After One Year in Prison the Struggle to Free Lula Continues

April 7, 2019

Lula surrounded by unionist prior to entering jail. Photo: Ricardo Stuckart

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva landed from a helicopter on the Curitiba’s Federal Police headquarters, in southern Brazil and has now spent the last 364 days there serving a 12-year prison term, among books, letters and his firm belief that he will not exchange “his dignity for freedom.” Dressed in a dark suit and looking tired, the former workers’ president who governed Brazil between 2003 and 2010 was imprisoned a year ago after spending 48 hours surrounded by militants of the metalworkers union from the state of Sao Paulo.

In a special 15- square meter long jail, especially adapted for him for being an ex-president, the 73 years old ex-trade union leader observed justice denying his candidacy for the 2018 presidential elections and watching as the extreme right took power by the hand of Jair Bolsonaro, while the judiciary of his country continued trying to create new sentences against him.

On two separate occasions during his incarceration he received devastating news from his family on the outside. First his older brother Genival Inacio da Silva died the end of January due to cancer, this was followed by the death of his grandson Arthur March 1 due to an infection. Despite his emotional fatigue with sentences that now totals 25 years in prison, Lula’s head is held high and he keeps alive the hope of proving his innocence to honor the memory of his grandson and his late wife Marisa Leticia, according to his closest friends.

They say the politician is mentally good and his usually aphonic voice has improved during the last months, during which time Brazil’s most charismatic ex president has also lost some weight. His routine is strict. He wakes up around six in the morning, two hours later he goes out of his cell to have breakfast -usually a piece of bread with butter or ham. He also exercises almost daily inside his cell, located on the fourth floor of Curitiba’s Federal Police headquarters, where he has a running machine.

From his special room, he follows the country’s political reality, which has changed radically to the right since Bolsonaro took office. This was his closest contender before the electoral justice vetoed his candidacy for being sentenced to 12 years and one month in prison due to passive corruption and money laundering.

Politics, “his passion,” is the usual topic of conversation every Thursday, when he can be visited by his family, friends and allies. He talks to them about “the country’s situation, the international shame Brazil is living under or the need of resuming social protection policies for the poorest,” commented Emidio Souza, a lawyer who visits the Lula weekly.

The Federal Police building, opened during his Administration in 2007, became the Workers’ Party main electoral office during 2018 where Lula guided the steps of his political godson Fernando Haddad, who replaced him as candidate just a month before the elections.

In order to face the loneliness in his cell, Lula has thrown himself into reading. During his first 57 days there, he read 21 books. Up to last week, the former union leader was reading about crude oil. But, lately, his favorite book is “O Alufa Rufino” (2010), about the slave trade and freedom in the Black Atlantic between 1822 and 1853. The pragmatic leader of the Worker’s Party is also devoting part of his time to reading letters sent by his supporters, friends and fellow party members. He also watches some television he can only get public access channels. As a football fan Lula regrets not being able to follow the European champion league and his team, the Corinthians, according to one of his friends. This television does have a USB entry port so he is able to watch films, such as A Twelve-Year Night (2018), which won a Goya prize for Best Adapted Screenplay. It tells the story about the imprisonment of Uruguay’s ex-president Jose Pepe Mujica -Lula’s close friend-, Mauricio Rosencof and Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro when they were members of the Tupamaros National Liberation Movement.

The first thing he will do when he is set free, Souza added, is to give a hug to those who are waiting for him outside the Federal Police headquarters to thank them for their resistance. “People are resisting to defend his freedom. Emotionally that means a lot to him.

Meanwhile, the Army is pressuring the Supreme Court of Justice to delay  the possible liberation of Lula. The information was given to him a few days ago by former minister and union leader Luiz Marinho, who has been one of Lula’s closest associates for four decades.

“We hope soldiers will not interfere in the process to free Lula. In fact, the question is what will be the role played by soldiers regarding Lula’s case,” said Marinho, who is also the former Workers Minister, former chairperson of the Workers’ Federation and former candidate to the Sao Paulo government for the Workers’ Party. Marinho makes this reference about soldiers based on a Tweet posted by then Army chief Eduardo Villas Boas who warned against , “any exemption in the sentence of Lula in the Supreme Court” on March 2018, hours before it discussed a habeas corpus about Lula. The habeas corpus was denied and Villas Boas was rewarded by becoming Bolsonaro’s special advisor, gaining a seat inside the Presidential Palace.

“Soldiers avoided Lula’s freedom with their threats and statements during Lula’s trial. We just hope this process will be reviewed and Lula is set free,” said Marinho.

About 100 cities are going to mobilize next Sunday to demand Lula’s freedom, due to alleged corruption by former Judge Sergio Moro (Bolsonaro’s current Justice Minister) and the Porto Alegre Appellate Court.

Source: Pagina 12, translation, Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau