Open letter to President Lula

Dora Longo Bahia, Revoluções (calendar project), 2016 Acrylic, water-based pen and watercolor on paper (12 pieces), 23 x 30.5 cm each


President Lula has to do everything not to lose the people who elected him

Dear friend President Lula da Silva,

When I visited him in prison on August 30, 2018, during the short time the visit lasted, I experienced a whirlwind of ideas and emotions that remain as vivid today as they were on that day. A short time before, we had been together at the World Social Forum in Salvador da Bahia, talking, in the company of Jacques Wagner, on the roof of the hotel where Lula was staying. We were then talking about his possible arrest. Lula still had some hope that the judicial system would suspend that persecutory vertigo that had collapsed over him.

I, perhaps because I am a sociologist of law, was convinced that this would not happen, but I did not insist. At a certain point, I had the feeling that we were both thinking and fearing the same thing. A short time later, they arrested him with the same arrogant and compulsive indifference with which they had treated him until then. Sérgio Moro, the US lackey (it's too late to be naive), had accomplished the first part of the mission. The second part would be to keep him imprisoned and isolated until he was elected the candidate who would give him the platform to be used by him, Sérgio Moro, to one day reach the presidency of the Republic.

When I entered the premises of the Federal Police, I felt a shudder when I read the plaque where it was stated that President Lula da Silva had inaugurated those facilities eleven years earlier as part of his vast program of valorization of the Federal Police and criminal investigation. A first whirlwind of questions assailed me. Was the plaque left there by forgetfulness? For cruelty? To show that the spell had turned against the sorcerer? That a president in good faith had given the gold to the bandit?

I was accompanied by a good-looking young federal policeman who on the way turned to me and said: we read your books a lot. I'm cold inside. Terrified. If my books were read and the message understood, neither Lula nor I would be there. I stammered something to that effect and the answer was not long in coming: “we follow orders”. Suddenly, the Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmitt burst into me. To be sovereign is to have the prerogative to declare that what is not legal is legal, and to impose one's will bureaucratically with the normality of functional obedience and the consequent trivialization of State terror.

Dear President Lula, that's how I arrived at your cell and you certainly didn't suspect the turmoil that was going on inside me. When I saw him, I calmed down. I was finally in front of dignity in person, and I felt that humanity had not yet given up on being what ordinary mortals aspire to. It was all totally normal within the totalitarian abnormality that had locked him up there. The windows, the gym equipment, the books, the television. Our conversation was as normal as everything around us, including his lawyers and Gleisi Hoffmann, president of the Workers' Party.

We talked about the situation in Latin America, the new (old) aggressiveness of the empire, the judicial system converted into ersatz of military coups, of the polls that continued to highlight him, of my fear that the transfer of votes was not as massive as I had hoped. It was as if the immense white elephant in that room – the repugnant illegality of his imprisonment for undisguised political reasons – had been transformed into an ineffable lightness of the air so as not to disturb our conversation as if, instead of being there, we were somewhere else. your choice.

When the door closed behind me, the weight of the illegal will of a State held hostage by criminals armed with legal manipulations fell on me again. I relied on revolt and anger and the well-behaved performance that is expected of a public intellectual who has to make statements to the press on the way out. I did everything, but what I really felt was that I had left Brazil's freedom and dignity behind me, imprisoned so that the empire and the elites at its service could fulfill their objectives of guaranteeing access to Brazil's immense natural resources, pension privatization and unconditional alignment with the geopolitics of rivalry with China.

The serenity and dignity with which Lula faced 582 days in prison is proven proof that empires, especially decadent ones, often err in calculations, precisely because they only think about the short term. The immense national and international solidarity, which made him the most famous political prisoner in the world, showed that the Brazilian people began to believe that at least part of what had been destroyed in the short term could be rebuilt in the medium and long term. His arrest became the price for the credibility of that conviction.


