In Brazil, former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has begun serving a 12-year sentence for a controversial corruption conviction. After missing a 5 p.m. Friday deadline, Lula turned himself in to police on Saturday following a standoff during which he spent the night in São Paulo’s steelworkers’ union building. Lula’s supporters gathered outside, many hoping he would defy orders to surrender. On Saturday, Lula addressed thousands of his supporters and members of his Workers’ Party. Last week, the Supreme Court rejected Lula’s bid to stay out of jail while he appealed his conviction, effectively removing him from Brazil’s presidential election later this year, where he was the front-runner. Lula is a former union leader who served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. During that time, he helped lift tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty. His supporters say the ruling against him is a continuation of the right-wing coup that ousted Lula’s ally, President Dilma Rousseff, from power in 2015. Last year, Rousseff said, “The first chapter of the coup was my impeachment. But there’s a second chapter, and that is stopping President Lula from becoming a candidate for next year’s elections.” Still with us in Rio de Janeiro is Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in Brazil, former President [Luiz] Inácio Lula da Silva has begun serving a 12-year sentence for a controversial corruption conviction. After missing a 5 p.m. Friday deadline, Lula turned himself in to police on Saturday, following a standoff during which he spent the night in São Paulo’s steelworkers’ union building. Lula’s supporters gathered outside, many hoping he would defy orders to surrender. On Saturday, Lula addressed thousands of his supporters and members of his Workers’ Party.
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I am doing a very conscious, very conscious thing. I told the comrades that if it depends on my will, I would not go. But I will go. I am going because they are going to say tomorrow that Lula is out of the way, that Lula is hidden. No, I am not hiding. I am going to go there and see their faces, so they know I’m not afraid, so they know that I am not going to run, and so they know I’m going to prove my innocence. They need to know that. … I want to go there and tell the delegate, “I am at your disposal.” The history of the next few days will prove that the delegate who accused me was the one who committed the crime. It was the judge who judged me, and the public ministry lied to me.
AMY GOODMAN: Last week, the Brazilian Supreme Court rejected of Lula’s bid to stay out of jail while he appealed his conviction, effectively removing him from Brazil’s presidential election later this year, where he was the front-runner. Lula is a former union leader who served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. During that time, he helped lift tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty. His supporters say the ruling against him is a continuation of the right-wing coup that ousted Lula’s ally, President Dilma Rousseff, from power in 2015. Last year, Dilma Rousseff said, quote, “The first chapter of the coup was my impeachment. But there’s a second chapter, and that is stopping President Lula from becoming a candidate for next year’s elections.”
Still with us in Rio de Janeiro is Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept. Can you talk about what happened this weekend, the fact that now former president and presidential candidate currently, Lula, is in prison?
GLENN GREENWALD: It’s a complicated situation. But it’s also extraordinary. Lula is a singular political force. His political story, there’s just nothing like it, the way he came from extreme poverty and illiteracy as a child to rule the fifth-largest country in the world through an overwhelming democratic mandate. To see him in prison is a shock to the system.
It’s even more disturbing, given what has happened. If you look at the last 16 years in Brazil, it’s so important to keep in mind that the Workers’ Party, which Lula helped found and then led, has won four consecutive national elections in this country—2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. And the two people who won those elections and who became president were—the first two was Lula, and the second two was Dilma. Last year, or, rather, in 2016, Dilma was impeached, so she was removed from office, even though she was the elected president, and installed in her place was somebody who could never have won, somebody who has embraced a right-wing ideology that would never have prevailed in any election, so the entire ideology of the country was changed with no election, by removing Dilma from office, even though she had won two elections. And now, Lula, who not only won re-election with an overwhelming mandate, but was planning on running for president again this year—there’s an election later this year—and was leading in all polls—it was, I think, almost a certainty that he was going to win—has now been removed from being able to run, and put into prison. So, whatever else is true, there are a lot of factions in Brazil that have spent 16 years trying to defeat PT at the ballot box, the Workers’ Party, and have failed to do so and have now used anti-democratic means—impeachment and the court system—to destroy the party, to destroy the ability of the two people who have been elected to actually exercise political power.
