Press Release Latin America and the Caribbean

Sending Brazil’s Former President Lula to Prison an “Assault on Democracy,” CEPR Co-Director Says

April 05, 2018

Contact: Karen Conner, (202) 293-5380 x117Mail_Outline

“Effort to Eliminate the Most Popular Presidential Candidate from Elections”

April 5, 2018

Contact: Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460

Washington, D.C. — The Supreme Court decision against Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s habeas corpus petition, regarding his conviction for charges that he received a bribe, despite lack of evidence, is intended to bar him from upcoming presidential elections, which polls show he could easily win, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mark Weisbrot stated in response to the news.

“The case against Lula has always a clear attempt to prevent a return of Workers’ Party government,” Weisbrot said, referring to the political party of Lula and his successor, Dilma Rousseff, who was ousted in 2016 in a process widely condemned as a coup d’etat. “Brazil’s rightwing knows that it wouldn’t stand a chance against Lula in this year’s elections, just as it twice lost elections to Lula before, and then twice more to Dilma. So, as with Dilma, they are using other means to keep him out of office.”

As Weisbrot wrote in The New York Times in January, the evidence against Lula is based on the testimony of one witness, José Aldemário Pinheiro Filho, who had his prison sentence reduced in exchange for turning state’s evidence, and who reportedly was blocked from plea bargaining when he originally told the same story as Lula. The bribe that Lula is alleged to have been received is an apartment owned by construction company OAS, Pinheiro’s former employer. But there is no documentary evidence that Lula or his wife ever received title to, rented, or even stayed in the apartment, or that they tried to accept the alleged gift.

Weisbrot wrote in The Times:

Mr. da Silva remains the front-runner in the October election because of his and the party’s success in reversing a long economic decline. From 1980 to 2003, the Brazilian economy barely grew at all, about 0.2 percent annually per capita. Mr. da Silva took office in 2003, and Ms. Rousseff in 2011. By 2014, poverty had been reduced by 55 percent and extreme poverty by 65 percent. The real minimum wage increased by 76 percent, real wages overall had risen 35 percent, unemployment hit record lows, and Brazil’s infamous inequality had finally fallen.

US members of Congress and UK members of Parliament, among others, have publicly condemned the persecution of Lula, noting (as US Congress members put it) the lack of “credible evidence” against him.

“This latest move to circumvent democratic process and keep a popular candidate out of office is another serious blow to Brazil’s democratic institutions,” Weisbrot said. “It’s the second in a one-two punch, the first being the unconstitutional impeachment and removal of elected president Dilma Rousseff in 2016 for something that had been done by previous administrations and was not even a crime.

“Democracy and the rule of law are eroding rapidly in Brazil, and Lula’s pending imprisonment has hastened this deterioration.”


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