Opinion by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – All of Brazil has come to a screeching halt this month. Schools are on holiday, the legislative and judicial branches of government are (again!) in recess; pundits have almost nothing to write about.
Pundits including the Curmudgeon, he must admit. The January doldrums have affected him, but the date of January 24th has got him stirring; today’s essay is a further disquisition on the destiny of the man he regards as Brazil’s foremost criminal mastermind: former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva.
On that date (next Wednesday) the 4th Regional Federal Court of Appeals (TRF) in Porto Alegre will decide whether to confirm, modify or overturn the lower court decision by Judge Sergio Moro that convicted former President Lula of corruption.
Lula’s supporters are hiring buses and plan on sending caravans of placard-carrying protesters to the city, to protest the alleged judicial witch-hunt of (in their view) the best President Brazil has ever had. Judge Moro’s supporters continue to raise the theme that the decision must be judicial, not political.
The fact is that any TRT decision will have immense political effects. If the conviction is confirmed, Lula will, under the “Ficha Limpa” law, be ineligible to run for President. But of course, there are any number of legal appeals possible, and Lula’s lawyers will file them all.
Lula will remain a free man until those appeals are final, as TRT is unwilling to jail the front-runner in all opinion polls, although it could do so under current law. And as a free man, Lula will continue his vigorous campaign through the hinterlands of Brazil.
Given the bizarre nature of Brazilian electoral laws, Lula could yet become a candidate, and even be elected next October, as long as his appeals are still being heard.
As a result, all other potential Presidential candidates now await the TRT decision with bated breath. They know all too well that a substantial minority of Brazilian voters (and a majority in Brazil’s populous Northeast) believe Lula is a victim of a plot by Brazil’s entrenched elite to tarnish his reputation.
Put another way, huge chunks of Brazil live in Lu-La Land, where people still believe that, based on talent and verve and stick-to-itiveness, anyone, from whatever humble background, can overcome adversity to rise to the top.
In Lu-La Land, an election without Lula is a fraud, a coup-d’état, and a corruption of democracy. After all, the argument goes, if people want Lula to be President, it shouldn’t matter that he used an apartment donated by an unscrupulous contractor — what counts most is his decades of struggle for the people.
In Lu-La Land, Temer and his rich white male claque of supporters are known to seek a radical return to the oligarchical rule under which Brazil has suffered since it became a Republic.
In Lu-La Land, there is no viable alternative to Lula as President — all the other candidates (declared or undeclared) are themselves more corrupt, or are simply inept, without the slightest capacity to lead a country.
The Curmudgeon does not live in Lu-La Land, but when he asks Brazilian friends and acquaintances whom they would like to vote for instead of Lula, he gets no answers. That is troubling.