Dear friend President Lula da Silva,

I am writing to you today first of all to congratulate you on your victory in the October 30 elections. It is an extraordinary feat unprecedented in the history of democracy. I usually say that sociologists are good at predicting the past, not the future, but this time I wasn't wrong. I'm not even more certain about what I feel the need to tell you today. As I know you don't have time to read large analytical elaborations, I'll be telegraphic. Take these considerations as an expression of the best wishes for you personally and for the exercise of the position you are about to assume.

(1) It would be a serious mistake to think that with your election everything returned to normal in Brazil. First, the norm prior to Jair Bolsonaro was something very precarious for the most vulnerable populations, even if it was less so than it is now. Second, Jair Bolsonaro inflicted damage on Brazilian society that is difficult to repair. It produced a civilizing setback by having rekindled the embers of violence typical of a society that was subjected to European colonialism: the idolatry of individual property and the consequent social exclusion, racism, sexism, the privatization of the State so that the rule of law coexists with the primacy of illegality, and an excluding religion this time in the form of neo-Pentecostal evangelism.

The colonial fracture is reactivated in the form of the polarization friend/enemy, us/them, typical of the extreme right. With this, Bolsonaro created a radical break that makes educational and democratic mediation very difficult. Recovery will take years.

(2) If the previous note points to the medium term, the truth is that your presidency will for now be dominated by the short term. Jair Bolsonaro made hunger return, broke the State financially, deindustrialized the country, let hundreds of thousands of victims of covid die unnecessarily, proposed to end the Amazon. The emergency field is the one where the President moves best and where I am sure he will be most successful. Just two cautions. He will certainly return to the policies that he successfully carried out, but, beware, the conditions are now very different and more adverse.

On the other hand, everything has to be done without waiting for the political gratitude of the social classes benefited by the emergency measures. The impersonal way of benefiting, which is characteristic of the State, makes people see in benefits their personal merit or their right and not the merit or benevolence of those who make them possible. To show that such measures are neither the result of personal merit nor the benevolence of donors, but rather the product of political alternatives, there is only one way: education for citizenship.

(3) One of the most disastrous aspects of the setback provoked by Bolsonaro is the anti-rights ideology capillarized in the social fabric, targeting previously marginalized social groups (poor, black, indigenous, Roma, LGBTQI+). Maintaining a firm policy of social, economic and cultural rights as a guarantee of increased dignity in a very unequal society must be the basic principle of democratic governments today.

(4) The international context is dominated by three mega-threats: recurrent pandemics, ecological collapse, possible third world war. Any of these threats are global, but policy solutions remain overwhelmingly limited to the national scale. Brazilian diplomacy has traditionally been exemplary in the search for articulations, whether at the regional level (Latin American cooperation) or at the global level (BRICS). We live in a time of interregnum between a US-dominated unipolar world that has yet to fully disappear and a multipolar world that has yet to fully emerge. The interregnum manifests itself, for example, in the deceleration of globalization and the return of protectionism, in the partial replacement of free trade by trade with friendly partners.

States remain all formally independent, but only some are sovereign. And among the latter are not even counted the countries of the European Union. President Lula left the government when China was the USA's great partner and returns when China is the USA's great rival. President Lula has always been a supporter of the multipolar world and China is today an unavoidable partner of Brazil. Given the growing cold war between the US and China, I predict that the honeymoon between Biden and Lula will not last long.

(5) President Lula today has worldwide credibility that enables him to be an effective mediator in a world undermined by increasingly tense conflicts. It could be a mediator in the Russia/Ukraine conflict, two countries whose peoples urgently need peace, at a time when the countries of the European Union have embraced the North American version of the conflict without Plan B and condemned themselves to the same fate to which it is destined. the US-dominated unipolar world. And he will also be a credible mediator in the case of Venezuela's isolation and the end of the shameful embargo against Cuba. For that, President Lula has to have the internal front pacified and here lies the greatest difficulty.

