And at the hour of our death, amen!

Blanca Alaníz, series Dios en la Tierra, digitalized analog photography, Mexico City, 2019.
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By GILBERTO LOPES*

Strange scenarios of death in Brazil today

“I was forbidden to visit my brother in a coffin. They wanted to take me to São Paulo (from the city of Curitiba, 400 km away, where I was arrested), to the headquarters of the 2nd Army, in the Ibirapuera neighborhood, and that my brother, inside his coffin, would visit me. And they added that he couldn't take any pictures”. Strange operation, hard to imagine. It was January 2019 and considerations on why former President Lula should not attend his brother Vavá's wake included the danger of his trying to flee, or the possibility of political demonstrations in his favor, or against him. Apart from all sorts of logistical considerations. The final proposal was to meet with family members at the São Paulo barracks after the burial. Lula rejected it, considering that it was neither the right time nor the right place for a meeting that, under these circumstances, would only aggravate the family's pain.

How to flog a dead horse

Strange scenarios of death in Brazil today. The country plunges into the deadliest chapter of Covid-19, read the headline in the British newspaper The Guardian, last weekend. With 120 million cases worldwide and about 2,7 million deaths, Brazil is heading towards 300 thousand deaths due to the pandemic and now leads the list of daily deaths, with more than two thousand, far above the United States, in second place.

“It's like flogging a dead horse,” said Brazilian specialist in infectious diseases André Machado, quoted by the English newspaper. The disease spreads across the country much faster than any measures to combat it. Among other reasons, the spread of a new strain, more contagious and deadly than the previous ones, possibly originating in the Amazon region, but which has already spread throughout the country. A disastrous situation, which would have led to the resignation of the Minister of Health, General Eduardo Pazuello, last weekend, citing health reasons.

Since February, it was reported that the health system had collapsed in Manaus. Oxygen was lacking and the government was unable to meet demand and organize supply. Since the start of the pandemic, Bolsonaro has downplayed its importance, rejected the use of masks and social distancing, and discarded the priority of buying vaccines. The result is for all to see. Thousands of people saw their loved ones die. More than 270 lost their lives, recalled Lula, expressing his solidarity with the victims of the coronavirus, their families, the professionals of the Unified Health System (SUS), which the Bolsonaro government has defunded. We have a president who promoted chloroquine. This is not the role of a republican president in the civilized world. Lula recalled that the virus “killed nearly two thousand people tonight. Many of these deaths could have been prevented if the government had done the bare minimum.”

“The problem with the vaccine is not money, it is knowing the role of a president of the republic in caring for his people. Brazil does not deserve to go through what it is going through. A president is not elected to promote the purchase of weapons, as Bolsonaro did. Those who need weapons are the armed forces, the police. But not Brazilian society, nor the militias, nor the landowners, to kill the landless”, said Lula. “He doesn't know what it's like to be president of the republic. Never been anything in life. Neither as a lieutenant nor as a deputy for 32 years. With fake news the world chose a Trump, with the fake news chose a Bolsonaro”, he added, to end by suggesting to Brazilians that they do not follow “any stupid decision of the president of the republic, nor of the minister of health”: “vaccinate yourself, but then continue to take care of yourself!

The most important speech

On March 10, the former president made one of the most important speeches of his political career. Two days earlier, a decision by a member of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), Minister Edson Fachin, had annulled all the convictions that a court in Curitiba had imposed on him for alleged acts of corruption. Released provisionally after more than 500 days in prison, pending the final processing of the sentence, Lula was also waiting for the resolution of several appeals presented by his defense against the procedures of prosecutors and judge Sergio Moro, which he considered to be violating his rights. Among them, the one now decided by Fachin, in which the defense lawyers questioned the pertinence of Lula being tried by the courts of Curitiba. An arbitrary decision, which placed him in the hands of a group created to investigate acts of corruption at the Brazilian oil company Petrobras, of which Lula was not accused.

From that moment on, all kinds of abuses against the accused followed, which the criminal lawyer and public defender, Silvana Lobo, summarized, stressing that what Judge Sergio Moro had done was absurd. Among the facts denounced by the public defender were the wiretapping of Lula's lawyers; the fact that people were coercively taken by the police to provide clarification, without having been previously summoned (an abuse of authority that is now a crime under Brazilian law); the disclosure of private telephone conversations between the then president of the republic and the former president (which is also a crime under Brazilian law); or the recommendation to the prosecution of witnesses who should be heard.

The lawyer also recalled that Judge Moro suspended his vacation abroad to return to Brazil and prevent a substitute judge from ordering the release of Lula, who was already being held in Curitiba. “Is this not a personal interest in the case?” asked the lawyer. A totally inappropriate behavior for a judge, who then leaves the judiciary as a national hero to occupy the position of superminister of justice in the Bolsonaro government? Today it has become clear that the objective of the operation was to condemn Lula and prevent him from being a presidential candidate in the 2018 elections. Elections in which all polls showed him as the favorite. Barred from participating, the current president, Jair Bolsonaro, finally triumphed.

Delicate moment

“We are living a delicate moment”, said the former president. This country is totally without a government. The government does not take care of the economy, jobs, wages, the environment, education, young people”. Lula recalled that Brazil has become the sixth largest economy in the world. “But they never heard me talk about the privatization of a public company, like Banco do Brasil or Petrobras. We have not discovered the pre-salt extraordinary reserves to export crude oil. We discovered the pre-salt to export derivatives, to have a powerful petrochemical industry in Brazil. Nowadays, everything is being destroyed,” he said.

