The Meaning of Lula’s Imprisonment

I have an article in Jacobin, discussing the narrow straits of Brazilian democracy (as per usual). The first part is my notes on the matter, reproduced below. The rest is a translation of a sharp and beautifully written analysis by Felipe Demier, originally published at Esquerda Online.

This week, both sides of a polarized Brazil were on tenterhooks, awaiting the Supreme Court’s judgement on former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva‘s appeal for habeas corpus — his right to remain free until all his appeals have been exhausted. Having already been convicted in the second instance — and having had his nine-year sentence increased to twelve — his prospects looked dim. This, in spite of two appeals processes still remaining, which could take months or years.

Into this context sauntered the military top brass. One the eve of the judgement, the commander of the Army Reserves wrote in the Estado de São Paulo newspaper that if Lula were left free to run and won the presidency, there would be no option but military intervention. His comments were shortly followed by those of the commander of the Brazilian army, Eduardo Villas Boas, who took to Twitter to ask the public — rhetorically, of course — who it thought had the good of the country in mind, and who was only looking after their own. The Brazilian military, he continued, “shares the longing of all good citizens to repudiate impunity” and is “attentive to its institutional missions.”

As left-wing economist Laura Carvalho commented, “the revolution won’t be televised, but the coup will be tweeted.”

Lula’s habeas corpus was duly denied the following day. Whether Lula gives himself up is still to be seen; noises from his camp suggest he may resist arrest. On the night of the judgement, supporters rallied to the headquarters of the metalworkers’ union in suburban São Paulo, with more resistance promised from across the Left.

What has made events come to such a head now is the decision by investigating judge Sergio Moro to depart from the constitutional norm and mandate Lula’s imprisonment before his appeals process is exhausted. For Moro, this is his triumphal moment, the capture of the trophy beast he’s been hunting for years. According to his logic, sending Lula down would signal the end of political impunity. For Moro’s supporters — more anti–Workers’ Party (PT) than genuinely anti-corruption — this one imprisonment is the final nail in the coffin of corruption.

One is reminded of George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” stunt aboard an aircraft carrier in 2003: an astoundingly premature declaration of victory, a conclusion to an illegitimate campaign announced by a vain man, whose results have been nothing but institutional chaos and an even more corrupt state. Tarnishing a perfect analogy, in Brazil the levels of violence sadly predate the campaign.


Whatever happens next — and last week’s shooting at Lula’s traveling pre-election roadshow seems a very grim foreshadowing of growing political violence — this feels like a decisive moment.

So argues political scientist Felipe Demier in the article presented in translation below. Originally published on Esquerda Online, Demier’s essay reflects on Lula’s imprisonment, staking out a position between a reflexive defense of Lula’s politics and an ultra-left celebration of his arraignment. It also discusses the highly contingent nature of bourgeois acceptance of democracy — a reconciliation that now must be abandoned through the imprisonment of a former political ally, in the name of preserving “democracy” and the constitution.


Here’s the link again: 

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