Opinion by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Last September, a federal prosecutor accused former President Lula of being the mastermind and supreme leader of the Mensalão and Petrolão schemes; during the announcement, he showed a PowerPoint presentation where everything led to Lula.
Quite a bit of backlash arose at the time, partly because the prosecutors are charging Lula with crimes, alleging that a prominent construction firm bought and paid for his penthouse in Guarulhos. That, theoretically, has nothing to do with the Mensalão, and is only obliquely relevant to the Petrolão.
During his testimony before Judge Moro this Wednesday, again theoretically concerning only the Guarulhos penthouse, Lula himself brought up the PowerPoint presentation. He says he’s being “prosecuted by PowerPoint” that falsely shows a “criminal organization” with him as mastermind, that prosecutors simply don’t understand his “style” and “jeito” of governing, that they don’t understand how government works.
Lula is right in one way. The prosecutors are indeed criticizing his “jeito” of governing, because they know it is only feasible when it mixes the spoils system with graft, corruption, kickbacks, “caixa 2” and other criminal activities. The prosecutor dubbed it “graftocracy”.
Lula is wrong in the more important sense. He admitted Wednesday that his “jeito” involved appointing political directors to Petrobras. He says that’s normal, and seems not to care that almost every director he appointed has confessed to being on the take from construction companies like Odebrecht and OAS.
Anyone who considers Brazil’s “Lula-style” government during ten years of Lula and Dilma regimes knows there was only one ringleader — Lula. During the past year, claiming he knew nothing, Lula has thrown under the bus his chief lieutenants José Dirceu, José Genuino and Antonio Palocci.
The Curmudgeon remembers well how US President Nixon, when facing impeachment, threw his chief lieutenants Haldeman and Ehrlichman under the same “I knew nothing” bus. Eventually the “smoking gun” evidence led to Nixon’s disgrace and resignation. He was not prosecuted criminally, only because his successor as President pardoned him in advance.
On Wednesday, however, Lula reached a new low. He explicitly said his late wife Marisa was personally responsible for everything connected with the Guarulhos apartment that construction firm OAS gifted him. He repeatedly claimed that in his several meetings with OAS CEO Leo Pinheiros, he never spoke about the apartment, that was all Marisa’s doing.
There are still some people in Brazil who, notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary, believe Lula is an innocent victim of a plot by Brazil’s entrenched elite to tarnish his reputation and to undo all the good works he did as President.
The Curmudgeon is not among those true believers (duh!). If he were, though, he’d have to be scratching his head a little after watching Lula throw his dead wife’s corpse under a bus that’s about to run over his own reputation.
The Curmudgeon still believes the prosecutor’s PowerPoint presentation will be shown to be correct, as more and more testimony inculpating Lula comes to light. If Palocci plea bargains, the bus will be unstoppable.