Petrobras has become the fourth largest energy company in the world, investing around US$800 million a year. Today, there is little doubt that control of the company and the businesses it manages was one of the greatest ambitions of those behind Lava Jato, especially in the United States, where they provided data on financial operations useful for Lava Jato to advance. in the investigations of their interest.

Created around corruption at Petrobras, Lava Jato gained enormous popularity in Brazil, but even more quickly became a devastating economic and political instrument. Attorneys privately negotiated with the United States the delivery of sensitive and crucial information about the company and the pre-salt reserves. They claimed to have recovered millions of dollars paid as bribes or kickbacks. But studies published in Brazil estimate that Operation Lava Jato resulted in losses of US$34 billion in foreign investment and more than four million jobs, in addition to the damage caused to Petrobras and other Brazilian companies, especially construction companies.

“How is it possible – asked Lula – that the price of Brazilian fuel follows the international price, if the country is not an oil importer? We produce the raw material here, we take it from the bottom of the sea, we refine it here, we produce gasoline for jets, we produce diesel with the quality that is produced in the European Union. Why, then, does the price of gasoline in Brazil have to follow the international price? We, who are a country with the most important technology for oil exploration in deep waters, are getting rid of it in order to serve the interests of the oil market god.

The former president denounced the sale for only 3,9 billion reais, to no one knows who, of the fuel distributor BR, whose sales, in 2019, reached 70 billion reais (the dollar was around five reais). “Have you ever heard (Economy Minister Paulo) Guedes say a word about economic growth, about development, about income distribution? No! He is only interested in selling. But after selling and spending the money, the country will be poorer”, said Lula. The result of all this, he said, is that “the country has become poorer”. “We must not allow a citizen who causes the evils that Bolsonaro is causing to continue governing and continue to sell the country.”

the only statesman

The fate of the former president is still under discussion and should be decided by the plenary of the STF, probably next week. But it seems unlikely – given the arguments put forward to overturn his convictions – that he will be jailed again. “Lula's return to center stage reaffirmed some certainties: he is the only active statesman in Brazil, and one of the most important in the world”, in the opinion of Brazilian journalist Rodrigo Vianna, who writes for the portal Brazil247.

Vianna’s article aims to analyze the Brazilian political scenario and how the conservative press – which was instrumental in Lula’s arrest, the coup against Dilma Rousseff and Bolsonaro’s victory – reacted to the former president’s reappearance as a political actor in the country. Lula's dimension on the international scene was evident in his speech, when he thanked the world leaders who had shown their support. On the list were Pope Francis, US Senator Bernie Sanders, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, the German Martin Schulz, the former President of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero... But, above all, the leaders stood out. Latin Americans. Among them, the Argentine president, Alberto Fernández, who had already visited him when he was arrested in Curitiba; former Uruguayan president, Pepe Mujica; Bolivian Evo Morales; Venezuelan Nicolás Maduro and Cuban Miguel Díaz Canel.

The list does not include Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico or Ecuadorian Rafael Correa. But in three weeks, on April 11, there will be elections in Ecuador, with Correismo candidate Andrés Arauz as the favored candidate. If his victory is confirmed, Lula could find a Latin American political scenario very different from the one that prevailed when he was arrested, and assume a relevant role, as long as the annulment of the convictions and the judgments still pending against him are confirmed. The change in the regional scenario became evident last week, when the Argentine foreign minister, Felipe Solá, described the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Uruguayan Luis Almagro, as "absolutely immoral" for his contribution to the coup d'état in Bolivia, based on the report by the former chancellor of Costa Rica, Miguel González, head of that organization's observer mission for the 2019 Bolivian elections.

The Mercosur summit under the Argentine presidency is scheduled for March 26, in which the presidents of the four full member countries of Mercosur – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – will participate, and to which the presidents of Chile and Argentina were also invited. Bolivia. It would be the first meeting between the presidents of Argentina and Brazil, who have maintained an unusual distance between two neighbors that are the largest economies in the region. But the meeting was again postponed. Over the weekend, Fernández decided to convene the meeting virtually, “to protect the health of the participants”, without ruling out political reasons for changing the modality of the meeting.

On February 3, the Uruguayan president, Luis Lacalle Pou, met with Bolsonaro in Brasília, and later announced that they spoke about Mercosur and “discussed the easing of trade agreements with third countries”. An aspiration of the most conservative sectors in the region, which would contribute to weaken Mercosur mechanisms and facilitate free trade agreements between each of them with third countries.

In his speech, Lula recalled that, in addition to Mercosur, countries in the region had built Unasur. “We wanted to create a large Latin American economic bloc of 400 million people, with a reasonably large GDP, to negotiate on equal terms in Europe” a free trade agreement. “Europe”, said Lula, “only wants us to sell its industrial products and buy our agricultural products, but Brazil wants to be an industrialized country”. “We dreamed of this, we created the BRICS (the group comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), we created the BRICS bank, the Bank of the South”.

Brazil then had “a project of sovereignty”. It seems not now. Lula finally asked himself: “When am I going to wake up in the morning without having to ask the US government for permission to breathe?

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

 

 

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