didn’t have title to it. In fact, he didn’t, any of those things.

And the evidence that they had was really just one witness, who was a construction company executive who had already pled guilty and was plea bargaining. And he had his sentence reduced from something like 16 to two years, in an exchange for implicating Lula. And, in fact, according to press reports in Brazil, in Folha de São Paulo, he actually—they actually cut off his plea bargaining, because he originally told a story similar to Lula’s, and they cut off his plea bargaining until he said what they wanted to hear—that is, implicated Lula. And that’s the evidence they have for the so-called crime.

And, you know, it’s kind of misreported in the press, because they said he was convicted of taking a bribe and money laundering, but that’s all the same thing. The money laundering just means that he took—supposedly took this apartment instead of cash.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn back to Lula. He was speaking last month on Democracy Now!, describing the federal judge presiding over his case, Judge Sérgio Moro.

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Now, if my innocence is proven, then Judge Moro should be removed from his position, because you can’t have a judge who is lying in the judgment and pronouncing as guilty someone who he knows is innocent. He knows that it’s not my apartment. He knows that I didn’t buy it. He knows that I didn’t pay anything. He knows that I never went there. He knows that I don’t have money from Petrobras. The thing is that because he subordinated himself to the media, I said, in the first hearing with him, “You are not in a position to acquit me, because the lies have gone too far.” And the disgrace is that the one who does the first lie continues lying and lying and lying to justify the first lie. And I am going to prove that he has been lying.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Weisbrot, can you respond?

MARK WEISBROT: Yes. I think this is very important, because, you know, you don’t see this, really, in the—you can search the media coverage. You almost never see anything where the evidence of the case is discussed, even though it’s all on the web—there’s a 238-page sentencing document from this judge that discusses all the evidence and all the things that Lula just mentioned and I just mentioned—and they just treat it as though it’s a fact, every—you know, he’s guilty, and that’s all there is to it. So I think that’s very important.

And also, the judge’s—Judge Sérgio Moro’s animus is very evident, his prejudice. For example, he had to apologize to the Supreme Court for having released illegal wiretaps of Lula’s conversations with Dilma and with his lawyer and his family, and released this to the public. And he did other things, as well, to try and try the case in the media—for example, having Lula arrested at his home with a lot of police, you know, where he had always volunteered for questioning. There was no doubt that he was available for questioning. And they had to take him away in front of the cameras and notify the media in advance. So, there are so many things that he did that show that he really is political, that the investigation is political, and that everything he’s trying to do is political, including the latest order that Lula surrender today.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Lula speaking on Democracy Now!, when I asked him about the press acting as prosecutor in his case.

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I was president for eight years. Dilma was president for four years. And for 12 years, all the press did was to try to destroy my image and her image and the image of my party. I have more negative subject matter about me in the leading television news program of Brazil than all of the presidents in the whole history of Brazil. In other words, it’s a daily attempt to massacre me, to tell untruths about Lula, about Lula’s family. And the only weapon that I have is to confront them. And they’re irritated, because after they massacred me for four years, any opinion poll by any polling institute showed that Lula was going win the elections in Brazil.

AMY GOODMAN: During my interview with Lula last month, I asked him if he would consider stepping aside, running for president, if his case did not go well in the Supreme Court.

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] First of all, Amy, I’m very optimistic, very optimistic. Now, if that were to happen and I was not able—were not able to be a candidate, if my name is not on the ballot, I think that the party would call a convention and discuss what to do. I am going to require that and call for justice to be done in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was President Lula speaking on Democracy Now! just a few weeks ago. Mark Weisbrot, what will happen now? Do you expect Lula to turn himself in today? And what does this mean for this presidential race in Brazil, one of the largest countries in the world?

MARK WEISBROT: Yes, first, I do want to say how important what he said about the media is. I mean, if we had a media like this in the United States, Barack Obama never would have been elected, because most of the country would have believed he was Muslim and not born in the United States. And so, this is the kind of media you have there. And the impeachment of Dilma, for example, would never, I don’t think, have happened without this kind of constant barrage of media against both of those leaders and against the Workers’ Party.

So I don’t know what he’s going—I mean, I assume he’s going to do what he said, and surrender to the authorities. Now, we don’t really know what’s going to happen from there. He’s going to—he said he’s going to continue to run for president. Theoretically, he could even win from jail. That’s not likely, because there’s another court, having to do with the electoral decision, that would probably say that he—or possibly say—I think probably say that he isn’t eligible to run. I mean, the whole point of this is to keep him from running, because he is the front runner and he would probably win in October. And that’s largely because of what, you know, he and the Workers’ Party accomplished in their 14 years in power. And that’s what really this is all about. I mean, it’s about the traditional elite taking what they couldn’t win at the ballot box for 14 years.

So, we’ll see what happens. I don’t think it’s over yet, because he can—you know, he’s going to—I mean, there’s millions and millions of people in Brazil who—in fact, there was a poll last year that said 41 percent of the public thought he was being railroaded by the media and the judicial system. And so, they will see him as a political prisoner, and they will see any election that’s held without him in October as illegitimate. So, I think there’s going to be a continued fight, either to elect him or, if that’s not possible, to elect someone else from the Workers’ Party.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Mark, I asked Lula about the candidate polling second in Brazil’s election, Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right-wing congressman, former soldier, who’s been called the “Brazilian Trump.”

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] He is a member of the federal Congress. He was an Army captain in the Brazilian Army. The information that we have is that he was expelled from the Brazilian army. And his behavior is far-right-wing, fascist. He is very much prejudiced against women, against blacks, against indigenous persons, against human rights. He believes that everything can be resolved with violence. So, I don’t think he has a future in Brazilian politics.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Mark Weisbrot, as we wrap up, if you can comment on Bolsonaro and also the current president, Michel Temer, and any role he may be playing in all of this?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, this is a real threat, not only of Bolsonaro himself, but also the violence that has—you know, has been happening and threatened, as you reported and Lula talked about in his interview. You had the assassination on March 17th of Marielle Franco, the city councilor and Afro-Brazilian activist in Rio. On March 27th, Lula’s caravan was shot at. And you have two Army officers, just in the last few days, saying very threatening things, the first one saying that if Lula were eventually elected, there would have to be some kind of military intervention, and then the head of the armed forces appearing to endorse that by saying, the day before the Supreme Court decision, that the—you know, he made this speech against impunity, indicating, you know, which side the military was on in this case, and may have influenced the Supreme Court. So you have a lot of things that bring to mind the 1964 coup and the dictatorship that lasted until the late '80s. It's a very threatening and very dangerous situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mark Weisbrot, of course, we’ll continue to follow it. I want to thank you for being with us, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy. His new book, Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy. This is Democracy Now! If you want to see our full hour with Lula, with the former president of Brazil, you can go to

When we come back, the investigative reporter who exposed the first lie about military intervention during the Trump era. She’s winning a George Polk Award today. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Cecil Taylor performing solo in 1984. The visionary jazz pianist and composer died Thursday in New York at the age of 89. The jazz magazine DownBeat once wrote, “In a more embracing cultural climate, [Cecil] Taylor … would stand a pivotal link in a musical time-line: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Bartok, Tatum, Taylor.”

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