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The Near Release of Brazil’s Lula

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Judge Sérgio Moro intervened from vacation to ensure that former president Lula would not be released, says Brian Mier of Brasil Wire. We talk to him about the process by which Lula was almost released on Sunday and how authorities managed to prevent it – all in order to derail his new presidential bid

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Protesters supporting the former President of Brazil Lula da Silva took to the streets on Sunday night in Rio de Janeiro and in Sao Paulo to demand Lula’s immediate release. A federal judge sparked the protests earlier that day when he ruled in favor of a petition for Lula’s immediate release. However, before the ruling could be implemented, another judge reversed the decision. Gleisi Hoffman, a lawmaker from Lula’s Workers Party, spoke to the press during Sunday’s protest.

GLEISI HOFFMAN: It can’t be so much maneuvering for Lula to stay imprisoned. Why does Lula need to be in prison when he has the right to be released? Why this maneuvering from the TRF-4 Brazilian court, and the Federal Police, and this slow pace operation on Lula’s freedom, taking their time with administrative moves that are not legal? This is embarrassing for Brazil in the face of the world.

SHARMINI PERIES: Former President Lula has been in prison since April of this year, where he is serving a 12-year prison sentence, convicted of a crime for which prosecutors are yet to produce evidence. He is still appealing his case, and he has been charged with corruption for having allegedly taken $1.2 million worth of bribes in the form of renovations to an apartment that he never owned or lived in. Meanwhile, Lula remains Brazil’s most popular presidential candidate for the upcoming October presidential elections.

Joining me now to assess the latest developments in Lula’s case is Brian Mier. Brian is an editor for the website Brasil Wire, and he’s also an editor of the book “Voices of the Brazilian Left.” Thanks for joining us, Brian.

BRIAN MIER: Hi, Sharmini. How are you.

SHARMINI PERIES: I’m all right, Brian. Brian, let’s start off in the legal wrangling that’s going on. What happened yesterday with the order to release and then not to release Lula? What exactly happened?

BRIAN MIER: OK. Well, basically, since Lula was illegally arrested in April, the defense and his allies have filed a series of motions and petitions to get him out of jail. All of them with some legal basis in reality, you know. And on Friday, they tried it again. A couple of congressmen, Paulo Pimenta, led by Paulo Pimenta, who is the PT leader in Congress, filed a petition to give Lula a habeas corpus at 7:30 at night on Friday. Now, they did this in a very calculated move, because they knew that the weekend judge in the fourth federal Regional Court in Porto Alegre is kind of an ally, you know, because of the 14 judges in that court, 13 of them are conservative. And this is the one who’s kind of progressive.

So surprisingly to everyone on Sunday, the judge, Rogerio Favreto, he issued an order to immediately release Lula. Now, at this point, Judge Sergio Moro, who is the leader of Operation Carwash, which is a U.S. Department of Justice-backed anti-corruption campaign that’s only been targeting left-wing politicians for the last three years, he was on vacation in [Portuguese] on the beach, apparently. And he heard about it, and he rushed to a phone and a computer, and he ordered the Federal Police in Curitiba not to release Lula, and he ordered the courts to ignore Judge Favreto’s order to release, the habeas corpus.

Now, the problem with this is Rogerio Favreto is higher up than Moro in the, in the judicial hierarchy. He’s a circuit-. Equivalent of a circuit court judge. Moro not only had no authority to act because he was on vacation, but also because the court that he’s a judge in is a lower court. So this is really strange. So Judge Favreto immediately overruled Moro, and threatened, threatened to file charges against him for insubordination. Then another chief judge from the 4th Regional Court, Gerbran Neto, who was also on vacation, jumped in and tried to issue an order halting the habeas corpus and halt Lula’s his release. Favreto overrode that ruling, using the question, the issue that the guy’s on vacation. He wasn’t working.

So then, as the order to release Lula within one hour was issued, tens of thousands of people took to the streets all over Brazil. Not just in Rio and Sao Paulo. In Curitiba, in front of the Federal Police building where Lula has been held as a political prisoner in solitary confinement for three months, and in other cities across the country. People just took to the streets demanding Lula’s freedom. The rumor went out that Lula had already been freed within the police headquarters, and that he was getting his exit medical examination when the president of the 4th Regional Court stepped in, Carlos Eduardo Tompson Flores, and just issued a dispatch to completely cancel the habeas corpus. And Lula’s still in jail.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Brian, is there now a controversy over the legal status of his release in the sense of which judicial order will prevail?

