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Cleared of Corruption Charges, Will Lula Challenge Bolsonaro in Brazil’s 2022 Presidential Race?

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Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been cleared to run for office again after a judge annulled all convictions against him. Three years ago, Lula, a former union leader who served as president from 2003 to 2010, had been considered a favorite in the lead-up to the 2018 presidential election until he was jailed and forced out of the race on what many said were trumped-up corruption charges. Lula’s jailing helped pave the way for the election of the far-right former military officer Jair Bolsonaro and constitutes “the biggest judicial scandal on Earth,” says Valeska Martins, one of Lula’s lead attorneys. “Lula was wrongfully charged, wrongfully prosecuted,” Martins says.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been cleared to run for president again after a judge annulled all convictions against him. Three years ago, Lula had been considered a favorite in the lead-up to the 2018 presidential election, until he was put in jail for 18 months and forced out of the race. The jailing of Lula helped pave the way for the election of the far-right former military officer Jair Bolsonaro.

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. President Barack Obama once called him “the most popular politician on Earth.”

On Wednesday, Lula blasted Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID crisis.

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Many of the COVID deaths could have been avoided, if there were a government who did their job. This country is disorganized and falling apart because it has no government. … There was a president who invented chloroquine, a president who said that those who are scared of COVID are sissies, that COVID was just a little flu, that COVID was something for cowards, that he was a former athlete and it would not affect him. That is not the role of a president of the republic in a civilized country.

AMY GOODMAN: More than 270,000 Brazilians have died over the past year from COVID, the second-highest figure in the world, behind the United States. On Wednesday, Brazil reported nearly 2,300 new deaths, its highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic. Lula also criticized Bolsonaro’s skepticism over COVID vaccines and Brazil’s delays in obtaining them.

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] With the question of the vaccine, it is not a question if you have money or if you don’t. It is a question of life or death. It is a question of knowing what is the role of the president of the republic to take care of, because a president is not elected to spread fake news.

AMY GOODMAN: In his speech, Lula also compared Bolsonaro to Donald Trump.

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] This country is disorganized and falling apart because it has no government. I will repeat: This country has no government. … And with fake news, the world elected former President Donald Trump. And with fake news, the world elected Bolsonaro.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Brazil, where we’re joined by Valeska Martins, one of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s lead attorneys, co-author of Lawfare: Waging War Through Law. She’s the founder of the Lawfare Institute.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Thanks so much for joining us, Valeska. Can you talk about the significance of the judge’s annulment of the charges against Lula, for which he already served time in prison, and what this means for the future, and this major address that Lula gave yesterday?

VALESKA MARTINS: Thank you, Amy, for inviting me to come over here today and briefly describe what is being now called as one of — as the biggest scandal, judicial scandal, on Earth. Lula was wrongfully charged, wrongfully prosecuted, illegally prosecuted by the Car Wash Operation, which now we know that acted in collusion with the prosecutors and the presiding judge of the case.

I think it means, first of all, that the rule of law in Brazil came out as a winner, that democracy came out winning, because Lula, as you already mentioned, in 2018, should have run for president. He was illegally removed from the race. He was in jail for 580 days. During that period, he lost his brother. He was not allowed to see — to even actually go to his brother’s funeral. He lost his grandchild, who died of a disease at an early age. He could not go freely to his funeral, as well. He lost his political rights. He lost all of his rights, not only financially speaking. His presumption of innocence was highly violated, which is a gross violation of human rights.

So, after five years, which comes in a delay, he was declared — not innocent, because actually the procedures will go on, but all of the procedures since the charges — not only the convictions, but all procedures — against President Lula within the Car Wash Operation have been annulled. This means that he can run for president. He has all of his political rights standing. He is a citizen that should be presumed innocent before everybody’s eyes.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Valeska, could you explain, though? As you mentioned, the annulment was a procedural decision, not a substantive one, so Lula could still be tried, and will be tried, in a federal court. Do you know when this retrial will occur and what the implications of it could be?

VALESKA MARTINS: Actually, Amy, because we were fighting in a court which had a clear biased nature, in a clear unfair trial, which did not take in regard any of the numerous, numerous evidences, overwhelming evidences of his innocence, we believe that if a new judge comes in charge to preside over any case, retry this case, it is imperative that he does not even respond to any charges arising from the Car Wash Operation. We have the trial and the pretrial situation regarding these cases, and they’re all annulled. They are all annulled.

