Brazil’s ‘Slow Motion Coup’ – General Admits Intimidating Court into Imprisoning Lula da Silva
The latest revelation about Brazil’s slow motion coup, designed to ensure that the center-left remains out of power and the far-right takes control, involves a general who admitted that he threatened the Supreme Court so it would imprison presidential front-runner Lula da Silva. We discuss the development with Brian Mier
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert, coming to you from Baltimore.
Was Brazil’s presidential election of right-wing extremist Jair Bolsonaro last October all part of a slow-moving coup to stamp out Brazil’s left? Recent developments would indicate that this could be the case. It has been little over three weeks since Brazilians elected Jair Bolsonaro as their president with 55 percent of the vote. Since then, Bolsonaro has appointed several generals to various ministries, such as those of transportation and defense. He also appointed judge Sergio Moro as his minister of justice. Moro is the judge who was behind the imprisonment of Lula da Silva, who at the time was the frontrunner in this year’s presidential race.
Last weekend, a high ranking general of Brazil’s military, General Villas Boas, admitted in an interview to the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo that he threatened Brazil’s Supreme Court so that it would rule in favor of Lula’s imprisonment.
Joining me now to discuss Brazil’s slow-moving coup is Brian Mier. Brian is an editor for the website Brasil Wire, and also editor of the book Voices of the Brazilian Left. He joins us from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Thanks for being here again, Brian.
BRIAN MIER: Thanks, Greg. How are you?
GREG WILPERT: So let’s start with this latest admission of General Villas Boas, which I mentioned. What did he admit to exactly, and how did this lead to Lula’s imprisonment?
BRIAN MIER: Well, on the eve of the Supreme Court decision which ruled on whether Lula should be imprisoned or not, exceptionally, in a moment when his appeals were still going on, contrary to hundreds of other politicians who remained free and allowed to run for office in similar legal situations. On the eve of that decision he made two threatening tweets to the Supreme Court, reminding them of their duties to not let impunity stand, and using kind of cloaked, threatening language. And then on the most popular news program in Brazil, Journal National on TV Globo, which is one of the most powerful media conglomerates in the world, the nightly newscaster read the tweets over the air in this kind of somber voice as they dimmed the lights at the end of the newscast.
So during the Supreme Court ruling the next day it was a split decision. And Rosa Weber, a Supreme Court minister, she announced that she was going to rule against her basic feeling and side with the majority, who was going to go against what she really believed, and sided with the majority. And she was visibly nervous. And so she appeared like she was afraid. And so in a split decision, with a one-vote majority, Lula was sent off to prison, and remained running for office regardless, you know, even from behind bars. And then during this period when he announced he was going to run for president, another judge issued a habeas corpus to release Lula. And this guy Sergio Moro jumped out of his beach vacation, called up the federal police, called up the court at Curitiba, and blocked Lula from being freed.
And then one week before the election, he leaked incriminating evidence- it wasn’t incriminating evidence, it was audio from a plea bargain testimony that already been dismissed for not having any incriminating evidence- against Fernando Haddad. He leaked that to Globo one week before the presidential election. And Haddad’s popularity immediately dropped like 5 or 6 points. And apparently, according to Bolsonaro’s vice president-elect, General Hamilton Mourao, Bolsonaro’s people already met with Mourao before he leaked that incriminating audio to the television networks.
And so there’s a sequence of events from the moment when the General Villas Boas threatened the Supreme Court, which he now, as you mentioned, last Sunday gave an interview to Folha de Sao Paolo newspaper admitting that he threatened the Supreme Court, right. Since his threat there have been a series of actions that Sergio Moro has been in the middle of which hindered the PT party’s candidacy for the presidency, not least of which was arresting the leading candidate. Even after Lula had been in jail for two and a half months, he still had more than double the popularity in the polls as this neofascist, Jair Bolsonaro. So he was removed from running for office, and then Moro leaked information damaging Lula’s successor’s candidacy, who was looking like he had a good chance of winning, at that point. So we see a series of events- yeah, go ahead, sorry.
