In Brazil, Court Will Determine If Former President Will Run Again

Jan 23, 2018
Originally published on January 23, 2018 8:28 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Tomorrow is a critical day for Brazil and for one of the giants of Latin American politics. Former president Lula da Silva, or Lula, as he's known, was convicted last year of taking bribes as part of a massive corruption probe known as Car Wash. Well, tomorrow a court will hear his appeal. Lula is actually leading the polls ahead of this year's presidential election, and this judge's ruling could make or break his hopes of a comeback. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: In July, Lula da Silva was sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison. The judge said Lula could remain free while he appeals his conviction.

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LULA DA SILVA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Since then, Lula's toured Brazil, drumming up support for a third term and pleading his innocence.

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LULA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "I know I haven't committed a crime," Lula told a recent rally in Rio de Janeiro organized by his Workers' Party. He says the accusations are politically motivated. Lula da Silva was president of Brazil twice. When he left office in 2011, his ratings were around 80 percent partly thanks to an economic boom. Lula was credited with social programs lifting millions out of poverty. Many admired him as a factory worker and union leader who made it to the top using remarkable political skills.

BRUNO BOGHOSSIAN: He's a very, very charismatic figure.

REEVES: Bruno Boghossian is chief political reporter of Brazil's Folha newspaper.

BOGHOSSIAN: He's charismatic with the people, and he's charismatic with other politicians. Everywhere Lula is, he's the center of attention.

REEVES: Lula's certainly the center of attention now.

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REEVES: Demonstrations for and against him are underway today on the eve of the appeal hearing. More are expected tomorrow in Brazil's southern city of Porto Alegre where the court will sit. Thousands of extra police are being deployed.

Lula was convicted of accepting a beachside apartment from a construction company in return for favors. If the court upholds that conviction, the law says that'll make him ineligible to run in Brazil's election. Murillo de Aragao is a political scientist and a lawyer who thinks this is a critical moment for Lula.

MURILLO DE ARAGAO: He is a historical personality in a very dramatic manner because he had a dramatic career to became president. And he now is facing the sequels of the endemic corruption that we had in Brazil.

REEVES: Yet de Aragao says if Lula loses tomorrow's appeal, it won't necessarily be the end of the road. To be finally kicked out of the election contest, Lula has officially to register as a candidate. At that point, his case would be referred to the electoral courts. This may not happen for months. Meanwhile, Lula has other appeal options. The first round of Brazil's election is in October. Right now, Lula's well ahead in the polls with a far-right contender, Jair Bolsonaro, in second place.

On Brazil's streets, public opinion about Lula is divided.

LUCIANA BASTOS: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "It'll be a total defeat of Lula comes back," says Luciana Bastos, a seamstress in Rio. She thinks he's been involved in too many scandals.

JOSE PAULO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: I'd vote for him again, says Jose Paulo, a popcorn seller. Paulo thinks Lula did a lot for Brazil's poor.

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LULA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Even Lula's enemies agree that at 72, he remains a fighter. At that recent gathering in Rio, he certainly didn't sound like someone who's giving up.

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LULA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "If my party wants me, Lula, a little old man, I'll run," he said, "no matter what." Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAPTER FOU'S "ORACLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.