Former Brazilian President Launches Campaign to Unseat Far Right Bolsonaro

This week former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva formally launched his campaign to challenge Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro this October. Bolsonaro is being feared and may try to keep his position even if it ends in defeat, possibly with the support of the Brazilian military. Lula, a union leader who held office from 2003 through 2010, is running on a platform to lift up Brazil’s poor, preserve the Amazon rainforest and protect Brazil’s Indigenous communities. He was jailed in 2018 on trumped up charges. This allowed Jair Bolsonaro, far-right, to take power. But his convictions were overturned last year, allowing him to regain his political rights to challenge Bolsonaro. The presidential front-runners hold “two visions for Brazil,” says reporter Michael Fox, former editor of NACLA and host of the new podcast “Brazil on Fire.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.

AMY GOODMAN:Today, we spend an hour looking at Brazil. This country is at a crossroads. On October 2nd, voters will head to the polls for one of the world’s most important elections of the year. Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is challenging Brazil’s current far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. Lula is running on a platform to reduce inequality, preserve the Amazon rainforest and protect Brazil’s Indigenous communities. He is a former union leader, who was president of Brazil from 2003-2010. He was a former union leader and served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. In 2018, he was jailed on trumped-up charges, paving the way for Bolsonaro’s election. After a Brazilian judge annulled all his convictions, Lula was finally released last year.

On Tuesday, Lula held his first campaign rally at a car factory outside São Paulo. Lula denounced Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID-19 Pandemic, which has claimed nearly 700,000 lives in Brazil.

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Bolsonaro, you didn’t believe in medicine; you believed in your lie. Because if there’s someone who is possessed by the devil, it is Bolsonaro. He’s a liar like I have never seen anyone lie. … I want Bolsonaro to hear my words: There will be no lies and no fake news that will keep you ruling this country, Bolsonaro. … We don’t want a government that distributes weapons; we want a government that distributes books. We don’t want a government that feeds hate; we want a government that feeds love.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva speaking Tuesday. Although polls show Lula leading the race, there is growing concern that President Jair Bolsonaro could try to steal elections, possibly with the support of the Brazilian military. Bolsonaro launched his reelection bid on Tuesday.

PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO: [translated]Our country doesn’t want to go backwards. We don’t want gender ideology in schools. Our country doesn’t want drugs legalized. Our country respects human life from its conception. Our country doesn’t want to be an ally to communism elsewhere; a country which wants a president who defends private land, and a country that more often preaches freedom for its citizens to raise their children. We will be discussing politics today so that tomorrow no one will stop us believing in God.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the Brazilian election, we’re joined by Michael Fox, freelance journalist, former editor of NACLA, host of new podcast Brazil on Fire. Fox’s most recent pieceFor NACLA is headlined “Brazil on Fire: Democracy and Dictatorship.” We are reaching him in Flores, Guatemala. He lives in Brazil most of the time.

Michael, welcome back to Democracy Now! We’re about, in our next segment, to talk about the murders of the journalist Dom Phillips and the Indigenous researcher Bruno Pereira and then talk about a new film about the struggle of the Indigenous in the Amazon. Put this in a broader context of the significance of this week, Lula’s announcement that he is running for president in the October election, and Bolsonaro possibly intimating that he might not leave even if he loses.

MICHAEL FOX:Amy, thank you so much. It was great to be back.

This is huge. And obviously you’re seeing two different visions for Brazil. The first, which Lula is pushing, is all about democracy. He says we need unity and that we must bring back the country we had many, many decades ago. Bolsonaro, however, is clearly pushing for a more authoritarian stance. That’s what we’ve seen in Brazil over the last four years. That’s what led, in large part, to kind of the Wild West attitude up in the Amazon, like you’re going to be talking about in a little bit, where Bolsonaro called for the development of the Amazon, and we saw this huge uptick in the amount of violence, invasions of Indigenous territories, killings and whatnot in that region. But this is extremely significant, what we’re seeing.

And it’s also really important to look at the two places that the different candidates went to just this week. ABC, São Paulo, where Lula was, that’s his home base. That’s where he got his start as a former union leader back in the 1970s, led the major marches that would then show the beginning of the end of the dictatorship. Bolsonaro was actually in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais. This is where he was stabbed four years ago during the campaign.

So they’re both kind of going back to their origins — Bolsonaro, kind of this renewal, using this kind of religious language, because, obviously, Bolsonaro, one of his main groups of support are the evangelicals, obviously, and so his focus on family values and whatnot, and Bolsonaro [sic] saying, “We can take this country back.” And that’s what many, many people have been talking about for a very long time. They’ve been excited about Lula’s candidacy since, you know, before he was jailed four years ago, with the idea of coming — returning to some sort of democratic normalcy.

AMY GOODMAN:You were actually present outside the jail both when he went to prison, and when it was time for him to come out. What is the significance of being exonerated from all charges?

MICHAEL FOX:It was enormous. I mean, he was not — and we have to put this into context, right? It wasn’t just one conviction that was against him. There were roughly two dozen accusations and convictions against him, and they’ve all been tossed out. And what it basically shows is we had a legal system that was being used in order to try and tank Lula and tank the left, take the Workers’ Party.

