Favela Residents Weigh In: Why Lula Should Be In Jail, Why Lula Should Be Free

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For the original article in Portuguese by Michel Silva published on Favela em Pauta click here.

Thousands of Brazilians are accompanying the outcome of the arrest of the former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, through various media channels. Known for his populist approach to government, Lula’s 50 years of political action divide opinions. The polarization in the country is also reflected in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, where recently the discussion of whether there are ‘right-wing poor people’ has been gaining prominence. Other residents say that the politics of the Left’s base has weakened social movements in the favelas in recent decades.

Lula was sentenced in 2017 by federal judge Sergio Moro to 9 years and 6 months in prison, as well as receiving a fine, for crimes of passive bribery and money laundering. He is accused of receiving R$2.2 million (currently about US$645,700) in bribes from OAS, a contractor involved in the corruption schemes investigated under Operation Car Wash. According to Moro, in exchange for political favors to OAS, the former president benefited from the awarding and renovation of a triplex apartment in Guarujá, on the coast of São Paulo.

Hours before he turned himself in to the Federal Police in São Paulo, the former president gave an emotional speech on a truck at the ABC Metalworkers’ Union in São Bernardo do Campo. “I’m not above justice. If I did not believe in justice, I wouldn’t have created a political party. I would have proposed a revolution in this country. But I believe in justice, in a fair justice, in a justice of due process, based on information from the prosecution, the defense, on concrete proof with a smoking gun,” Lula said.

He added: “What I cannot accept is a lawyer who made a Powerpoint and went on television to say that the Workers’ Party (PT) is a criminal organization that was created to steal from Brazil. That Lula, being the most important figure of this party, is the boss, and if Lula is the boss, the lawyer says, ‘I do not need evidence, I am certain.’ I would like him to keep those convictions for their cronies, for their minions and not for me. A thief certainly would not be demanding proof. He would be frozen still with his mouth shut, hoping the press would not speak his name. ”

We looked for favela residents to hear their views on the detention of former president Lula and what he represents for society. We reiterate the importance and value of freedom of expression—the right of everyone to freely express opinions, ideas, and personal thoughts without fear of retaliation or censorship by the government or other members of society. The following opinions do not contribute to the propagation of hate speech.

Student Jefferson Barbosa, resident of Caxias, Baixada Fluminense

“Lula’s arrest is politics. It is symbolic. When they arrested him they attacked everything he represented: people from the northeast, the poor, and those who are historically butchered in Brazil. Lula represents the country’s most important cycle in the last 20 years, the period when the greatest changes occurred. So I disagree with his arrest, just like a Mandela. The two of them were milestones as leaders of their countries. They were arrested and became president.”

Communications assistant Cléber Araujo, resident of Rocinha, South Zone

“We’re witnessing political persecution through the judiciary which, even without evidence, condemns him by conviction. In some ways it is the poorest part of the population that suffers from the coup, since the impeachment of Dilma, losing the rights that had been conquered. It seems we are not finished with this ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ political cycle. One administration does something and the other strips it all away, one starts something and another orders it stopped and everything changed. This happens at the federal, state and municipal levels. We remember the CIEPs [Integrated Centers for Public Education]—referred to as brizolões [after the governor who implemented them]—that would have transformed reality in peripheral communities if they hadn’t been discontinued. Back then it was about basic education, now this policy of discontinuation affects the entrance of the poor into universities.”

Store manager Laura Silva, resident of Complexo da Maré, North Zone

“I support the imprisonment of ex-president Lula, but I also support the imprisonment of all the corrupt politicians. He was a good president, however, he made a mistake and he needs to pay for it. During his administration, poor people had more opportunities. The employment rate was high, there were more opportunities for study and other projects. Of course they are focusing just on him, but there are many other politicians worse than him. In the case of the triplex he let himself get carried away by the system. Even without evidence he deserves to be imprisoned. I don’t believe in politicians and consider them all birds of the same feather. I am a woman disillusioned with our country.“

Actor and comedian Marcelo Magano, resident of City of God, West Zone

“The ex-president represents a watershed change, hope in the daily lives of many favela families, including people in universities and in the Brazilian economy. For him to be a prisoner is to see this same hope die and to have to swallow that was the greatest ‘crime’ that the Brazilian elite could not accept.”

P.E. teacher Carlos Nascimento, resident of Rocinha, South Zone

“I hope his imprisonment serves as an example. I don’t mean that he was an awful president, I don’t have facts memorized about his administration, but I believe he is a disappointment. He was transformed from hope to disappointment. He is a guy who went from poverty to the presidency. He should be an example. And he became just one more in the dirty world of politics. I don’t think this will be the end of corruption, but he doesn’t deserve to be free… as with the others, I hope they will be judged and sentenced. In a broad perspective, Lula is the disappointment of a class that still insists in trying to believe in him. I don’t know if it is for fear of losing hope, or not wanting to admit that they believed in the wrong man.”

General assistant Elizete Neves, resident of Providência, Centro

“I always voted for Lula in the elections. When I arrived in Providência in 1980, I heard people talk about him. He was and is a great leader. The problem isn’t Lula, it is the Workers Party. I was able to build my house with a lot of benefits given by his administration. Now, I don’t see why they charged him without evidence. If he became corrupt, he should fulfill his sentence. The only thing I didn’t like about his government was his talk about maintaining a military presence in Providência around 2008. Besides this, I will continue voting for him whenever possible.”

Rafael Balbo, resident of Complexo do Alemão, North Zone

“My neighborhood has had constant war and shootings since 1994. The worst part of the war was during Lula’s government. ‘Oh, but he did a lot for poor people, you are from a favela so you have a moral duty to defend Lula.’ He really did it, he sent in the army, the military, and led the most truculent year in the history of the favela with the army invading residents’ homes. He promised the world with the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) and didn’t deliver. It didn’t build colleges, bring job training, or generate employment. He only accomplished 20% of the promised basic sanitation work and we continue without basic sanitation in the favela even today. I know that the responsibility for the execution of the projects was the state government’s. But it would really be pushing it not to see that here in Rio, the administrations of (ex-governor) Cabral, Lula and later Dilma were all the same. One administration allied with the other. For many people the imprisonment of Lula, of an ex-president considered corrupt, is a signal that the justice system is working. On the other hand, there are still people who see Lula as a figure tied to poor people and they see it as an attack on the poor. But this is pushing it because he stopped being this a long time ago. Who betrayed the people and destroyed his legacy was Lula himself.”