Lula in jail after symbolically charged showdown (April 9, 2018)
Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva turned himself in to the police on Saturday evening, after a two-day standoff that raised tensions in an already politically polarized country. Lula, as he is called, was ordered to report to police in Curitiba on Friday afternoon to begin serving a 12-year sentence for corruption. But the front-runner for October's presidential elections holed up in a metallurgical workers union headquarters in São Bernardo do Campo, in the outskirts of São Paulo, surrounded by thousands of supporters. The location is symbolic, the same union from which he began his political career that transformed Brazilian politics.
Lula demonstrated political mastery of the situation, insisting on remaining in the headquarters until a mass on Saturday in honor of his wife who died last year. Supporters initially blocked the police car attempting to carry him away, reports the Associated Press. Bodyguards surrounded the former president and pushed through supporters in order to get him out at nightfall.
Lula maintained his innocence however, accusing prosecutors involved in the massive Lava Jato investigation of lying. "I don't forgive them for giving society the idea that I am a thief," he said. "The more days they leave me (in jail), the more Lulas will be born in this country."
The arrest comes at a critical time in Brazilian politics, and leaves the left without an obvious candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, reports the New York Times. Indeed, the detention favors his closest rival in the polls, right-wing firebrand and dictatorship apologist Jair Bolsonaro. Though Lula did not anoint a successor, he did invite leftist candidates from other parties, Manuela d’Ávila and Guilherme Boulos to accompany him while he spoke on Saturday.
Lula has vowed to continue his political campaign from prison, though he will likely be disqualified due to a Brazilian law disqualifying people convicted of corruption from running for office, reports the Washington Post.
He is housed in a special 15-square-meter cell in Curitiba’s federal police headquarters, where most high-profile politicians and businessmen convicted in the “Car Wash” corruption probe have served their sentences, reports Reuters. Lula will not be allowed to interact with others being held in the building, but will have unfettered access to lawyers and family.
Lula's supporters have criticized the case against the former president as politically biased and based on shaky evidence. See for example Mark Weisbrot's New York Times op-ed from January on the case.
Though some celebrate Lula's detention as a sign of institutional strength, many experts question the effect it will have on faith in democracy, as other politicians accused of far greater graft remain free. Lula’s case was judged much more quickly than all other cases in the huge Car Wash corruption scandal, and other politicians from rival parties accused of more serious crimes remain free, notes the Guardian.
In a New York Times Español op-ed Carol Pires notes with concern signs of political violence and military threats of intervention. Last week the head of the country's armed forces appeared to pressure the Supreme Court to send Lula to jail. "For now, the resurgence of the military shows that when the government loses political control, it lights up the barrack's desire for power. In an extreme scenario, a popular disturbance could be a dangerous excuse for those who seek to undermine the democratic system using the rise of radicalism as a pretext. It is not a trivial point in a Brazil more adrift than ever."
An upcoming Supreme Court decision on a constitutional challenge to the 2016 decision that jails people with a criminal conviction after the first appeal is upheld could potentially get Lula out of jail soon -- but would also benefit opposition politicians due to be judged for corruption, reports the Huffington Post.
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