What visiting Lula in prison tells me about the fight for democracy in Brazil
Lula is a political prisoner. There is no evidence for any of the charges laid against him, and the judicial proceedings which were enacted to see him in jail could never be described as justice.
As Brazil heads towards a presidential election with a first-round vote on the 7th of October, it is even more evident to his opponents that he would again be the choice of the people.
The belief that if he is in prison he can’t stand for election is a powerful motivation for those arranged against him. When you consider his opponents — an illegitimate government born of a political coup, a crusading judge made into a celebrity by a media empire that has monopoly coverage, complicit security forces and vested corporate interests — the decks certainly seem stacked against him.
But too often those who would perpetrate human rights abuses and deny democratic rights and freedoms for others underestimate the determination of one man and the will of the people who love and defend him.
Visiting Lula in prison tells its own story.
He is not in prison in the capital or in São Paulo — where he lived — or any large city but a small city that is the judicial seat of the judge at the centre of this saga, Judge Moro. He is imprisoned in a federal police facility of which, ironically, as president he presided over the opening ceremony. A plaque on the wall testifies to this. Visits are limited to two hours twice a week, for two people at a time. He has no television or internet or access to a phone. He is in isolation.
And yet his spirit is indomitable. He will not concede on any front. Lula told Vagner Freitas, president of Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), and me in the hour we spent with him — an hour his family gave up for us to see him — that he will continue to contest his freedom as an innocent man and he will stand for president in the elections.
Lula told me he will run for president from his prison cell because “Brazilian people don’t have to live in poverty or without education, health, other public services and social protection. My people can have good jobs and decent wages. ”
He did it before, remember. Lula as president reduced poverty, expanded social protection, raised wages, increased jobs, presided over a growing economy and placed Brazil as an emerging global power.
I have been privileged to watch this man stand with the world’s working people and negotiate at G20 summits for working people and in support of jobs, rights and just wages, for universal social protection, and to be more vigilant around the rights of migrant workers; I watched him call on global leaders to be more ambitious on climate at the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen and the Rio+20 Summit; the world saw him work to establish the dialogue of the emerging market economies — the BRICS — and to help build the BRICS Bank to help poorer countries in the world, pledging his post-presidency period to African development. We all watched him take on the orthodoxy of global thinking even as he worked to provide security and prosperity for his own people.
I was privileged to see the determination and love of the people who will stand by his side in the quest for his freedom and for his political rights. There is a permanent camp holding vigil with Lula outside his prison — people from all over the country marking 125 days of imprisonment on the day I was there. There are delegations who arrive every week like “Doctors for Democracy” and a solidarity group from Uruguay. Lula’s support team chants “Good morning Lula” and “Goodnight Lula” over the prison fence to him every day. He says they feed his spirit. And of course there are the faces of other supporters all over Brazil.
In the face of a media that is their enemy in the quest for Lula’s freedom, they support a sophisticated social media network, and journalists have taken up residency in the camp. There is love and there is optimism wrapped in a determination that will see justice in Brazil restored.
The unions led by his own CUT are central to the campaign of resistance, and I can unreservedly say that their international confederation, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), stands with them. The 7th of October is also the World Day for Decent Work, and unions around the world will spread the message to free Lula — Lula Libre.
And thankfully the UN Political and Civil Rights Covenant is still alive with the UN Human Rights Committee issuing a decision statement on the 17th of August that Lula cannot be prevented from standing for the 2018 elections.
It’s a terrible pity that few leaders of democratic nations have spoken out about this travesty of justice and that the world of corporate interest appears more important than democracy, human rights and the rule of law. But it is the people that know the power and the freedom of peace, democracy, rights and social justice.
While judges in Brazil ruled on the 31st of August that Lula cannot stand for the presidency, the message from Lula is we will never give up. An appeal is underway in the Brazil’s Supreme Court.
That’s what the fight for democracy in Brazil shows us — we can never give up.
We stand with Lula.