Brazil's former president Lula walks free

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gestures after being released from prison, in Curitiba, Brazil November 8, 2019.
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gestures after being released from prison, in Curitiba, Brazil November 8, 2019. Rodolfo Buhrer, Reuters

Brazil's ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was freed from jail on Friday after a year and a half behind bars for corruption, following a court ruling that could release thousands of convicts.


The former president, wearing a black T-shirt and suit jacket, pumped his fist in the air as he left federal police headquarters in the southern city of Curitiba and was quickly mobbed by supporters and journalists.

Hundreds of red-shirted Brazilians applauded the 74-year-old politician, who rose from poverty to lead the country through an economic boom, as he walked out of the building. "You have no idea the dimension of the significance of me being here with you," Lula told jubilant supporters, thanking individual union leaders and members of his leftist Workers' Party. "They didn't arrest a man. They tried to detain an idea. An idea doesn't disappear."

His release came less than a day after the Supreme Court ruled that suspects cannot be held in prison until they have exhausted their rights to appeal. The leftist icon, who had been serving a nearly nine-year sentence for corruption and money laundering, is one of several thousand convicts who could benefit from the decision.


Critics say the ruling could also mean that those who can afford expensive lawyers could drag out the appeals process for years.

Many of those affected by the 6-5 ruling are political and business leaders caught up in a massive corruption probe dubbed "Car Wash", which began in 2014.

Lula was "very serene" and the Supreme Court ruling had given him "hope that there could be justice," his lawyer Cristiano Zanin said earlier.

"Our judicial battle continues, our focus is to get the legal case nullified."

A hero to millions

Lula, who led Brazil through a historic boom from 2003 to 2010, earning him the gratitude of millions of Brazilians for redistributing wealth to haul them out of poverty, had been serving a sentence of eight years and 10 months for corruption.

He was sentenced to almost 13 additional years in jail in February in a separate corruption case and still faces another half dozen corruption trials.

Lula has denied all the charges, arguing they were politically motivated to keep him out of the 2018 presidential election that was won by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.


Supreme Court could rule Lula’s conviction as biased

Local media and commentators have already begun speculating as to whether Lula could once again join the presidential race as a candidate in the 2022 election, as newspaper Folha de São Paulo speculated. “The Curitiba boy has his mind set exclusively on that”, a Lula ally told the media outlet.

Although he is now free, Lula's criminal record could nevertheless prevent him from resuming his political career, as Brazilian law prohibits anyone convicted of a serious crime from running for office. This could change, however, if the Supreme Court were to decide in a separate case that current Justice Minister Sérgio Moro had shown bias in Lula’s case.

In a long series of articles, Glenn Greenwald’s investigative site The Intercept accused Moro of such, even though he was then the presiding judge.

In an interview with French media outlet Brut, Lula said the decision to run for president in 2022 “Is not a personal one, but depends on the circumstances” and declared he would be “ready for anything” if he feels the “obligation”. He nevertheless added that “the left-wing is growing now in Brazil and there will be many other possible candidates, so I don’t really need to be one of them”.

Il est emprisonné depuis 18 mois. Sa vie en détention, Bolsonaro, l'Amazonie, Macron… L'ancien président du Brésil Lula se livre à Brut depuis sa prison. Entretien exclusif.

Publiée par Brut sur Mardi 5 novembre 2019


"I'm coming for you, wait for me!" Lula's girlfriend, Rosangela da Silva, tweeted after the Supreme Court announced its decision.


"If all the others did worse [things] and are free, why not him too?" Eleonora Cintra, a 74-year-old resident of Sao Paulo, told AFP.


Far-right president Bolsonaro unusually quiet

Bolsonaro, who had been unusually quiet about the court's ruling that could free his nemesis, later tweeted on Saturday, asking his supporters "not to give ammunition to the scoundrel". "Lovers of freedom and good, we are a majority. We cannot make mistakes," the rightwing president tweeted, adding that Lula "who is momentarily free, but guilty," referring to the leftist leader's corruption conviction.

His sons also took to Twitter to attack the court's ruling: "Thousands of prisoners will be released and rattle everyone, regardless of their political beliefs, generating serious internal and external social and economic reactions," Carlos Bolsonaro tweeted.


Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who convicted Lula when he was a judge in 2017, said the Supreme Court's decision must be respected, but he noted "Congress can modify the Constitution or the law" to allow the jailing of convicted criminals after their first appeal. 

If he is freed, Lula's criminal record will prevent him from resuming his political career. He was the founder of the Workers Party (PT).

That could change, however, if the Supreme Court were to decide in a separate case that Moro had been biased.

Lula's release could invigorate the left and, paradoxically, also help Bolsonaro, who was swept to power in 2018 on a wave of anti-PT sentiment, said Thomaz Favaro of Control Risks consultancy.

"You will have Lula more present on the political scene and that allows Bolsonaro to reinforce his role as leader of the anti-PT field," Favaro said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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