Brazil’s so-called most popular politician, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, said that the “political persecution” he is facing will not deter him running for president in the next election — a scenario his rivals would like to avoid.
Lula mocked the corruption accusations that allege he orchestrated a bribery scheme in the state-run oil company, Petrobras, saying that the only “gang” his government set up during his two-term presidency was one that went on to create 22 million jobs and lift 36 million people out of extreme poverty.
“If you think you will pressure me into not being a candidate,” Lula said, addressing his critics during a fiery speech to supporters in Rio de Janeiro Monday night, “you will be my main campaigner in this country,” suggesting that any politically motivated campaigns against him will only strengthen his resolve.
Lula accused prosecutors and political rivals of trying to sully the image of his Workers’ Party, known as the PT, to block him from becoming a candidate in the 2018 presidential race. He vowed to “keep fighting” for Brazil.
The comments were part of a campaign rally for Jandira Feghali, a candidate with Brazil’s Communist Party in Rio’s municipal elections. The Communist Party has been in an alliance with Lula’s PT since his first of three unsuccessful runs for president in 1989.
Some 1,000 supporters cheered on Lula’s address. A childhood shoeshine boy, former labor leader and founding member of both the PT and one of the country’s main labor unions, known as the CUT, Lula was celebrated as the most popular president in Brazil — and one of the most popular in the world — when he left office after two terms in 2010.
Democracy Is Dead in Brazil
Lula highlighted some of the achievements of the PT in his speech, particularly programs to combat poverty, slash illiteracy, and improve public education. Under Lula from 2003 to 2010 and former President Dilma Rousseff from 2011 until this year, the party is credited with cutting unemployment and poverty by more than half and expanding public education and health services.
“I proved that it was possible to change the history of this country,” he said. “In Brazil, the poor stopped being a problem. They became part of the solution.”
The rousing speech comes after controversial federal judge Sergio Moro accepted formal accusations against Lula alleging he was a mastermind behind a Petrobras fraud network and personally benefited with two gifted properties. Public prosecutors leveled the accusations as part of the investigations known as “Operation Car Wash,” which have targeted dozens of politicians and executives linked to the Petrobras scandal.
Lula slammed the move as “legal persecution” lacking sound evidence, which he argued was driven by an attempt to “exclude” him from the country’s “political life.” The former president has not been convicted of a crime, but could be prosecuted as the case moves forward. If convicted, he could be barred from running for office.
Critics argue that the accusations against Lula are aimed at ruling out his candidacy and discrediting the PT as part of a campaign to cement the conservative revival ushered in by the removal of Rousseff from office in a move widely condemned as a parliamentary coup.
Recent polls have positioned Lula as the favored candidate in the 2018 presidential election.