BRIAN MIER: At this point no, because it’s been canceled. The court president stepped in and canceled it. But what has happened is as a result is it’s just shown to the world what a facade Lula’s entire imprisonment is. In other words, they can just ignore court any court order that is favorable to Lula. It shows how politicized the whole process is. I mean, it’s, it’s pretty obvious, Glenn Greenwald’s talked about this, and many people in Brazil are talking about it, that Lula was arrested to keep him from running for president. And these shady maneuvers, legal maneuvers to try and over rule a circuit court judge that happened yesterday, just illustrates even further how, what a sham this entire process is.

SHARMINI PERIES: And who canceled the actual order now. The president of the 4th Regional Federal Court, Judge Carlos Eduardo Tompson Flores, who is one step above Rogerio Favreto on the org chart in that court.

BRIAN MIER: Are there any chances that Lula will now actually be released, and will be freed in order to stand for election in October?

BRIAN MIER: Yeah, of course. There’s a series of motions that have been filed to drop all the charges against him, because first of all, it’s outrageous that he’s in jail for undetermined acts. I mean, the big newspapers like the Guardian and the New York Times are constantly acting as if the charges that were initially filed against Lula have anything to do with his sentence. They say that he was not connected to bribery and Petrobras. Judge Moro himself admits in the sentence that there’s no relationship with Petrobras. They couldn’t find any proof that Lula had ever owned or set foot in the apartment.

If there’s no, for example, there’s no relationship with Petrobras, then Judge Moro’s court has no geographical jurisdiction over the entire case. He should have never been tried in Curitiba, because the apartment in question is located in Sao Paulo. You know, on top of that there is this illegal, informal collaboration between Judge Moro and his task force and the United States Department of Justice, which Kenneth Blanco bragged about at the Atlantic Council in a speech in 2017. That resulted in another filing of a motion for dismissal of the case. There’s all kinds of reasons why he shouldn’t be in jail. They had to make an exception to the law to even put him in jail. They made an exception to the Constitution because his appeals process hasn’t played out.

So if there was an actual functioning justice system in Brazil he would have never been arrested. But the hopes are that some judges will still favor executing actual justice over this partisanship that’s resulted in his imprisonment. And so I think there’s still a pretty good chance that he’ll be released before the election. And even if he isn’t released, he’ll still be allowed to run until they issue some kind of court order to cancel it. So the plan-. And they can’t even do that until he officially declares his candidacy on August 15th.

So the plan for the PT right now is Lula is the candidate, and there’s no plan B. And he’s leading in all the polls. He’s leading with nearly twice the support of all of the second-most popular candidate, who is a neofascist.

SHARMINI PERIES: And further, besides leading in the polls, he doesn’t seem to have a viable candidate he’s running up against. Tell us a little bit more about that.

BRIAN MIER: Well, the second-ranking candidate is a white supremacist former military dictatorship captain called Jair Bolsonaro. He’s also an evangelical Christian, and he’s said many homophobic and sexist things in the last couple of years. He told a congresswoman that she wasn’t pretty enough to be raped on the floor of Congress. And you know, he has a big following among about 15 percent of the population who are racists and fascists. But I don’t think he has enough support to win an election, you know. And behind him there’s a series of other candidates that don’t have 10 percent of popularity, really. You know, the other left candidates combined don’t have 10 percent popularity. Geraldo Alckmin, who is the the PSDB candidate, is not cracking 10 percent. I think he’s at around 6 percent right now.

So the fact that Lula is in jail just shows even further what the level of panic is among conservatives in Brazil, because they know that he’ll win the election. They know he’d win. And they’re incapable of mounting any other candidate who has a serious chance of challenging him, because they’re infighting. You know, the neofascists are fighting against the neoliberals, the neoliberals are infighting, and, and that’s what’s going on right now, basically.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Brian. I thank you so much for joining us today and giving us this update. We’ll also keep our viewers updated on Lula’s status in the coming days. Thank you so much for joining us today.

BRIAN MIER: Thanks a lot, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.