By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Three Brazilian judges from a regional court in Porto Alegre maintained on Wednesday the conviction of former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, raising his sentence from the original nine and a half years in prison to twelve years and one month.
After the hearing supporters and opposition spoke about sentence and the former leader’s chances of being allowed to run in this year’s Presidential race.
“The result of the trial of Lula’s defense in court, with clearly arranged votes of the three judges, constitutes a judicial farce,” said PT (Workers Party) president, Senator Gleisi Hoffman. Hoffman criticized not only the maintenance of the conviction but also the decision to increase the sentence imposed by Judge Sergio Moro in July of 2017.
Leaving the courthouse without commenting on decision, Lula’s lawyer Cristiano Zanin, gave a press conference in the early evening. According to Zanin the defense will now use all legal means to challenge the sentence handed down, including more appeals both to higher courts and even to Brazil’s Supreme Court.
For Zanin, the appeal hearing did not reflect the truth of the facts. “The mark of this trial is that Lula has been convicted without having committed a crime,” he concluded.
While some scuffles broke out among the crowds watching the hearing in several cities across the country, no major incidents were reported. In São Paulo, the former leader spoke to a crowd of supporters who gathered for a rally in Praça da Republica, in the city center.
“I’ve never had any illusions about the judges in the Lava Jato (CarWash) investigation. There was a pact between the Judiciary and the press that decided that it was time to end the PT and our governance of the country,” said Lula to a cheering crowd.
With the maintenance of the sentence Lula’s chances of being eligible to run in October’s Presidential elections has diminished significantly. According to the Ficha Limpa (Clean Slate) bill, persons convicted of major crimes are not eligible to run for public office.
And although Lula has the option to appeal further his sentence, there is some question if the hearing would be over by August 31st, the deadline for political parties to register their candidates for the election.
For many, the accusations and consequent conviction were a plan to keep the former leader, known to many as ‘father of the poor’ from running in this year’s elections. All polls taken since the middle of 2017 show that Lula would win the race regardless of the second placed candidate. This belief holds not only true with a great many Brazilians, but foreign analysts as well.
“The attempt to exclude Brazil’s most popular political leader from the presidential race, following the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff on a very dubious pretext, represents a serious breakdown in the rule of law,” says Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a think tank headquartered in Washington DC.
In an op-ed article in the New York Times this week Weisbrot says if Lula is ineligible to run, this could be ‘politically destabilizing’ for the country.
“If Lula’s Brazil will have reconstituted itself as a much more limited form of electoral democracy, in which a politicized judiciary can exclude a popular political leader from running for office. That would be a calamity for Brazilians, the region and the world,” concludes Weisbrot.
The former President, however, promises that no conviction will make him cease his party’s goal of obtaining once again the most powerful public seat in the country. “Wait because we will be back,” Lula told his supporters on Wednesday night.