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Saturday, April 13, 2024
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Bribery, corruption and the boys from Brazil

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WHEN Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known affectionately as ‘Lula’, recently woke up as President of Brazil for the third time in 20years, he could doubtless hardly believe his luck (though ‘luck’ really had little to do with it). A man sentenced to 12 years in jail in 2018 for corruption but released after 18 months, and closely associated with Cuba, left-wing guerillas and, indeed, communist China, receiving worldwide approbation from Western leaders and media, falling over themselves to congratulate him on his return to the presidential palace. Suspicious dissenting ears may well have pricked up at the sound of popping champagne corks in Western capitals and newsrooms, when such a man becomes the great whitewashed hope of World Economic Forumites around the globe. What fresh fudgery is this, we might well wonder.

The key to understanding the dynamic here appears to be the contest between the Brazilian judiciary and the executive over the question ‘who rules?’ This is a problem faced by the peoples of a number of Western countries, where judicial institutions regularly attempt to make policy, either directly or indirectly, through their legal decisions. We’re probably most familiar with this from observing how the US Supreme Court has become a political battleground for those who would, or do, struggle to win unconditional popular support for their policies (and scream blue murder when it tries to hand back those powers to the states, as in the Roe v Wade case). Brexiteers will also remember UK Supreme Court ‘spider’ judge Lady Hale proclaiming Johnson’s proroguing of parliament in 2019 ‘unlawful’, an intervention widely seen by both sides as political interference in the battle to leave the European Union.

The judicialisation of politics in Brazil, which even jaded left-wing human rights activists have called excessive, has recently seen, among other things, ex-president Jair Bolsonaro legally ordered to put on a mask or face being fined US$400 a day; or, perhaps more egregiously, during the election, banned from referring to Lula as ‘corrupt’, despite the latter’s unquashed conviction for using money from bribes to buy himself a luxury apartment.

Lula’s release from prison came only as a result of the Supreme Court striking down a law regarding his imprisonment that they judged unconstitutional. In effect the court decided it was unlawful to imprison someone until he had exhausted all possible avenues for overturning a verdict that would send him to the big house. You may wonder whether anyone would ever go to prison under such a regulation, and it certainly should provide an indefinite stay-out-of-jail card for those whose wealth from corruption can buy them world-class lawyers. Serendipitously, and hardly coincidentally, the court’s humane attempt to protect the innocent from wrongful imprisonment meant Lula could walk free from his incarceration more than seven years early.

Having sprung him from his luxury cell, a Supreme Court judge later declared that the court which condemned Lula to prisonwas ‘not competent’, ordering a retrial, but in the meantime restoring Lula’s electoral eligibility. The court dismissed calls ahead of the 2022 election for an independent audit of the electronic voting machines which they themselves control, and slapped arbitrary arrests on elected officials and media critical of their power. It seems likely that the ongoing arm-wrestling match between army man Bolsonaro and the judiciary has been a key motivator for the latter’s increasingly overt attempts to load the dice against the now ex-President. Seven of the court’s 11 members had been appointed by Lula or his appointed successor Dilma Roussef.

Having scraped the election victory in October 2022 (a win hotly contested by such Brazilian journalists as Allan Dos Santos who was banned from the social media platform Gettr for suggesting there had been election fraud), Lula may be the toast of Western capitals, and of course many millions of ordinary Brazilians, but the distrust of the Brazilian state by the equally huge number of Bolsonaro loyalists and their fellow-travellers was what angered them enough to set up hundreds of roadblocks in protest at the contested result. Their post-inauguration ‘January 6’ moment in the capital Brasilia, on January 8,2023, was a more adventurous attempt than the brief, good-natured but wrong-headed ‘occupation’ of the Capitol building in Washington DC two years’ ago. It saw protesters occupy and trash not one, but three distinct state buildings, of which one, notably, houses the Supreme Court. They had just made their way there from an encampment outside the country’s central army base in the capital, where they’d been lobbying for weeks for the army to back an insurrection, and for all the world looked like they had the approbation of members of the military police as they stormed and vandalised the centres of political power.

Meanwhile, much like Donald Trump, post-election Bolsonaro seems to have slipped out via the fire exit, abandoning and disowning his supporters (whom Lula, dipping into the Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau playbook, has labelled ‘terrorists’ and ‘Nazis’ as a result of their January 8 shenanigans). He is currently seeking an extended stay in the US, perhaps hoping for some kind of asylum as the wheels of political prosecution turn against him, while roundly condemning the trespassing protests against the election outcome. Much like the January 6 2021 pro-Trump protesters, dozens of whom are still in solitary confinement awaiting trial, it looks as if their hero is going to leave them in the lurch to suffer alone the no doubt brutal consequences of their disobedience, with no words of grace and favour from the man they’d hoped would save their country. It would seem one more populist rebellion has been crushed, tarred, feathered and ‘crapped on from on high’ (to quote Bolsonaro’s son’s words on Lula’s release in 2019), not just by Lula, but by his opponent too.

The tumultuous world of Brazilian politics looks set to continue to deliver its fair share of surprises. Old-fashioned leftist Lula, whose ties to the former Soviet Union and communist China have been detailed in an extraordinary documentary produced by the Epoch Times, has refused to back the continued arming of Ukraine, a small but not insignificant gesture that could play a part in stopping, or at least slowing, the slide towards global war. Meanwhile, just after Lula invited French President Emmanuel Macron to participate in his proposed environmental conference later this year, his navy scuttled a decaying French warship filled with asbestos floating off their Atlantic coast. Imagine the looks on the faces of the environmental protesters for whom Lula has long been their great green-and-yellow hope after nasty old Bolsanaro’s reign.

In Brazil it would seem the political carnival has a lot of life left in it yet.

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Richard Ings
Richard Ings
Richard Ings is an actor, musician, part-time revolutionary and one-time parliamentary candidate for the Brexit Party. He can be found on Twitter @richardcings or richard.ings@thedemocrats.org.uk. He writes at https://richardings.substack.com/.

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