(6) It will have to live with the permanent threat of destabilization. It is the hallmark of the extreme right. It is a global movement that corresponds to the inability of neoliberal capitalism to live in the next period with the minimum of democratic coexistence. Despite being global, it assumes specific characteristics in each country. The overall objective is to convert cultural or ethnic diversity into political or religious polarization.

In Brazil, as in India, there is a risk of attributing to such polarization the character of a religious war, be it between Catholics and Evangelicals or between fundamentalist Christians and religions of African origin (Brazil) or between Hindus and Muslims (India). In religious wars conciliation is almost impossible. The extreme right creates a parallel reality immune to any confrontation with real reality. On that basis, it can justify the cruelest violence. Its main objective is to prevent President Lula from ending his mandate peacefully.

(7) President Lula currently has the support of the USA in his favour. It is well known that all US foreign policy is determined by domestic policy reasons. President Joe Biden knows that, by defending President Lula, he is defending himself against Donald Trump, his rival in 2024. It turns out that the USA is today perhaps the most fractured society in the world, where the democratic game coexists with an extreme right plutocrat strong enough to make about 25% of the US population remain convinced today that Joe Biden's victory in 2020 was the result of electoral fraud. This extreme right is willing to do anything. Their aggressiveness is demonstrated by the recent attempt to kidnap and torture Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Let's think about this: the country that wants to produce regime change in Russia and stalling China fails to protect one of its most important political leaders. And, as will be seen in Brazil, shortly after the attack, a battery of false news was circulated to justify the act. Therefore, today, the USA is a double country: the official country that promises to defend Brazilian democracy and the unofficial country that promises to subvert it in order to test what it intends to achieve in the USA. Let us remember that the extreme right began as the official policy of the country. Hyperconservative evangelism began as an American project (see the 1969 Rockefeller report) to combat "the insurrectionary potential" of liberation theology. And let it be said, in support of the truth, that for a long time its main ally was Pope John Paul II.

(8) Since 2014, Brazil has been experiencing a process of continuous coup d'état, the response of the elites to the progress that the popular classes obtained with the governments of President Lula. This process did not end with your victory. It just changed pace and tactics. Over these years and especially in the last electoral period, we have witnessed multiple illegalities and even political crimes committed with almost natural impunity. In addition to the many that were committed by the head of government, we saw, for example, senior officials of the Armed Forces and security forces calling for coups d'état and publicly taking sides with a presidential candidate while exercising their functions.

These coup-like behaviors must be exemplarily punished either on the initiative of the judicial system or through compulsory transfers to the reserve. Any idea of ​​amnesty, no matter how noble its motives, will be a trap in the way of your presidency. The consequences can be fatal.

(9) It is known that President Lula does not place high priority on characterizing his politics as being left or right. Interestingly, shortly before being elected President of Colombia, Gustavo Petro stated that the important distinction for him was not between left and right, but rather between politics of life and politics of death. Life policy in Brazil today is a sincere ecological policy, the continuity and deepening of racial and sexual justice policies, labor rights, investment in public health and education, respect for the demarcated lands of indigenous peoples and the enactment of demarcations pending.

Above all, a gradual but firm transition is needed from agrarian monoculture and natural resource extraction to a diversified economy that allows respect for different socioeconomic logics and virtuous articulations between the capitalist economy and the peasant, family, cooperative, social economies. -solidarity, indigenous, riverside, quilombola that have so much vitality in Brazil.

(10) The state of grace is short. It doesn't even last a hundred days (see Gabriel Boric in Chile). President Lula has to do everything not to lose the people who elected him. Symbolic politics is fundamental in the early days. One suggestion: immediately replace the National Conferences to give an unmistakable signal that there is another more democratic and participatory way of doing politics.

*Boaventura de Sousa Santos is full professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra. Author, among other books, of The end of the cognitive empire (authentic).

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