Prosecutors Charge Brazil’s former President Lula da Silva in Corruption Case

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Political scientist and media analyst Joao Feres Jr. talks about who is behind the latest corruption charges against Brazil’s former President Lula da Silva and how these accusations are designed to undermine Lula’s probable run for president in 2018.

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Story Transcript

GREGORY WILPERT: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Gregory Wilpert coming to you from Quito, Ecuador.

Last week, police officials raided the home of former president Luiz Inacio da Silva, or Lula, as he’s affectionately known in Brazil. They also detained him for questioning in connection with the corruption scandal that involves the country’s main oil company, Petrobras, and that has been rocking Brazil for two years now, according to which politicians from across the political spectrum have received kickbacks and bribes.

Afterwards, in an emotionally-charged press conference, Lula denied any wrongdoing that he has undisclosed, or that he has undisclosed assets. About two weeks before the raid of Lula’s home, his and President Dilma Rousseff’s main campaign advisor was also arrested, which was just another step in implicating both Dilma and Lula in the corruption scandals.

With us to explore what is going on in Brazil with regard to the scandal is Joao Feres Jr. Joao Feres Jr. is a political science professor at the Institute of Social and Political Studies of the State University of Rio de Janeiro. He also heads the laboratory for media and public sphere studies. He has published extensively on affirmative action and race relations in Brazil, and in the U.S., and on media and politics. Thanks, Joao, for joining us today.

JOAO FERES JR.: It’s a pleasure to be here.

WILPERT: There seem to me to be several issues to look at when we’re taking apart what is going on in Brazil with regard to the corruption investigation. There is first of all the role of the prosecutors and the police, the role of the media, and the role of the opposition parties. So let’s work through these one by one.

First, who are the prosecutors who have been investigating this scandal, and what kind of proof have they presented against the two top leaders of the workers party, the PT, Dilma Rousseff and Lula da Silva?

FERES: I think in order to understand the problem that, what’s going on now, we have to understand the way that democratic institutions work and have been working during this whole process. I mean, in Brazil we have, you know, like most democracies all over the world, representative democracies, we have, you know, the executive, the president in the case of a presidential system, and the legislative, and judiciary. And in Brazil, you know, on top of that,we have a sort of a fourth power, that is like the general prosecutor, or a general attorney, who is independent. I mean, it’s a whole branch of government that is independent.

In this case we have a, sort of a weird configuration in which a local judge, from the state of Parana, actually, is, you know, bunching together with the prosecutor from, from the attorney general. Well, a local prosecutor. Because you know, this office is divided by states, since Brazil is a federation. And these guys are, like, extending the region of the prosecution to the whole country. And the judge himself also is investigating something that is, is not allowed by Brazilian law. And not only that, but he’s practicing, you know, during the investigation he’s instituting many practices that are very unusual legal terms. Nonetheless, the appeals court and the Supreme Court have been silent because of that.

And I think that it’s, you know, when we get to the media, we’ll be able to understand why they have been so.

WILPERT: There have been accusations of selectivity in this investigation, as well. Especially since it seems that most of the proof of corruption actually lies with members of the opposition. I looked at some numbers and it seems like there are more opposition members accused of the conservative Progressive party. Is that true, and what about the role of opposition leaders such as Aecio Neves and Fernando Henrique Cardoso? What’s the situation there with regard to the opposition? Is there so activity involved in this investigation?

FERES: Yeah, you touched a very important point. You know, because all this activity coming from this local judge and the local branch of the federal attorney, they’re being very politically motivated. And their political motivation is clear for people who are on the left or for the progressive sectors of Brazilian society, because, you know, first of all, the whole prosecution has been working through plea bargains. So you know, people are named and then they’re arrested. Detained for provisional detention, which lasts forever. You know, they cannot get habeus corpus, which is very strange. And then they’re forced, they’re sort of coerced into plea bargains. And in these plea bargains, they actually name other people. And that, there’s a cascade of accusations. And people remain arrested in detention.

