Brazil's ex-president Lula condemns Bolsonaro over Covid in comeback bid
Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has accused Jair Bolsonaro of turning the coronavirus pandemic into a “weapon of mass destruction” in a high-profile intervention some have seen as the start of an attempted political comeback.
In a wide-ranging video manifesto – which allies, adversaries and analysts took as a signal Lula would seek to challenge Brazil’s far-right leader in the next presidential election – the leftist condemned Bolsonaro’s handling of a crisis that has killed more than 127,000 Brazilians.
“Yes, so many deaths could have been avoided,” claimed the 74-year-old, who governed Brazil from 2003 until 2011.
“We are in the hands of a government that attaches no value to life and trivialises death. An insensitive, irresponsible and incompetent government that flouted World Health Organization guidelines and turned the coronavirus into a weapon of mass destruction.
“The overwhelming majority of those killed by coronavirus are poor, black, vulnerable people who were abandoned by the state,” he added.
Lula is currently barred from running for office after being stripped of his political rights in 2018 when he was imprisoned for corruption and sidelined from a presidential race Bolsonaro went on to win.
But some suspect Lula’s conviction could soon be overturned because of questions over the impartiality of his judge Sergio Moro who, after jailing Lula, was made Bolsonaro’s justice minister.
That would allow Lula to run against his political nemesis in what would be the sixth presidential run of his four-decade career.
In his 24-minute pronouncement Lula, who became Brazil’s first working-class president when he was elected in 2002, dropped a major hint he was plotting a revival.
He described how during the Covid-19 lockdown – which he spent at home after being released from prison last November – he had “reflected a great deal about Brazil and myself, my mistakes and successes, and the role there still might be for me in our people’s struggle for better living conditions”.
“I put myself at the disposal of the Brazilian people, especially the workers and the excluded,” he announced, before concluding: “From the bottom of my heart, I tell you: I’m here. Let’s rebuild Brazil together.”
Allies from Lula’s Workers’ party (PT) were even more explicit, sharing his speech on Twitter under the headline: “In historic address, Lula puts himself at the disposal of the people to be president again.”
Lula’s former foreign minister, Celso Amorim, told the Guardian the address left no doubt the leftist “wanted to be, and would be” a key player in the 2022 election.
“This is a turning point, in my opinion … For me, we are clearly going to see a Lula-Bolsonaro dispute,” he predicted.
Amorim admitted Lula’s participation depended on the courts and suggested Lula could champion another candidate or run as vice-president.
“But he is clearly putting himself forwards as a leader. Whoever the candidate is, the leader is Lula … He is clearly positioning himself as the central figure. Whether he will do that like Cristina Kirchner, or whether he will be the [main] candidate – we don’t know any of this yet and it will depend on a number of factors that don’t all depend on him.”
Kirchner, Argentina’s president from 2007 to 2015, staged a dramatic political comeback last October as her country’s vice-president.
Lula offered a withering critique of Bolsonaro’s 20-month-old administration in his declaration, which was timed to coincide with Brazil’s independence day.
He accused the pro-gun populist of overseeing an “intolerable” assault on Brazil’s indigenous communities, entering into a “humiliating” relationship with the United States, and being obsessed with destroying Brazilian culture and arming citizens. “The people don’t want to buy revolvers or rifle cartridges – the people want to buy food,” Lula said.
The ex-president also alluded to reports about Bolsonaro’s alleged ties to members of Rio’s mafia: “With the rise of Bolsonaro, paramilitaries … and contract killers have stopped being covered by crime reporters and are showing up in diary columns.”
Daniela Campello, a politics professor from the Getulio Vargas Foundation, called Lula’s address an unambiguous statement of his presidential aspirations.
“He absolutely presented himself as [Bolsonaro’s] chief opponent ... and I think there is now the expectation that somehow he will become eligible [for election] again.”
“But the feeling I have is that we’re stuck in a dispute of the past that looks hardly at all to the future,” Campello added. “I didn’t see a new agenda here. Unfortunately, right now the left lacks fresh air.”