Opinion by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Yesterday a three-judge panel of the Federal Court of Appeals (TRF) in Porto Alegre unanimously confirmed the lower court decision that convicted former President Lula of corruption and money laundering and sentenced him to years in prison.
Under Brazil’s “Ficha Limpa” law, Lula is in theory barred from running for president; under Brazil’s criminal law, Lula can in theory be imprisoned after his appeal to the TRF is decided.
However, in practice nothing is certain. Lawyers and politicians hate theory, but love practice. Lula’s attorneys will file as many appeals as the law allows, and his apologists will continue to beat the political drums.
The legal jousting will be fought on two principal fronts. One, involving criminal law, is the TRF, with further appeals to the STJ and STF, respectively Brazil’s highest courts for non-constitutional and constitutional questions. Another is Brazil’s electoral court system.
Brazil’s legal system has long had a plethora of electoral tribunals, with a local, regional and national level. These courts determine, among other things, whether a political party is properly registered, whether a candidate for office is eligible, whether parties or candidates have broken the electoral law in their campaigns, and ultimately whether election results can be certified.
PT, the Workers’ Party, founded on January 24th 1979, 39 years to the day before the TRF decision, has long insisted that Lula will be its candidate for president in 2018, and that there is no Plan B, C or D. The PT campaign pledge is that an election without Lula is a fraud, and amounts to a coup d’état even worse than the palace coup which unseated former President Dilma.
Back in 1989, in Brazil’s first direct presidential election after the military dictatorship, Lula ran (unsuccessfully) on a left of center PT platform. Petistas wore red shirts bearing the hammer and sickle. In 1994 and 1998, Lula ran (unsuccessfully) against Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the hero of the Plano Real that put an end to decades of runaway inflation—PT had voted against the Plano Real.
By 2002, however, Lula had come to realize that the Plano Real had worked, and that the population massively supported it. So, he adopted the slogan “Agora é Lula” or “It’s time for Lula”. Petistas mothballed their red hammer and sickle banners; Lula promised to maintain the basic economic policies instituted by Cardoso.
Lula won, and to the surprise of almost everyone kept his promise. His eight years in office were marked by economic growth among all classes, with low inflation. He left office in 2010 hugely popular, not least because Brazil seemed to have survived, unscathed, the worldwide economic recession in 2008.
That all changed during the disastrous Dilma presidency.
PT today is hearkening back to its 1979 roots. The red shirts are back on, the hammer and sickle are once again evident, and the cry is that Lula will, once again, ride to the rescue of the Brazilian poor and downtrodden, saving them from the neo-fascist plutocracy headed by Temer.
That strategy was unsuccessful in three presidential elections and, in the Curmudgeon’s humble (?) opinion, will be unsuccessful once again. We’ll discuss this in future columns.