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The Return of Lula Is Cause for Celebration

The case against former Brazilian president Lula da Silva is over and fully discredited. Now the path is clear for Lula to take on Jair Bolsonaro’s right-wing government and save Brazilian democracy.

Former Brazilian president Lula da Silva holds a press conference at the metalworkers' union building in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 10, 2021. (Cris Faga/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

On March 23, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva finally and definitively won his ongoing legal battle. After years of judicial harassment, culminating in a six-hundred-day prison sentence, the Supreme Court has finally ruled that former judge Sérgio Moro was biased in his ruling and that Lula’s conviction should be overturned. That means that Lula has been unleashed to take on Jair Bolsonaro in the coming 2022 general elections.

A few weeks ago, another Supreme Court judge, Edson Fachin, reached the conclusion that Sérgio Moro had acted beyond his jurisdiction in trying Lula. But that ruling was too little, too late: Lula was the victim not of a legal technicality but of a proven judicial plot in which federal prosecutors and a federal judge colluded to guarantee his conviction.

The Supreme Court has now found that during the trial, the prosecuting team illegally wiretapped Lula’s lawyers’ phones and coordinated each stage of the trial alongside Moro in order to ensure a conviction ruling. In a further twist, Moro later accepted an appointment as Minister of Justice under Bolsonaro’s government.

The fact that Lula will now likely run in next year’s presidential elections is a huge problem for the extreme right. In almost every poll, Lula leads the race, and every single poll shows Lula defeating Bolsonaro in a runoff contest.

Breakdown of the Elite

The historic court decision on March 23 was anything but a foregone conclusion. Kássio Nunes Marques, Bolsonaro’s obscure nomination for the Brazilian Supreme Court, had opposed the ruling on shaky grounds, inventing legal clauses to avoid ruling on the habeas corpus filed by Lula’s defense team. Willfully distorting the content of leaks that revealed partiality in the trial, Nunes Marques obstinately insisted that Moro acted without bias.

But the tide turned when Carmen Lúcia, one of the oldest Supreme Court judges and longstanding Operation Car Wash advocate, changed her vote: initially opposing Lula’s defense’s request, she decided to admit into consideration the leaks reported by The Intercept, which revealed collusion between the prosecution and then-judge Moro.

The change in Carmen Lúcia’s vote, along with the fact that Justice Gilmar Mendes — a rightist and longtime foe of the Workers’ Party (PT) governments — had shifted his position in recent years, suggests that something is happening behind the scenes among Brazil’s elite.

Recently, Brazil’s financial elites released a manifesto criticizing the government and its handling of the pandemic health crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has reached tragic dimensions in Brazil: on the same day that Lula was finally cleared of all charges, the daily death toll reached three thousand, and the national collapse of the health care system is expected to be just days away.

The pact among Brazilian oligarchs to remove Lula from politics was part of a wider plan by capitalist interests to dismantle Brazilian social protections: an extensive public health system, social welfare, and other programs. The pandemic has accelerated that process, which would otherwise have taken decades.

The illusions of the Brazilian elite to profit from the total privatization of public services in Brazil ended with the arrival of the pandemic. The collapse of even the elite hospitals proves that Lula was right.

From Heroes to Villains

Sérgio Moro was the big loser of the March 23 ruling. The son of an elite southern family, Moro had long been portrayed as an anti-corruption crusader and the embodiment of anti-Lula sentiment.

After his meteoric rise to fame with Operation Car Wash, he was even touted as a possible presidential candidate in 2022. With that end in view, he abandoned his post in the courts to assume a ministerial position in Bolsonaro’s government; his eventual break with Bolsonaro in 2020 was in part motivated by this presidential ambition.

Despite what Moro might say, that split had nothing to do with “values” and everything to do with a battle over leadership of the radical right. Still, in the face of Lula’s electoral threat, the government worked to preserve Moro’s legacy and ensure that Bolsonaro would not have to face Lula in 2022.

Moro’s connections to the US Department of Justice are well documented, and during his first trip to the United States as Bolsonaro’s minister, he paid a visit to the CIA. If part of that trip was to signal collaboration between Brazilian elites and US-led imperialism, it was also a bid to further bolster his hero status in the national and international media. Unfortunately for him, his political foray would be short lived.

Lula has held steadfast in what may be his last and, perhaps, greatest battle: restoring Brazilian democracy. To do so, he will need to assume leadership of social movements and left forces, and, perhaps most dauntingly, take the lead globally in the fight for universal access to vaccines.

Brazil is fighting for its life. To survive, it will have to defeat an utterly cruel and undemocratic economic model, forged in reaction to decades of social reform. Lula is free now, and with solidarity from the international left and the mass support of Brazil’s powerful social movements, he may just be able to pull the country back from the abyss.