On 8 November 2019, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, popularly known as Lula, was released from prison after the Brazilian Supreme Court overturned a law requiring imprisonment of accused if their conviction sustains the first appeal. This case is expected to lead to the release of many of Lula’s allies, and re-energize the Workers’ party in Brazil.
Lula was raised in the early Cold War era of Brazil. Since 1964, the Brazilian military held tight control over the elections, where every leader had to be approved by the military. This led to a decline in worker’s rights, which influenced young Lula’s way of thinking.
As an adult, he joined the Steel labor union and helped organize strikes against multinational companies. He co-founded the Workers’ Party (PT) in 1980, and began running on a platform to change the system. They organized the “Diretas Já!” (Direct Now!) campaign where they demanded direct election of the President of Brazil by the people. Brazil got their first direct election in 1989. Lula ran for President, promising land reforms and defaulting of Brazil’s international debt.
He lost to Fernando Cardosa, who implemented many Neo-liberal financial reforms. Brazil’s debt increased from a third to over half of the GDP, and the Real (pron: Ri-al, symbol R$) was pegged to the American Dollar. Cardosa also implemented many welfare schemes to promote education.
In 2003, Lula won in the election. He implemented policies towards agrarian reform and poverty eradication. Though he won on a left-wing platform, Lula had to navigate business interests and a Neo-liberal international community. He built upon popular programs introduced by Cardosa’s government. Lula did not antagonize the IMF, and actually used the budget surplus to pay off Brazil’s IMF loans. Brazil escaped decades of being an indebted nation and became a crediting nation for the first time. He also followed many trends of privatization. He removed subsidies on agriculture and partially privatized the railways, which contributed to the budget surplus, and helped the Brazilian economy weather the global 2008 financial crisis. Internationally, he placed Brazil as a moderating force, keeping good relationships with countries all around, including Venezuela and the USA. He completed his two terms (the Presidential limit in Brazil) successfully with an approval rating of 90%, succeeded by his chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff.
From 2004, the infamous Mensalão scandal (monthly stipend scandal), where political parties were accused of using money from state-owner companies to buy votes from other parties, at a rate of R$ 30,000 per month to support their political projects, plagued the Lula government. R$ 30,000 was equal to Rs 7 lakh then, and the GDP per capita was approximately R$ 23,000 per year. The scandal was explosive, not because of its size, but because of its integration with the government. Brazilians were used to corruption, but using state funds to buy votes was a new variety. Lula was not
Another scandal, the Lava Jato (pron. lava auto, meaning Operation Car Wash), involving approximately Rs 20 cr, was a money laundering scheme that Lula was implicated in. The case was processed at an alarming speed, especially given a case of this size. The judge, Sergio Moro, has been accused of being against the Lula government and close to Bolsonaro with leaked Telegram messages, and audio recordings showing him mocking the defense cases, plotting with the prosecution to prevent Lula from running in 2018, and giving advice to the prosecution.