Leftist presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has won Brazil’s runoff election, ousting far-right President Jair Bolsonaro after just one term. Lula won with 50.9% of the vote, though Bolsonaro has yet to concede. Other world leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, were quick to congratulate Lula on his victory in an effort to forestall efforts by Bolsonaro and his allies to deny the results. Brazilian socialist organizer Sabrina Fernandes says Lula is trying to return “democratic normality” after four years of Bolsonaro’s environmental destruction, COVID denial and undermining of the country’s institutions. Lula’s victory is also a win for Indigenous peoples, whose sovereignty was disregarded under Bolsonaro amid rampant deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, says freelance journalist Michael Fox.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
We begin today’s show in Brazil, where Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has defeated Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, capping a remarkable political comeback for the former president and union leader. According to the official results, Lula won 50.9% of the vote to Bolsonaro’s 49.1%. Lula received more than 60 million votes, the most in Brazilian history. Bolsonaro has yet to concede, sparking fears he may challenge the results, but several prominent Bolsonaro supporters have acknowledged Lula’s victory.
Lula, who heads the Workers’ Party, served as Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010. During his time in office, he helped lift tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty. But in 2018, as he prepared to run for office again, he was jailed on trumped-up corruption charges, paving the way for the election of Bolsonaro. On Sunday night, Lula addressed supporters in São Paulo.
PRESIDENT-ELECT LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I consider myself to be a candidate that has a process of reconstruction in Brazilian politics, because they tried to bury me alive. … And I am here, and I am here to govern the country from a very different situation. But with the help of the people, we will find a way out for this country to return to being democratic, peaceful, for us to support parents, families, to build the world that Brazil needs. …
This is not my victory, nor of the Workers’ Party, nor of the parties that supported me in the campaign. It’s a victory of an immense democratic movement that was more than the political parties, of individual interests, of ideologies, for democracy to win. On this historic October 30th, the majority of Brazilians made it very clear that they want more and not less democracy; that they want more, not less social inclusion; that they want more and not less opportunity for all; they want more and not less respect and understanding among Brazilians. To summarize, they want more freedom, equality, fraternity in our country.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to São Paulo, Brazil, where we’re joined by two guests. Michael Fox is a freelance journalist, former editor of NACLA, host of the new podcast Brazil on Fire, the podcast a joint project of NACLA and the Real News Network. Sabrina Fernandes is a Brazilian sociologist, activist and post-doctoral fellow at Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Sabrina, let’s begin with you. Can you talk about the significance of this Lula victory with a record 60 million votes, the most in history?
SABRINA FERNANDES: Hi, Amy. It’s really good to be here to share this good news that Lula is back in the presidency of Brazil.
It was a really tough second round. We faced fake news, a lot of intervention coming from the Bolsonaro government. But the fact that Lula made his comeback — he was in jail before. He was wrongly persecuted. In fact, the judge that was on his case ended up being minister of Bolsonaro and was with Bolsonaro now supporting him during the election.
It means that even though everything was stacked against Lula, there were a lot of people in the streets, a lot of people also engaged online, making sure that we were fighting these narratives and that we were trying to rescue something that’s really important in Brazil, which is the sense that we need a little bit of democratic normality in the country.
The past four years were very, very tough here, not just because of the way that Bolsonaro handled the pandemic, leading to almost 700,000 people killed, but also in the sense that hunger is up, the economy is going quite badly right now. So, a lot of people are just hoping that we can go back to something that Lula appealed to many times during the election: He was talking about Brazil being happy again.
AMY GOODMAN: The Bolsonaro campaign tried to smear Lula as a dangerous formerly incarcerated person. They called him a communist. He was still elected to a third term. He had served two terms before Bolsonaro. Can you talk about, well, his history, who this new president, the former president, Lula, is, and what this means not only for Brazil but for Latin America and the world?
SABRINA FERNANDES: Well, I don’t say this lightly, but Lula is probably the most skilled politician we have in Brazil today, both in the left and in the right. Lula came up as a union leader. He was an important leader fighting for democracy in Brazil when we were under the dictatorship, as well. He was also part of the — he had the task of helping to build the new democratic Constitution, as well. And he ran for president many times before he actually got elected in 2002.
When he did get elected, he served two mandates. He left his second mandate with very, very high popularity. The country was going well in terms of economic growth. A lot of people were back to their jobs. Inflation was under control. And he had a very important job, for example, expanding access to public education in Brazil, building many universities and getting especially Black communities to get access to university for the first time because of structural racism in the country.