Now, that isn’t to say that Lula is innocent or that he, because of his political popularity and the extraordinary achievements that he was able to realize for this country and for tens of millions of people who had been lifted out of poverty under his presidency, that he’s above the rule of law or that he shouldn’t be punished if he’s actually corrupt. But there are several corruption cases against Lula that were always considered the more serious ones, and those have not yet come to trial. So, nobody should be assuming he’s guilty of those things, because there’s been no trial.
The one thing he has been convicted of is this tiny little case that everybody always considered extremely dubious, that has been filled with judicial irregularities, that clearly is the byproduct of this judicial obsession on the part of Sérgio Moro, the head judge of the corruption investigations, to put Lula in prison. It became a personal fixation on his part. And the evidence that was used to convict him—and the charge was that Lula received a triplex apartment and renovations from a construction company in order to get contracts from Petrobras—the evidence is basically nonexistent that Lula was even the owner of that apartment or that, as Judge Moro admitted, the renovations were done in connection with getting contracts from Petrobras.
So, it’s all kinds of reasons to suspect that what’s really going on is politically motivated, especially when you consider the fact that there are huge numbers of extremely powerful politicians on the right—including the president of this country who was installed; Dilma’s 2014 opponent Aécio Neves; the governor of São Paulo, who Lula defeated in 2006, Geraldo Alckmin, who’s running for president again this year—who are extremely corrupt, among the most corrupt politicians in all of Latin America, who not only remain out of prison and free, but still in power. It really creates this very strong appearance that, whatever else you think of Lula and whether he’s actually corrupt, this is not an act of justice, this is an act of political vengeance and a political abuse of the law to remove political enemies and destroy a political party that they’ve not been able to defeat at the ballot box.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Glenn, could you talk a little bit about the current president, Michel Temer, and the corruption allegations against him and why he’s still remaining as president, while, meanwhile, Dilma was impeached, and Lula is now prevented from running again?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, that’s the key question, right? That’s the key question, that, when you ask it, Juan, illustrates exactly what’s going on here. I have criticisms of PT. I think that PT is a party that does have serious problems with corruption. I interviewed Lula in 2016, and I asked him that question, and he agreed that his own party, PT, has serious problems with corruption. PT—the reason people like Eduardo Cunha and Michel Temer were in power is because PT created an alliance with them in order to win the election. They ran with Michel Temer, who’s part of this centrist party that’s really a kind of party of organized crime.
Nonetheless, after Michel Temer was installed as president, when Dilma was impeached, he got caught on tape—there’s an audiotape that the entire country has heard, in which he is ordering bribes to be paid to members of his own party in order to keep them silent as part of the corruption investigation, so that they don’t implicate other people who are closely related to Temer. Literally, the president of this country, who was installed in the name of fighting corruption, got caught on tape ordering bribes to silence witnesses, including Eduardo Cunha, who is the former House speaker, who presided over Dilma’s impeachment during the House proceeding that the entire world watched, and who is now in prison because he’s basically just a gangster. He’s, you know, a member of organized crime. That’s who the president of this country, Michel Temer, ordered to be paid bribes in order to ensure his silence.
And yet, the same people who voted to impeach Dilma, in the name of fighting corruption—because they’re so offended by corruption—the same people who are today cheering Lula’s imprisonment on the grounds that corruption must not be protected and there can be no impunity, have repeatedly voted to protect Michel Temer, the president of this country, from any kind of accountability. They won’t impeach him. They won’t allow the courts to investigate him, even though everybody heard with their own ears him ordering bribes to be paid. There’s tons of other evidence that he, himself, has received personal bribes. And that’s why I say, whatever you think of Lula, whatever you think of Dilma, whatever you think of PT—and there are valid criticisms of all of them—it is impossible to maintain with a straight face that what this is about is punishing corruption or subjecting everybody to the rule of law, given that the political parties most loved by the elites—PMDB and the right-wing PSDB—have been utterly protected, with very rare exception, from far worse acts of lawbreaking and criminality, and continue to remain in power and run the country.
AMY GOODMAN: And just to clarify for people, PT is the Workers’ Party in Brazil. Glenn, I wanted to go to the interview that I did with Lula, speaking on Democracy Now! just a few weeks ago. And I asked him about the role of the Brazilian press.
