In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court of Brazil overturned the corruption conviction of former two-term President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), according to BBC News. The conviction was related to the massive anti-corruption investigation known as “Operation Car Wash” that exposed the largest corruption scandal in Latin America. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that Lula’s conviction was invalid because the court he was tried in lacked jurisdiction. He was convicted of money laundering in 2017 and subsequently barred from running for office in 2018 when he was considered the frontrunner in the presidential race. With no significant opposition, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro won the election.
Lula was President of Brazil from 2003 to 2010 as the leader of the left-wing Worker’s Party. According to The Guardian, Lula oversaw the largest economy in Latin America during his eight years in office. Under his administration, 28 million people were lifted out of poverty and Brazil underwent a significant period of economic growth. He remained incredibly popular in Brazil despite his conviction in 2017, which many people viewed as politically motivated.
According to The Intercept, there were many disparities among the judges who voted in Lula’s original trial, creating doubt in people’s minds about its authenticity. The Supreme Court found that a judge in Lula’s case had illegally collaborated with the prosecutors to help ensure Lula’s conviction. This judge, Sergio Moro, later became the justice minister in President Bolsonaro’s administration. The court found that Moro expedited trial dates so that Lula’s defense could not put together coherent arguments, all but ensuring that Lula would be convicted and barred from running for office before the 2018 elections. The Supreme Court also found that Moro had committed an “abuse of power” and nullified all of the Car Wash charges made by his court against Lula including allowing him to run for president again.
This ruling comes at a conspicuous time for President Bolsonaro who is facing a lot of criticism for his handling of the coronavirus. According to The Washington Post, the outbreak in Brazil is “worse than it’s ever been” with nearly 500,000 new cases and nearly 13,000 deaths reported during last week alone. Throughout the pandemic, Bolsonaro consistently downplayed the virus, calling it a “measly flu” while mocking masks and lockdowns. He contracted COVID-19 early in the pandemic and touted unproven cures, such as hydroxychloroquine, to the public. He consistently undermined his health officials and in the span of the pandemic, has gone through four health ministers, two of whom resigned because of his response. According to Time, he told Brazilians, early in March, to “stop whining” about the rising death tolls and spread vaccine misinformation, saying it could “turn people into crocodiles.”
Lula excoriated Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic in a speech delivered shortly after the Court’s ruling came down, saying “This country is in a state of utter tumult and confusion because there’s no government,” reports The Guardian. He also told CNN that “[Bolsonaro] prefers to wake up at four o’clock in the morning, tell his lies through his mobile phone… and we have been producing fake news as we’ve never seen in the history of Brazil, and he’s not dealing seriously.” Lula’s outspokenness has fueled speculation that he may run for president against Bolsonaro in 2022, and when asked, he replied “I will not deny that invitation.” Although he is 75 years old, he claims he still has a lot of energy, and has led Bolsonaro by 12 points in a recent poll.
In his speech, Lula spoke about the importance of getting vaccinated and remaining vigilant in the face of the virus, according to The Guardian. He encouraged the use of masks and social distancing and spoke about the strength of the Brazilian people. Politicians from across the political spectrum praised his tone which struck a deep contrast to Bolsonaro’s fleeting attitude towards the virus. Time reports that Bolsonaro is now changing his tune on the virus and trying to acquire more vaccines from Russia, China, and Pfizer. It is clear to him that in the upcoming election, Lula remains his biggest threat.