But Lula is very well known for being a very respected leader in the region, not just in Latin America but also building in terms around South-South cooperation. So a lot of the leaders around the world have already congratulated Lula for the victory. And Lula is well known for fighting hunger in this country. And because we are under a very complicated state of food insecurity in Brazil right now, we have very high hopes that he’ll be able to bring some of those policies that worked in the past back again once he’s in power in January.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva speaking last night.
PRESIDENT-ELECT LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] The defeated President Bolsonaro should have called me to recognize my victory. Up until now, he hasn’t called. I don’t know if he will, or if he will concede.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about whether Bolsonaro will concede. He hasn’t commented yet, though a number of his supporters have actually congratulated Lula on his win. Michael Fox, can you talk about what’s happening? There’s also protests.
MICHAEL FOX: That’s right. So, I mean, it’s very good news that a number of his supporters have come out, they have congratulated Lula. They say they respect democracy and they understand the results of the elections.
It is concerning that Bolsonaro has not said anything yet. This is now the longest that a Brazilian president who has been defeated, or a Brazilian candidate that has been defeated, has taken to actually recognize the results of the election. That is concerning in and of itself. We don’t know exactly what the situation or what he’s going to say. We do know that he is in Brasília, and people, his staunch allies have been arriving. One of his sons arrived this morning. Other close allies. We don’t know exactly what they’re going to say.
There are protests happening around the country. We saw this last night on social media. And this is also concerning. This is largely pertaining to truck drivers and people shutting down roads. Still this morning, we have five different states where roads have been shut down around the country from Bolsonaro’s supporters, who say they’re not leaving until the military intervenes. Now, remember, there was a huge truck-driving strike back in 2018. The truckers are often very much aligned with the far right and the right. Even back then, I was in the streets and interviewing truckers at that time, and they were calling for military intervention even at that time.
Now, of course, we don’t know what’s going to happen. It is unlikely that they actually have support to be able to sustain themselves for very long. They do say that they’re organized around the country. But also, many of the trucking companies are also oftentimes supporting their own truckers and paying them to kind of stay in the streets and be organized because they back Bolsonaro. So, this type of destabilization measure is something that we’re going to see what it looks like in the coming days, and we really don’t have a good handle on how intense this is and how widespread and how long it’s going to last.
AMY GOODMAN: Many environmentalists in Brazil said it’s critical for Lula to win. This is Marcio Astrini, the executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory.
MARCIO ASTRINI: [translated] What Brazilians do now at the polls is much more than a change of president. These are fundamental choices for our country, choices for the future. We will choose whether we stay with democracy or not. We will have to choose if we keep the Amazon alive or if we keep Bolsonaro. It’s a choice between the two. It’s not going to be possible to have both at the same time.
AMY GOODMAN: Sabrina Fernandes, if you can talk about Bolsonaro’s record and also the Workers’ Party and what you expect from them?
SABRINA FERNANDES: Yes. Bolsonaro has actually positioned himself in terms of isolation when it comes to climate change and the environmental struggle around the world. He really played along with Trump with climate denialism, but also trying to implement certain measures in Brazil around mining in Indigenous territory and really downplaying the role of deforestation in the Amazon in terms of an ecocide that was actually promoted in the past four years.
The Workers’ Party, on the other hand, usually tends to have more of a developmentalist approach. Its environmental record is not absolutely clean, but there is a lot of — like, we have made progress before. So, for example, during Lula’s first terms, this is when we saw the most decrease in deforestation rates, and with Bolsonaro, the highest increase in deforestation rates. And Lula has committed to promoting policies for fighting climate change in the country, and he’s also very, very much committed to reducing deforestation in the Amazon to the lowest levels possible.
And when we’re looking to these two terms, we know that what’s at stake here is not just a change for Brazil, but it’s also a change in the planet. And the Workers’ Party is well known for working with other democratic forces. It was a party that was thrown out from government in 2016 during a coup that was orchestrated with the help of the vice-presidential position, so with Michel Temer under Dilma Rousseff.
And now Lula, as you could tell from the speech that he made yesterday, his victory speech, is willing to work with other forces to make sure that this broad coalition that helped to build this program and this campaign will be able to actually execute some of these things that were part of the program.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the parliament? What about, rather, the legislature, the Brazilian Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate, remaining very right-wing? Talk about who also are the other leftist parties and how much power they have and what Lula will be able to accomplish.
SABRINA FERNANDES: Yes, it’s very important to stress that the party with the most seats in Congress right now is in fact Bolsonaro’s party. The other party, like with the second-highest amount of seats, is also associated with the far right and also part of Bolsonaro’s allied base.
But the Workers’ Party also made some progress. It got some extra seats. We saw, for example, a much smaller radical-left party in Brazil also got new seats. So there’s this possibility of trying to negotiate within Congress.
Lula never governed before — actually, the Workers’ Party never governed before with Congress completely aligned with them. So they always had to deal with this opposition within Congress. Lula is actually quite skilled in dealing with this. But we do know that the stakes are higher now, because part of this right in Congress is not just the right, it is the far right. It is fighting under other terms right now, very nondemocratic terms.
But, for example, the fact that Arthur Lira, the current president of the Chamber of Deputies in Brazil, conceded that, yes, Lula has won, and Lira actually made a lot of effort to campaign for Bolsonaro — so, knowing that Lira acknowledged this is important, because it puts us in a different round now, once we get into the new government in 2023, which is around Lula having to negotiate. And one of the reasons why Lula had this VP candidate, Geraldo Alckmin, who has been a traditional right politician for a really long time, is that Lula thinks that Alckmin will play an important role in trying to mediate distinctions within Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Fox, can you talk about the relationship between Bolsonaro and the Supreme Court of Brazil, and how this could impact even this election? I mean, the final confirmation of the results will be something like — right? — December 19th, and then Lula will assume the presidency at the beginning of January.
MICHAEL FOX: Right. I mean, the relationship between Bolsonaro and the Supreme Court has been embattled his entire government. I mean, remember that Bolsonaro, his entire time in power, he’s been attacking Congress, attacking the Supreme Court. And he sees the Supreme Court as illegitimate, and he sees them as completely antagonistic to [inaudible] have been the main institution in Brazil pushing back on Bolsonaro, and they’ve done it so many times. I mean, they’ve created this whole fake news investigation, an investigation into Bolsonaro’s hate group that pushed out hate and fake news over social media. They’ve really attacked that and been able to push that back. They’ve been investigating the businessmen who were funding that same group that would help to spur things out over social media. So, it’s kind of been this consistent attack or pushback on Bolsonaro.
And, of course, one of the members of the Supreme Court is currently the head of the Supreme Electoral Court, Alexandre de Moraes, and he has been pushing back on fake news throughout this electoral campaign and was very, very harsh on the Bolsonaro campaign. Just about a week ago, he changed the measures in order to say that only the news that — any type of fake news, any type of disinformation had to be taken down within two hours from when they said so, and actually blocked conservative outlets from being able to use the term “thief” in order to describe Lula right around the elections. And so, that type of thing has been really, really intense.
And, of course, that is the main group that certifies the elections, and this is the very group that, of course, Bolsonaro is most up against. And so, that is kind of pushing this election at loggerheads at this point, and that is part of the tension that we’re seeing at this moment.
AMY GOODMAN: In 2018, Democracy Now! spoke with Lula when he was running for president. At the time, he was facing a possible prison term on what many believed to be trumped-up corruption charges tied to a sprawling probe known as Operation Car Wash.
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: Lula served more than 580 days in prison before the charges were thrown out. He mentions Judge Moro there. Judge Moro just became a new Brazilian senator. He was just elected in the first round. Michael Fox, the significance of all of this?
MICHAEL FOX: Well, of course, look, Judge Sergio Moro, he was very clearly biased. That, we found out from the Supreme Court. We found out from The Intercept leaks that showed exactly what was happening on the inside, prosecutors working together with a supposedly independent judge — that’s Judge Sergio Moro — in order to convict Lula, in order to attack the Workers’ Party. And so, very, very deep.
Now, remember that Judge Sergio Moro, after Lula was jailed, then he went on to become Bolsonaro’s justice minister. In this kind of this tit for tat, he opened the doors for Bolsonaro to come to power, and then Bolsonaro allowed him to come in. And what was fascinating earlier just this year with this campaign, we’ve seen, of course, he left Bolsonaro’s Cabinet in 2020, but they’ve come together around the same time. And what was fascinating is we actually saw Moro coaching Bolsonaro during the debates time. He was standing next to him in the debates. So, just this travesty of justice, that the very man that put Lula in jail then became the justice minister, and now he’s just been elected senator. So, very profound.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to the issue of climate. And Democracy Now! is going to be in Sharm el-Sheikh, in Egypt, covering the COP27, the U.N. climate Summit. You wrote a piece for the Sierra Club where you talked about the Indigenous Karipuna, saying they’re under attack. If you can talk about what you wrote, the Karipuna’s story “being repeated across the Amazon. Deforestation in the Amazon is at a 16-year high”?
