Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the shoeshine boy who rose to become the first president of Brazil’s working class, is still a hero to millions of Brazilians who know nothing about his dark side and a symbol of change in the largest country in Latin America.
His arrest and questioning last Friday, in connection with a huge corruption scandal can turn him a symbol of another kind: the end of impunity in the South American country.
The metallurgical worker and union leader of 70 years of age that ruled Brazil between 2003 and 2010, led what people believed to be an economic boom, but that later was discovered to be a fantasy. The same foreign capital that pushed the country to the international scene also made it one of the worst during the first years of the Rousseff administration.
Brazil’s present and future have turned more uncertain since Lula left the presidency. The recession that had started under his mandate got worse rapidly under Dilma Rousseff, which along with the corruption scandal that has now reached Lula himself has Rousseff fighting for her political survival as millions of Brazilians lament the lost opportunity to join the developed countries.
Prosecutors argue that the Lula government oversaw a massive bribery scheme in the oil state-controlled Petrobras, which served to finance campaigns for the party that has controlled Brazil for 13 years, the Workers Party.
“I never could have imagined that this would happen now in Brazil,” said Gil Castello Branco, founder of Contas Abertas, a supervisor of the Government in the capital, Brasilia. “Civil society is now truly believing in a new era, with less corruption and impunity”, he adds.
Lula, who was not charged and was immediately released after questioning by police, has denied that any law was violated. Few things could cause more harm to the ruling party than a criminal conviction of Lula, who remains its main figure.
Lula’s rise is a story book that many consider a metaphor of modern Brazil.
He overcame an impoverished childhood in northeastern Brazil which made him migrate to the industrial suburbs of Sao Paulo. There, he became a shoeshine boy who also worked in a laundromat before starting a course that got him a job in a car factory.
His brusque but charismatic character allowed him to become a leader of the Brazilian trade union movement, which carried out massive strikes against the military dictatorship in the mid-1980s. Lula was the voice of the discomfort of a working underclass in the largest economy in Latin America.
With the return of democracy to Brazil, Lula helped form the Workers Party in 1986 and was elected legislator.
The Dark Side
Before he was elected president, Lula ran three times for the highest office in the nation. Part of his failure originated in the middle and upper classes considering him a radical for his diatribes against the Elite.
In 2002, he cut his beard, put on a suit and promised to respect the financial commitments of Brazil. His election as president coincided with the beginning of a decade of booming commodity prices, not with a bright management of the country was Worker’s Party members like to brag.
When he left the government in 2011, with 80 percent support in the polls, the PT managed to elect his successor: Dilma Rousseff.
Not long after Lula left office, Brazil got to see the dark side of his legacy. The rise in prices of raw materials vanished and with it the Brazilian dream of becoming a developed nation. The growing global crisis exposed the reality of Lula’s eight years in power.
Lula and his Worker’s Party had not only not done anything to take Brazil out of misery, such as diversifying the country’s economic activity, but Lula had also overspent public funds to deliver many of the promises he had irresponsibly made during his campaign.
The result of the Worker’s Party mismanagement of Brazilian finances, which by the way counted with the complicity of the other political parties, resulted in the situation we see today.
Unfortunately, the economy was not the only tsunami that began to move towards the country’s shores.
“I feel anguish to see what happens,” said Claudio da Silva, an unemployed man from Sao Paulo who was running to join a crowd waiting to support the former president on Friday. “Lula is a man of humble origins who rose to the top from the bottom, leaving a legacy of social progress and a better Brazil,” he said.
After two years of investigations, there are dozens of detainees, including construction executives and politicians accused of bribes in exchange for contracts with Petrobras. These cases of corruption happened during the Lula administration and continued during the Rousseff presidency.
In the process of the operation, police discovered a network of corruption in Brazil’s Petrobras, as well as a host of financial and political problems affecting people who are close to the government.
On the issue of money diverted during the illegal dealings, the prosecution estimates the total amount defrauded from the Brazilian taxpayer, between 2004 and 2012, to be around 8 billion dollars, the biggest corruption scandal in the years of the Brazilian democracy.
The shocking developments of the corruption scandals kicked off on March 17, 2014, when the Federal Police dismantled a gang accused of having laundered nearly 10 billion reais, some 4,3 billion dollars of securities and money of illegal origin.
In the operation, 28 people were arrested. They were accused of forming a gang dedicated to money laundering, diversion of public resources, corruption, smuggling of precious stones and drug trafficking, among other crimes.
Days later police arrested the former director of Refinery and Supply of Petrobras, Paulo Roberto Costa. In September of that year, Costa disclosed a system of corruption involving deputies, senators and politicians of the Worker’s Party and its allies PMDB and Progressive Party.
The case concerned the alleged payment of bribes to dozens of millionaire politicians by construction companies that received permits to work with Petrobras between 2004 and 2012.
In December 2014 another 35 people, including 22 linked to six major construction companies in Brazil, were reported by the Prosecutor of the State of Parana for alleged involvement in the case.
Amid strong popular discontent, Rousseff admits that corruption in Petrobras hinders the formation of the Cabinet, but renews her confidence in the president of Petrobras, Graça Foster. However, in February she and five other executives quietly left the state oil company without having to face any investigation.
A day after, police arrested Worker’s Party Treasurer Joao Vaccari Neto,while Aldemir Bendine, a banker and close friend of the PT elite was appointed by Dilma as the new president of Petrobras.
In March 2015, the prosecutor Rodrigo Janot, who investigated the involvement of politicians with privileges in the web of corruption, asked to open new investigations against 54 people, including ‘untouchable’ politicians.
The Supreme Court authorized the investigation of 49 politicians and officials, including 22 deputies and 12 senators in exercise, including the president of the Senate and Congress, Renan Calheiros, and the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, both from the PMDB.
In May, the Brazilian Justice accused four former deputies for their alleged involvement in the case.
Investigations involving Lula da Silva began in January, when the office of the Prosecutor in Sao Paulo cited him to testify for alleged money laundering, following the purchase of an apartment in the resort of Guaruja.
In late February, the Federal Police launched a new phase of the operation, with the implementation of 51 new judicial mandates.
Seeing that his detention was getting closer, Lula da Silva decided to write a document to begin his defense. Remember, this is the man who cries in front of his followers and who says that he has done nothing wrong and that he has nothing to fear.
On 2 March, the Board of Ethics of the Brazilian Lower House approves an initiative to continue the process that can cost the president of that legislative body, Eduardo Cunha, his position for his alleged involvement in corruption cases related to Petrobras. The next day, the Supreme unanimously accepts complaints against the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha.
Shortly afterwards, a judge orders the detention of advertisers João Santana and his wife, Monica Santana, responsible for the election campaigns of the presidents of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, and the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina.
Last week, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the golden man of the Worker’s Party was escorted by Federal Police to the international airport in Sao Paulo, where he was interrogated in connection with the ongoing corruption investigation.