We have to — we have been saying that the full application of the law has to come in force in this case. And Lula is not above the law, but nobody is above the law. And in a major, complex case, we have come across overwhelming evidence of collusion between the prosecutors and the presiding judge of the case, former Judge Moro, which have described, in unheard messages which have been filed now before the Supreme Court, that they had a [inaudible] plan, which meant create enough charges to overwhelm the defense, to occupy the defense’s time and resources, in order for them to convict him and remove him from his political life.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me go to Lula in his own words. In 2018, we spoke with Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, when he was running for president. At the time, he was facing a possible prison term on what obviously many believed to be trumped-up corruption charges tied to this sprawling probe known as Operation Car Wash. This is what he said.

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I was not accused of corruption. I was accused because of a lie in a police investigation, a lie in an indictment by the Office of the Attorney General, and in the judgment of Judge Moro, because there is only one evidence, of my innocence, in this entire trial, which my defense counsel explained in a magisterial manner.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was about a month before he was imprisoned. Now in this major address, that looked like really a campaign rally, at his union, the metalworkers’ union, where he had also gone right before he went to jail, he had banners proclaiming “Health, jobs and justice for Brazil.” Is this the beginning of his presidential campaign? And can you talk about particularly COVID and his attack on Bolsonaro around the pandemic, dealing with it?

VALESKA MARTINS: I think the importance of Lula’s restoration of his political rights is the fact that, I mean, if, in 2022, he decides to run, he will be able to run. That is our job as his attorneys.

I can speak as a Brazilian citizen’s point of view that it is overwhelming — overwhelmingly difficult to be living here at this time, when not wearing masks has been authorized, social gatherings has been authorized, actually even encouraged, by the present administration, and where you cannot even go to the nearest hospital because of full occupation. And remaining in isolation for so long is taking a toll on everybody, of course.

Now, believing in science — again, as a Brazilian, not as his attorney — believing in science, believing on vaccines, believing that vaccines — since yesterday, has actually been positive. Everybody has been wearing masks, which is a major turn of events, and talking about vaccination campaigns seriously, which I can only thank democracy for.

But what we have to understand is that there is a plan in all of this, which we have uncovered, which means that the Car Wash Operation — and this has been confirmed through hard evidence in the files that were presented to the Supreme Court, that they had — the Car Wash Operation and certain members related to the Car Wash Operation had a political plan to create teams of politicians, conservative politicians, that were approved by the Car Wash Operation, and they’re removing everybody that was related to former President Lula from their political lives, which came as a surprise and a shock to everybody, but which only confirmed what we had been saying since 2016, when we took this case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and we said that Lula, even before he was charged, that he was going to be convicted in spite of any probatory evidence that we could come up during the trial, because there wasn’t even ground — there weren’t grounds for any charges that all, not even for the investigations.

So, there is no fear of a retrial, absolutely not, at this point, with all of the evidence produced during the trials and with the evidences that have been collected and are still being collected by the defense, which prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that President Lula was a victim in a highly aggressive and complex procedure of lawfare, again, which is now being called, not only by the defense, but even mentioned by others, by academics and as well as by one of the Supreme Court justices, as the biggest judicial scandal on Earth.

The ramifications of this procedure will mainly reach Switzerland, United States, Brazil, all procedures contaminated and arising from the Car Wash Operation, which was used as a political hub by the conservatives, conservative politicians, to overtake other governments. And I’m saying this not in a hypothetical point of view or hypothetical sentence; it is what is written by the prosecutors. The audios that have been gathered, the conversations between the prosecutors, which also relate to the judges, speak of a scheme, confessed schemes, since putting — planning how to put Supreme Court justices against the wall to make sure they only rule, they only judge, according to what they wanted and how they wanted, and how all of these plans have come to be executed, the attacks on the defense, even by tapping our main line from the law firm, tapping cellular phones, controlling — controlling my migratory movements. That means that they planned to have all airline passenger lists to make sure that they knew where all the defense attorneys were and who they were talking to and what they were doing. So, it is a —

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Valeska, I’m sorry to interrupt you. Valeska, we only have a minute left, and I just want to say that, you know, Lula is far ahead in a poll that was conducted earlier for next year’s election. Is there any possibility that the retrial could prevent him from running, as some have expressed concerns might happen? We only have a minute.

VALESKA MARTINS: From the evidences, the exculpatory evidence, from the evidences of innocence presented in the files, if the law is fully applied, it is impossible that he will be convicted.

AMY GOODMAN: Valeska Martins, we want to thank you so much for being with us, one of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s lead attorneys, co-author of Lawfare: Waging War Through Law, founder of Lawfare Institute. Thank you for joining us from Brazil.

This is Democracy Now!, as we move on next to the Biden administration struggling to find shelter space for a record 3,500 unaccompanied children recently detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. Stay with us.

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