Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, 77, had done his duty to his long-suffering country, Brazil. His origins were harsh, like those of his homeland.
Coming from a polygamous family, he learned to read at the age of ten and started working at the age of 12. At 19, while working as a press operator, he lost the little finger on his left hand. His harsh experience trying to get treatment led him to trade unionism.
He became a metal worker at Villares Metals SA, then a trade union leader and pro-democracy activist against a brutal military dictatorship during which he was imprisoned. In 1980, while military rule was still unleashed, Lula joined other radicals and labor activists in founding the Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT or Workers’ Party. Three years later, he became one of the founders of the Brazilian labor center, the Central Unica dos Trabalhadores, better known as CUT.
Brazil, for centuries after being seized in the 15th century and shared as spoils by Spain and Portugal, had been beaten, enslaved and exploited. In 1506, the two colonialists agreed to merge the eastern coast of Brazil “held” by Spain, with the rest of Brazil ruled by Portugal into a single colony under Portugal. In compensation, Portugal in 1778, under the Treaty of El Pardo, ceded Equatorial Guinea to Spain so that the latter could acquire African slaves for its territories in the Americas. Brazil became independent in 1822 and abolished slavery six years later. In 1889, a military coup overthrew the monarchy.
Brazil has never lacked patriots who have risen up to fight for the poor, the destitute and the powerless. Before Lula, it was the writer and guerrilla Carlos Marighella who was first detained in 1932 and again in 1936 during which he spent a year in prison. Upon his release, this author of famous books such as For the Liberation of Brazil and Minimanual of Urban Guerrillas. went into hiding, but was arrested again in 1939 and spent six years in prison. In 1946, Marighella was elected federal deputy for Bahia but lost his seat two years later when his party, the Brazilian Communist Party, was banned.
On March 31, 1964, a bloody military coup was staged against President Joao Goulart of the Brazilian Labor Party for introducing social reforms, nationalizing oil refineries and introducing rent controls. The putschists shot dead Marighella in a movie theater in Rio. He survived and was released the following year. After his release, Marighella embarked on the armed struggle to overthrow the military dictatorship. On November 4, 1969, he was ambushed in Sao Paulo, shot and killed. His tombstone in Salvador, Bahia bears his quote: “I had no time to be afraid.
Lula was one of the radicals who followed in Marighella’s footsteps in the fight against the brutal military regime. He became a federal deputy in the state of São Paulo, and when Brazil, for the first time in 29 years, held presidential elections by direct universal suffrage in 1989, Lula was on the ballot. He lost and was to lose twice more in 1994 and 1998 before winning the 2002 election with 61.3% of the vote in a second round. He was re-elected in 2006 and became the country’s most transformative president. During its seven years in power, the Lula administration lifted 20 million Brazilians out of poverty, moved 30 million from the lower classes to the middle class, reduced inflation, unemployment, inequality, infant mortality and the child labour, while increasing average income, minimum wage and access to health care and education at all levels.
Lula whose administration carried out mass housing projects, extended the electricity grid, drastically reduced child malnutrition, introduced “child benefits” and fought hunger with a “Zero Hunger” project and the creation of the Ministry of Development social and the eradication of hunger. In May 2010, the United Nations World Food Program awarded Lula the “World Champion in the Fight Against Hunger” medal. In 2005, the Lula administration repaid all of Brazil’s debts to the International Monetary Fund.
On the international level, he has defended environmental issues and on June 16, 2009 led his country to join Russia, India and China in founding the alternative socio-economic and political bloc, the BRIC, which with the inclusion of South Africa the following year became BRICS. Lula said his performance in office was partly driven by his desire to make the case that people, despite their very low education and poor backgrounds, can make good leaders. On leaving office, he declared: “If I failed, it would be the working class that would fail; it would be the poor of this country who would prove that they do not have what it takes to govern.
After two terms, he was ineligible to run, so he backed his former chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, one of those tortured under military rule. She won with 55,752,483 votes or 56.05% of the total vote, but her administration struggled to survive the deluge of right-wing local and international attacks aimed at reversing the country’s socio-economic and political gains. One of the desperate moves in 2016 was to bring Lula out of retirement to become his chief of staff, but the Supreme Court suspended that appointment.
On Monday, April 11, 2016, a civilian coup against President Rousseff began to unfold with a congressional committee voting 38 to 27 to recommend his impeachment on the ridiculous basis that in 2014 she failed to reveal the true size of the budget deficit! The coup succeeded. After that, the putschists turned to Lula, falsely accusing him of corruption for which in 2017 he was sentenced to a dozen years in prison and banned from running in the 2018 elections. This process led to the rise of Bolsonaro, a former army captain who praised the broken down bloody military dictatorship, promoted racism, social inequality and led many Brazilians to untimely death during the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 when he declared it false and encouraged mass gatherings as the pandemic spread like wildfire.
Bolsanaro has systematically opened up the Amazon to systematic destruction with a 52.9% increase in deforestation in his first three years in power. He deliberately underfunded environmental protection agencies and encouraged loggers, miners and land grabbers to take over indigenous lands.
In 2021, the Supreme Court fully cleared Lula of corruption and declared him eligible to run for office. Lula, who has worked for the past 65 years, was forced out of retirement to save a reeling Brazil after numerous fatal blows.
With his victory on Sunday, October 30, 2022 by beating outgoing President Bolsonaro with 50.9% of the votes again, bruised Brazil is once again on its feet. But a very difficult battle of complete recovery and restoration awaits us.
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