GREG WILPERT: Yeah, I just wanted to focus exactly on what Moro’s role in all of this is. I mean, he gladly now accepted Bolsonaro’s offers to head up the justice ministry, and we actually have a clip here of him denying that he’s being rewarded for imprisoning Lula.
SERGIO MORO: I know that some people previously interpreted my decision to accept the position of Justice Minister as a form of reward, which is absolutely wrong. My decision to prosecute former Brazilian president Lula da Silva was taken in 2017 without any prospective that then-federal congressmen President-Elect of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro would become the president of Brazil.
GREG WILPERT: So what’s your reaction to this claim that this wasn’t a reward, considering all of the things that you already said about what he did?
BRIAN MIER: OK. If that’s true, then Nixon wasn’t a crook, OK? Because he’s not talking about the information that he illegally leaked to the TV stations in violation of Brazilian election law one week before the presidential elections. That helped Bolsonaro, the plea bargain testimony leaked. Why doesn’t he talk about that? That’s clear conflict of interest. I mean, it’s not even just people on the left or the center left who are accusing him of this. The Economist, you know, which was founded by the man who invented the entire concept of the meritocracy, Herbert Spencer, has been a right-wing magazine for 150 years, has accused Moro of conflict of interest in this; says it takes, it delegitimizes the entire process of the imprisonment of Lula. So it doesn’t convince me, that’s for sure.
And let’s not forget that Curitiba is the city that had the largest Nazi rally outside of Europe in the 1930s. It’s a very right-wing, very fascist city. So obviously he’s very excited about working for an actual real-life fascist now.
GREG WILPERT: So this slow-moving coup, as some call it, did not actually begin with Lula’s imprisonment; rather, one could say it began with the impeachment of Worker’s Party President Dilma Rousseff two years ago. Would you agree with that? And if so, how- just give us a rundown as to how that fits into this slow-moving coup.
BRIAN MIER: Well, I would say it really started in 2013 with bus fare, transportation fare protests that were very quickly manipulated on the social media by right-wing forces. And that this played into the election in 2014, when David Axelrod’s former PR firm came down to work on social media strategies for Aecio Neves, and they built this platform promising to do the opposite of what the PT government was doing. Then, when in 2015 economic sabotage started up against the economy, to destabilize the economy in preparation for a coup in the same way that the U.S. government and ITT corporation destabilized the economy of Chile in ’73, we have now- we had Sergio Moro, as part of this U.S.-backed, Department of Justice-backed Operation Car Wash corruption investigation, freeze all operations of the five largest engineering and construction companies in the country, generating an immediate 500,000 direct job losses and millions of indirect job losses on the eve of removing Dilma from office.
Plus, in addition to that, the head of the conservative PSDB Party has admitted that they deliberately tried to sabotage the economy when Dilma was president. So we saw the sabotage going on, causing her popularity to drop. And then this impeachment over a non-impeachable offense called fiscal peddling, which was legalized in the Senate one week before- one week after she left office, that she was subsequently exonerated from. All of this time, the expanded American states, many in the media, academic institutions, think tanks, driving away this whole point that Dilma Rousseff was somehow involved in petroleum company, Petrobras, petroleum corruptionm which was proven to not be the case at all.
So she was removed, and then you look at who started benefiting from it. The United States corporations immediately started benefiting from Dilma’s removal, because they started heavily privatizing petroleum to companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron at sub-market rates, much below the actual market rate. Companies like Monsanto moved in, and they relaxed pesticide laws to benefit pesticide companies. The new coup president Michel Temer announced that he was going to get rid of Linux, which is what Lula had implemented in the entire governmental computer systems, and start using Microsoft again. So Microsoft benefited. And you look at the government of Norway, their national petroleum corporation purchased a lot of Brazilian offshore petroleum reserves at sub-market rates, too, and other corporations from England and Europe.
