Lula and the Return of Hope to Brazil

By Richard Burgon MP

Brazil’s upcoming election is not just crucial for Latin America’s largest and most populous country, but one with significant ramifications around the globe.

Far-right President Bolsonaro is trailing in the polls to former Brazilian Workers Party (PT) President Lula, with elections due to take place in October.

The choice could not be starker. a continuation of the hard-line neoliberal politics and increasingly authoritarian policies of the far-right. Or a return to the world-renowned program of social progress started during Lula’s first presidential term that came to an end a decade ago.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former metal worker, trade union leader, activist against the military dictatorship, and founder of the PT, became Brazil’s first working class president in 2003. Fondly known as “Lula,” he implemented landmark poverty reduction programs such as the Bolsa Familia (family allowance) and Fome Zero (zero hunger) which have been credited with lifting over 20 million from poverty and reducing extreme poverty by half.

He oversaw a drive for equality which included introducing indigenous rights, legislation to tackle violence against women and massively expanding access to higher education and public health for Brazil’s diverse population.

As a former trade unionist, he oversaw a tremendous uplift in workers’ and trade union rights, for example pegging the minimum wage to inflation raises. All these remarkable achievements saw him leave office with the highest approval rating of any Brazilian president ever.

But all the gains made under Lula came under threat after a parliamentary coup in 2016 that saw his elected successor Dilma Rousseff removed from office and the far-right take power. Dilma had been Brazil’s first female president and was Lula’s former Chief of Staff.

After two years of coup-government rule, the 2018 presidential election was set to see the return of Lula as a candidate, with the former president polling twice that of his nearest rival – the relatively unknown far-right senator Jair Bolsonaro.

Yet Brazilian democracy was stolen once again. In a politically motivated and now disgraced ruling, Lula was convicted of phony corruption charges, removed from the election and jailed for 580 days. This travesty of justice has been called the biggest judicial scandal in Brazilian history, and leaked wiretaps have now shown Lula’s sentencing judge was tasked with stopping the PT at the election. The judge later went on to become Bolsonaro’s Justice Minister!

Bolsonaro subsequently won that election and set about implementing a regressive, racist and increasingly authoritarian agenda that has impacted on every sector of Brazilian society.

His disastrous handling of the pandemic, echoing Trump’s misinformation about Covid, saw over 660,000 people lose their lives. Social programs, environmental and indigenous protections, workers’ rights and legislation enshrining LGBT and women’s equality by law have been rolled back.

We have witnessed the most destructive period for the Brazilian Amazon in recorded history, with illegal mining and logging spurred on by the far right regime’s extractivist agenda. With this has come attacks, killings, and increasing threats against indigenous communities – the first line of defence for the environment.

The horrific killings of Guardian journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira as they travelled to a remote part of the Amazon to carry out research on indigenous communities have shone a global spotlight on the threats faced by many indigenous and environmental defenders at this critical time for the Amazon.

Despite the difficult circumstances faced, Brazilians have been fighting back with a wide movement of resistance against Bolsonaro.

This movement is now spearheaded by Lula, with his political rights restored and his name cleared. His election would represent the return of hope to Brazil after a dark period for the history books.

Not only crucial for the millions of Brazilians fighting for a better Brazil, this election will have a far-reaching global impact with, for example, the future of the Amazon, often labelled “the lungs of the planet,” at stake.

Lula’s return would not only bolster the growing strength of the Latin American left, which has seen a new wave of left governments in recent years, but, as the world’s fifth largest country, would strengthen progressive movements the world over. 

It is also a clear battleground against the far right with Bolsonaro, like Trump, acting as a figurehead for wannabe authoritarians globally.

There is a huge amount at stake in this election. Recent history shows powerful forces will have no compunction at all in undermining Brazil’s democracy once again. So, we need to play our part in building international solidarity. Join me this week to discuss how we can stand firmly on the side of Brazilian democracy, equality and social progress.

  • Please join Richard Burgon at 7pm on Thursday, June 23rd for an online rally in support of Lula and the return of hope to Brazil – register your place here.
  • Richard will be speaking alongside Julia Felmanas, Núcleo PT Londres; Aline Piva, Progressive International Latin America Coordinator; Rodrigo Toneto, PT Youth activist; Jess Barnard, Young Labour Chair; Luke Daniels, Caribbean Labour Solidarity; plus international representatives from Lula’s campaign to be announced.
  • The meeting is hosted by the Brazil Solidarity Initiative. You can follow the BSI on Facebook and twitter, and sign the public statement in support of Lula here.

Richard Burgon is Labour MP for Leeds East and former Shadow Justice Secretary 2016-9.

Image: Lula da Silva. Source: Agência Brasil. Author: Antonio Cruz,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Brazil license.

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