And, in fact, the Supreme Court came out just last year saying that Judge Sérgio Moro, who was the anti-corruption judge, was heralded by many on the right, in conservative sectors, for kind of attacking corruption across the country — and even the Supreme Court came out saying that he was biased in his conviction. And, of course, that was largely — we knew that, because of the leaks from The Intercept that came out back in June of 2019 that showed that Judge Sérgio Moro was actually in connection with prosecutors, was training them, was teaching the prosecutors, telling them what they needed to do, and also the prosecutors were trying to scheme about how to keep the Workers’ Party from coming back to power. So, it’s extremely complicated. This is Brazil’s history. It is very, very important and exciting to see Lula running again.

AMY GOODMAN:I would like to go back in 2018, when we spokeLula when he was running to be president. It was right before his imprisonment.

LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated]I was not accused for corruption. I was accused of lying in a police investigation and in an indictment filed by the Office of the Advocate General. Judge Moro ruled that I was innocent. My defense counsel explained the matter in a magisterial way.

AMY GOODMAN: So, at the time he then couldn’t run for president. Bolsonaro became President. Talk about Bolsonaro then being called the “Trump of the tropics,” what happened through the pandemic, and then what he’s talking about for this election, what he’s intimating — again, very similar to what we hear former President Trump saying.

MICHAEL FOX:They are very similar. The pandemic in Brazil was a disaster. Like you said, almost 700,000 dead. Bolsonaro fought against restrictions and lockdowns throughout his entire life. Bolsonaro stated that everyone needed to go back to work. He pushed unproven drugs and basically peddled fake news and conspiracy theories the entire way, said he wouldn’t wear a mask in public, and said it was fine; even if he got sick, it wasn’t a big deal. Even when vaccines came out — many different companies came to him offering those vaccines early — he refused to buy them. And that’s part of the reason why there were so many dead. And, in fact, it came out just last year in a Senate investigation that accused Bolsonaro of nine different crimes about — regarding the COVIDpandemic, which includes crimes against humanity for failing to protect Indigenous communities enough and, of course the lack of oxygen in Manaus when the oxygen ran dry, which was just another disaster. This is just an illustration. It’s a symbol for what Bolsonaro’s reality has been across the country, where he’s been pushing consistently conspiracy theories, lies and fake news, very, very similar to Trump. And he’s talking about doing the same thing.

Now, one thing, Amy, is really important to understand, however: He’s not focused on the issues. He doesn’t want to talk about inflation and doesn’t want to talk about the rising poverty. What he wants is to discuss so-called family value. He wants to talk about important issues for evangelicals. He wants to discuss the culture war of good against evil. He also wants to discuss abortion. He wants to talk about homosexuality, gutting, and fighting it. LGBTQ rights. These are the issues Bolsonaro believes he can win support on. And, of course, roughly — he basically won the 2018 election because of the evangelical vote. That was a huge accomplishment. It’s important to remember also that evangelicals have risen across the country in huge numbers, now make up roughly a third of the population. And this is the world’s largest Catholic country. This is why Bolsonaro finds this so important.

Lula is also fighting back. Lula, you know, he’s been embracing evangelicals more and more. He said that Bolsonaro was possessed by Satan, just like you heard in the quote. And so, he’s also trying to use that terminology to kind of push back there.

AMY GOODMAN:Do you think he could get the military to stop the election or change the outcome?

MICHAEL FOX:Amy, this is one the most important questions. He’s been calling on his people to turn out in the streets on September 7th, which is, of course — is Brazil’s Independence Day. It’s also the bicentennial Independence Day this year. Many are worried about what might happen. Is he likely to be able do a coup on January 6th? The big question is, will he be supported by the military? And that’s really up in the air. Now, we [inaudible]Sometimes, the military will push back against him. In fact, just last year we saw the largest military crisis in 20 or 30 years in Brazil, because Bolsonaro was — you know, he was asking his military officials to do things that they did not want to do. And so, the big question on everybody’s mind is: Is he going to try to do something like this? And we don’t really know what it’s going to look like at this point. What I can say is he’s going to continue to push his theme of fraud. He’s going to continue to say that they should be doing paper ballots. His latest comment was that the military should be filming voters in voting booths to ensure transparency.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Michael, we’re going to have —

MICHAEL FOX: What that really means is —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but I want to thank you so much for being with us. Michael Fox, freelance journalist, ex-editor of NACLAA new host for a television show is. podcast. It’s called Brazil on Fire: Democracy and DictatorshipPodcast a joint effort of NACLAThe Real News Network. Michael Fox’s wife’s grandmother, her uncle, friends, relatives, all died of COVID in Brazil.

Coming up, we’ll look at the recent murder of British journalist Dom Phillips and the Indigenous researcher Bruno Pereira in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, speaking with an Indigenous lawyer who’s just returned from the United States, where he was talking to congressmembers. He led a rescue operation for the two men.