Questioning of Lula is sign of Brazilian maturity

Anti-Lula protesters shout at Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo on March 04, 2016, where the former president was taken for questioning by the federal police.

Anti-Lula protesters shout at Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo on March 04, 2016, where the former president was taken for questioning by the federal police. (AFP photo)

This column was printed in Arab News on March 6, 2016:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Brazilians awoke on Friday morning to the breaking news that the Federal Police and tax inspectors were parked outside the home of former President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva in Sao Bernardo do Campo, a suburb of Sao Paulo. This was the beginning of the 24th phase in the months-long “Car Wash” investigation into massive corruption at the state oil giant Petrobras. Lula was being taken into custody for questioning whether he wanted to go or not.

Soon supporters and critics of the former president had gathered outside his home, arguing and pushing each other. The police were quickly called in to take control of the situation, as Lula was questioned for nearly four hours at an office of the Federal Police at Congonhas Airport.

Lula took three lawyers with him and a federal congressman of his Workers’ Party. When it was over, he went to the headquarters of his party and gave an angry speech, railing against the excessive use of police intimidation and devolving into his usual accusations of the rich not being able to accept that a once poor man such as himself had made it to the presidency of the nation. It was the classic leftist class struggle spiel of the rich versus the poor.

Lula ruled Brazil for two terms as president from 2003 to 2010, and now the current President Dilma Rousseff, his protégée, has ruled Brazil from 2011 until now. While no one denies that the Workers’ Party helped lift millions of Brazilians out of poverty and gave them many new rights, the corruption of the politicians from this party has been so all-encompassing that practically no aspect of Brazilian life seems to have escaped its taint.
The “Car Wash” investigation, which is being led by the federal judge Sergio Moro, has found that top Petrobras officials were involved in a massive corruption, kickback and overpricing scheme that has involved a handful of the country’s major construction and engineering firms. These firms have been accused of funneling money gained from Petrobras to a host of politicians in illegal payments, including Lula. Even President Dilma’s 2010 election campaign fund has been linked to dirty money from construction companies.

Moro has been handing down reduced sentences, called “delacoes premiadas” in Portuguese, to get prime suspects to cooperate with investigators and spill the beans about all they know. The latest person to do so was Sen. Delcidio Amaral, the former head of the ruling party in the Senate. He was arrested late last year and just released a few weeks ago after he agreed to squeal on his co-conspirators.

Joao Santana, Lula and Dilma’s main election campaign strategist, and his wife were recently arrested after it was discovered that $7.5 million in tainted money had been paid to him by construction companies.

To top all of this off, Brazil is going through a severe economic recession. Its GDP shrank 3.8 percent in 2015, its worst performance since 1990, inflation is at 10.67 percent and unemployment is around 8 percent.

All of this has deeply polarized the Brazilian electorate, with most of the poorer Brazilians still supporting the Worker’s Party, while more educated and well-off Brazilians are fed-up with a never-ending stream of corruption scandals.

Having been one of the most popular presidents that Brazil has seen in modern times, Lula for a long time believed he was untouchable. The relentless investigation by Moro and the Federal Police has shown otherwise.

So far the independence of the investigators has been maintained despite alleged attempts by various ministers to get some of the accused off the hook. Hopefully the investigations will continue. This shows that Brazil has become a mature democracy where no one is above the law.

http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/890911

Brazil plays dangerous game in Honduras

BRAZILIAN President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva is playing a dangerous game by giving refuge to deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya (seen right), his wife, son and various supporters at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

The interim leader of Honduras Roberto Micheletti has assured Brazilian President Lula that his government will respect the sovereignty of the Brazilian Embassy grounds, but noted that he would give the Brazilians five to ten days to either hand over Zelaya to Honduran authorities, who would immediately jail him for the charges of corruption filed against him, or give him political exile in Brazil.
For Lula and the Obama administration, neither of these options are solutions that they favor. Both the US and Brazil want Micheletti to allow Zelaya to be reinstated as president, at least until presidential elections in November.
Micheletti said on Tuesday night that he was willing to talk to Zelaya, but the deposed president rejected the offer saying that Micheletti was not being sincere.
Several Brazilian analysts have said that Brazil will only lose in this game of cat and mouse between Zelaya and Micheletti. The former Brazilian ambassador to the UK and the US, Rubens Antonio Barbosa, told the Brazilian website G1 that Brazil had lost the possibility of being a non-biased interlocutor in talks between the two sides as soon as it took Zelaya’s side by giving him refuge in the Brazilian Embassy.
Barbosa added that the Brazilian government was giving itself a huge headache by helping Zelaya and that Brazilian authorities had not evaluated the seriousness of the tense political situation Honduras when it gave refuge to him in their embassy. “It’s interference in the internal politics of a country,” he said.
But President Lula has been resolute in his support of fellow leftist Zelaya, noting in New York on Tuesday that Latin American countries would no longer tolerate coups.
But Lula is playing a dangerous game. On Tuesday thousands of Zelaya supporters were violently dispersed from in front of the Brazilian Embassy by military troops using tear gas, truncheons and rubber bullets. Power and water were cut off to the embassy on Monday to try and force Zelaya out, but were restored on Tuesday. Instead, land telephone lines to the embassy were cut on Tuesday. A curfew was put into effect on Monday, which expires tonight.
The potential for violence and mayhem at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa is great. Brazilian officials keep insisting that their embassy would never be breached by Honduran troops or officials. I say, never say never.

Brazilian President Lula Visits Saudi Arabia

Saudi King Abdullah receives Brazilian President Luis Inacio ‘Lula’
da Silvaat his palace in Riyadh on Saturday night. (Photo courtesy Agence Frence Presse)


BRAZILIAN President Luis Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva arrived in Riyadh yesterday afternoon on the first ever official visit of a Brazilian president to Saudi Arabia. Accompanying him are his wife, the foreign minister, the minister of commerce and a delegation of 50 businessmen.

Saudi Arabia is Brazil’s biggest trading partner in the Middle East, with bilateral trade standing at around $5.5 billion a year. Brazil imports oil from the kingdom, while Saudi Arabia imports airplanes, chicken and other foodstuffs from Brazil. The kingdom is looking into the possibility of buying farms in Brazil to provide rice, fruits and vegetables for the country.

The Saudi English-language press has been running stories about Lula’s visit, but nothing very scintillating. I checked the Brazilian press too, and did not find much except for this delightful picture gallery of President Lula in Riyadh. Click here to see him arriving with his wife in Riyadh, and a picture of her meeting King Abdullah.

President Lula will be attending a breakfast this morning hosted by the head of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority. The kingdom is trying to get more Brazilian companies to invest in the four new economic cities that are being built here at a cost of $60 billion. These cities are expected to generate 1.3 million jobs. According to BBC Brasil (in Portuguese), several Brazilian contractors have already expressed interest in providing catering services for the thousands of workers helping to build the new cities.
The Brazilian president leaves Riyadh tonight enroute to China and Turkey, after which he returns to Brazil.
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