So it is kind of like, when you look at a coup you look at who benefits from this. Well, if you look at who benefited from it, it’s mainly U.S., but also European corporations.
GREG WILPERT: Well, I mean, this brings up the question of who is behind all of this. I mean, it looks like a kind of coherent, or more or less coherent, plan to impeach Rousseff, and then accuse Lula of corruption, and then basically enable Bolsonaro- or some other right-wing candidate; it didn’t have to be him, I presume- to take the presidency. But this could also sound like a wild conspiracy theory. But it seems that Brazil’s military is taking over more and more institutions. Bolsonaro himself is a former military officer, and so is his vice president. And now more and more ministries are being filled with military officers. So what can we conclude from all of this? Is this something that the military is behind? Or what would you say?
BRIAN MIER: Well, look, whenever you look at regime change- one of the one of the problems with journalism, right, is it always starts to break everything into this binary either-or issue. And in the real world things are a lot more complex. So whenever you look at illegal regime change, which happened to Dilma Rousseff, and the illegal arrest of the leading presidential candidate, which happened with Lula, after threats made by the military to the Supreme Court, OK, you have to look at multiple causes.
So of course the U.S. government was behind the impeachment and Lula’s arrest through its active participation in Operation Lava Jato. The U.S. government has received over $1 billion in fines from Brazilian corporations from this. So they’re involved. The U.S. Department of Justice officials like Patrick Stokes repeatedly have flown down to Curitiba to strategize with Moro. And Kenneth Blanco, the assistant attorney general last year, gave a speech at the Atlantic Council bragging about Lula’s arrest.
So it’s not a conspiracy theory to state that the U.S. is involved in this. The question is, how much involvement? The Brazilian military is definitely flexing its muscles right now. They helped guarantee that Lula was removed from the race. And now we see a general as the vice president, a former captain is the president, and three generals coming in as ministers. Plus we have a general named General Sergio Etchegoyen, whose father was a key actor in the military dictatorship, and whose grandfather was a key actor in the attempted coup against Getulio Vargas, now overseeing 16 departments in the Brazilian government, including federal police and intelligence. In addition, the Brazilian military took over the security of the entire state of Rio de Janeiro. Remember that in 1964 the first state the military occupied was also Rio de Janeiro.
So we see that, you know, the U.S. government, there’s international corporations, the Brazilian military, and the Brazilian corporate sector are all benefiting from this so far. So is it, I mean, is it a conspiracy to say that this isn’t just a natural occurrence, that Brazilian institutions are working fine, and Lula just did something he shouldn’t, and that’s why he was, that’s why he’s in jail as a political prisoner right now? I don’t, I don’t think so. I think what we’re seeing is a massive transfer of Brazil’s natural resources up to the north right now. You know, Brazil is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources. If you look at its petroleum, its minerals, its gold, its freshwater- they’re talking about privatizing the world’s largest aquifer, the Guarani Aquifer, to Coca-Cola right now.
So we see that what’s happened with it, we had a government in power for 13 years which believed in maintaining a certain level of sovereignty and autonomy, and a little bit of protection against exploitation from foreign corporations, taken down and replaced with a government that’s just handing over everything to the corporations, and to the U.S. and people in the north. And so they’re the ones benefiting from it. It would be silly, looking at the 44 coup d’etats that the United States actually orchestrated between 1898-1994, you know, it would be silly to not think that they were involved in this. It would be irresponsible. And this is why I called a lot of so-called progressive writers in the north irresponsible, when they have this kind of imperialist blindspot that they show in relation to what’s going on down here. Is this the first coup that ever happened in Latin America in the last hundred years that the U.S. was not behind? I mean, it could be, but the odds are that it’s not.
GREG WILPERT: Well, that’s a good point. But we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I’m sure we’ll get back to you again as more things come out. I was speaking to Brian Mier, editor of the website Brasil Wire. Thanks again, Brian, for having joined us today.
BRIAN MIER: Thanks, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.