MICHAEL FOX: Amy, look, you know, when we visited the Karipuna just three weeks ago, as we’re driving into their territory, we are passing areas where trees have already been deforested. They’re literally burning on the ground. We went to other places within their territory to understand what that reality was, and got there, and literally it’s still burning. The flames are still there. The smoke is still rising days later.
While we were on their territory and on our way out, we passed four motorcycles from land invaders who were there surveying the land. And one of the areas that they had gone to, they had actually put up a post that said ”lote,” meaning “parcel.” Like, they’re parceling off their land, and they’re doing it with disregard, absolute disregard.
The Karipuna people are one of the tribes that — one of the 10 top tribes that have most had their land deforested, attacked. And this has been the reality under Bolsonaro, because he’s gutted the Indigenous agency, the environmental agency, cut funds and blocked those agencies from being able to protect the Amazon, protect the forest and protect Indigenous communities. Fifty percent of the deforestation that we’ve seen over the last four years in the Amazon has been on protected lands, Indigenous lands, conservation areas.
So, the Karipuna is just one example that has been completely embattled. The way they feel in their community is that they’re completely surrounded, and they could go out anytime, and those land invaders could be there. In fact, when we passed those motorcycles along that road, we stopped very, very quickly. We took two or three cellphone pictures, and we kept going, because there was concerns of if you run into these land invaders there, they’re usually armed. You never know what could happen. That’s the reality. It’s been completely embattled.
And the possibility to have a Lula government back — and remind you that Lula has now brought in his former minister of the environment, Marina Silva, who split from the PT back long years ago. In fact, she ran for the presidency in 2010, 2014. She is now back in alignment with Lula. I spoke with her a few weeks ago, and she said she had already handed a dossier to Lula about how to get the deforestation to zero and that she’s excited to work with him going forward. So, this is why the Amazon was so important in this election and why it’s so important internationally, for people to understand what the reality is on the ground.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Sabrina Fernandes, voting is mandatory in Brazil. I mean, you look at Brazil compared to the United States, where so much — percentage-wise, so many fewer people vote in the United States. Can you talk about the efforts to make public transit free on Election Day and how this helped voter turnout?
SABRINA FERNANDES: Yes. This is a big contradiction, right? It’s such a large country. For people to vote, depending on the area where you are in Brazil, you actually have to travel many kilometers to find a ballot box. So, because of this, it’s very important to have free transit. And we had massive campaigning coming from civil society to ensure that many cities of the country would have free transit during the Electoral Day. We didn’t manage to get this nationwide. In fact, Bolsonaro was opposed to this when these initiatives first started popping up. So, we were quite aware that, for them, getting people, especially people who use public transit, who are in the lower working classes, making sure they would get to the vote, Bolsonaro was not interested in that at all.
But civil society prevailed in many parts of the country, yet yesterday we had many reports during the day of the traffic policing, the federal traffic police, actually surveilling the roads, blocking roads, checking buses, so stalling these buses so that people couldn’t get to a polling station. We had over 500 reports of this yesterday, yet the minister of the Electoral Supreme Court, Alexandre de Moraes, thought that, well, if there was some level of voter suppression, this was prejudicial to both sides. So he normalized things. Yet we know that the chief of these traffic police actually encouraged people to vote for Bolsonaro just a day before and that this operation was orchestrated together with the federal government.
So, whereas we have civil society people fighting for the right to vote and to get to the vote, so associating mobility with this, because it is very big contradiction, you have to — you make people vote, but you don’t get people the means to vote. So, civil society fought for that. And on the other side, you had Bolsonaro using the state machinery in every possible way short of just putting tanks on the road yesterday to get in the way of people actually voting.
AMY GOODMAN: And voting takes place on Sunday. Sabrina Fernandes, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Brazilian sociologist and activist; Michael Fox, freelance journalist, host of the new podcast Brazil on Fire, both speaking to us from São Paulo, Brazil.
Coming up, California Congressmember Ro Khanna on Nancy Pelosi’s husband being attacked at home. We’ll also talk with him about the war in Ukraine, U.S.-Saudi relations and the midterm elections. Stay with us.