And so far, I mean, little solid evidence has been produced. Nonetheless, nonetheless, if you take the plea bargains, and not only that, I mean, this investigation was supposed to be under secrecy, because it involves politicians, involves public officials and stuff like that. Nevertheless, you know, information is leaked to the media all the time. Illegally leaked to the media. And if you see, if you take, for example, just one example that is very, very, very telling in terms of the political motivation of the whole prosecution process, the right-wing candidate in the last presidential elections, Aecio Neves, who belongs to Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s party, which is–he was a center-left, a center-right political party, now has been shifting to the right. And this guy was cited three times, you know, by the testimonies. And has receiving large bribes through years. And he hasn’t been arrested or even cited.

On the other hand, Lula actually is being accused of having an apartment, a small apartment, and a small property that. actually there is no title of property proven that he has these properties, and he’s being coerced into testimony because of that. And not only coerced into testimony, but the information that he would be, you know, detained for testimony was leaked to the media beforehand, so these people could be there at his house, you know, with their cameras and microphones when the police, the federal police arrived, so they could broadcast that to the whole country.

WILPERT: That brings us to the role of the media. What has been the role, exactly, and what are they hoping to achieve? And actually, going a little bit deeper, what are the media groups in Brazil, and what interests are they pursuing?

FERES: Well, you know, Brazil has a very perverse [media] system in the sense that, you know, a bunch, a handful of family-owned big companies own most of the media, which is basically privatized. The Brazilian public media doesn’t have much reach. And these guys have been, like, in control since the mid-20th century. And there are, you know, studies after studies have shown that their political role has been always conservative, to the point of supporting several coups against democracy. They tried a political coup against democracy before [’64], you know, two times, or three times. And then in ’64 when the military took over, they supported the military takeover, and they supported the military regime after that, those big media companies, including global Folha de Sao Paulo, [inaud.] Sao Paulo, which are big newspapers.

And since democratization, I mean, which started in the 1980s, they started to oppose systematically the leftist parties running for office, particularly the workers party, which was the strongest one. So they have been battering Lula and the PT from the start. And that’s just the final chapter of that.

WILPERT: Has the, has the government tried to do anything against that? I mean, in Argentina and Venezuela, and also in Ecuador, they’ve passed new media laws, which of course have come under heavy criticism from the right for limiting freedom of expression, et cetera. But they essentially, to some extent, were an effort to democratize the media and to broaden the media. What’s the case in Brazil? Was there any effort to do that, to kind of change the media system in order to [counteract] this effect that they’ve been having?

FERES: I think that was one of the main mistakes, and probably the most, the largest, the most important mistake, that Lula and Dilma have made, which is like, to do almost nothing about the media situation. You know, the situation of public communication in Brazil. And this is very important for democracy, because the electorate, the citizenry, gather information and fashion their opinions based on information that comes from, you know, through the media, because there’s no other way in mass societies, right. And they haven’t done anything similar to what happened in Ecuador or in Argentina, or in–any other–.

The problem is, if you see the way big media is regulated in Brazil, I mean, there’s almost no regulation. It’s much more deregulated than in the United States, for example, than in Britain, than in France. So we are like, in the stone age of media regulation in Brazil. And that has allowed for these companies to be openly political to the point that they have replaced the opposition party, PSDB, and the other opposition parties that are actually weak in terms of politics.

Just to give you an example, Brazil–it’s like we had, like, five or six Fox News. It’s not just one. If you’re American you understand that. You know, most of the media, the media companies here, behave like Fox News.

WILPERT: Just one very quick question, because we’re pretty much out of time. But you know, Dilma Rousseff is facing a number of simultaneous crises in addition to the corruption investigation. It is also, Brazil is entering a second year of recession. And Lula would like to, it seems, run for president again in 2018. Do you think that there’s any chance that Dilma Rousseff will survive these crises, until the end of her term in 2018?

FERES: I think there is a chance she will, yeah, but it’s hard. And I think this whole movement against Lula, you know, this whole campaign against him is actually to get him out of the election 2018. Because the opposition forces do not have a strong candidate, and Lula is still very popular.

WILPERT: Well, thank you, Joao, for joining us to talk about the current situation in Brazil.

FERES: Thank you for having me.

WILPERT: And thank you for watching the Real News Network.

End

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