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] I was president for eight years. Dilma was president for four years. And for 12 years, all the press did was to try to destroy my image and her image and the image of my party. I have more negative subject matter about me in the leading television news program of Brazil than all of the presidents in the whole history of Brazil. In other words, it’s a daily attempt to massacre me, to tell untruths about Lula, about Lula’s family. And the only weapon that I have is to confront them. And they’re irritated, because after they massacred me for four years, any opinion poll by any polling institute showed that Lula was going win the elections in Brazil.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Lula on Democracy Now!, and you can go to the whole hour interview. But, Glenn, can you clarify the role of the press in all of this? And does this mean, by the way, him being in prison now, that he cannot—he absolutely cannot continue to run? But talk about the press.
GLENN GREENWALD: Sure. So, this narrative that Lula embraces, and just articulated in the interview that you played with him that you did, is one that he has been—that basically he rode to power, which is the idea that he represents the poor and the marginalized and the powerless in the country against these powerful forces led by the families that control the media. And there is a lot of truth to that.
The Brazilian media is probably the most homogenized, most oligarchical, most repressive and most propagandistic of any media in any country that I’ve looked at as a reporter and a journalist, which includes, obviously, the United States and the U.K. and many in Europe. It is incredibly abusive of the journalistic function, because of the tiny number of extremely rich families who control it and who have the same interest and who use their media outlets to propagandize the country. Unlike in the U.S. and in the U.K. and in Europe, there hasn’t been the kind of vibrant, well-funded, independent media that has arisen. The internet has opened it up a little bit, but not as much as it needs. And so, they do still continue to exercise, although less power than they did a decade ago, very—a stranglehold over public opinion in Brazil. And Lula and Dilma are right to say that the media was monomaniacally devoted to the impeachment of Dilma and the destruction of PT and their reputation.
Having said that, it is also true that Lula became somewhat comfortable with political power and financial power here in Brazil, and they became somewhat comfortable with him. It reminds me a little bit of the Democratic Party. I mean, Lula began as a union leader, as somebody who came from poverty, as a real radical, and over time made compromises in order to moderate his message and gain power. And a lot of the oligarchs who went to prison, such as Odebrecht and others, were working hand in glove with PT. So this narrative that it’s the elites versus PT is a lot blurrier than Lula likes to suggest.
But he’s absolutely right that the media here is incredibly corrupt. They use all of their power to undermine the left and to promote free-market candidates, because that’s who their owners prefer, because that’s who are good for their owners, and they allow very little dissent. If you listen to Brazilian political television, they all, you know, are basically endangering their own necks by risking injury constantly nodding with one another, because there’s an orthodoxy that’s enforced in a way that no other media that I’m familiar with has. The only thing I can compare it to is the 2002 run-up to the Iraq War.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Glenn—
GLENN GREENWALD: With Lula out of office—yeah?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, Glenn, I just wanted to ask another question, before we move on to the situation in Gaza, which is: How do you see what’s going to happen next? Does the Workers’ Party have a viable candidate now to run for the presidency? And also, talk about the—if you can in just a few seconds, the right-wing candidate that is being compared to the “Brazilian Trump.”
GLENN GREENWALD: Right. Well, this is the big question now, is that the—there’s a fascist candidate, an actually fascist candidate, who is 10 times more extreme than Trump on all of those fascist questions, whose name is Jair Bolsonaro, who was actually in the military during the military dictatorship, that only ended in 1985, and seems to crave a return of it. He praises the torturers of the military dictatorship and talks about that era as though it’s something that we want to return to. And for a long time, it seemed like Lula was only one who could stop him. He’s very high in the polls. He has a lot of support, because the country has lost faith in the entire political elite.
And now it’s a real question, with Lula almost certainly unable to run: Who is the left going to unite behind? It doesn’t seem like PT is going to field a viable candidate. There are other parties, such as PSOL and PCdoB, which are on the left and do have candidates, who Lula has been praising. I hope the left is going to unite behind one candidate, so it doesn’t divide itself and allow Bolsonaro to risk winning. But it is a real danger that fascism and military dictatorship could return to this very large and beautiful country, especially with Lula out of the picture.