ThoughtStorms Wiki

Context: BrazilianPolitics

Brazilian ex-president LulaDaSilva was accused of corruption and faced a hostile media and legal campaign that resulted in him being imprisoned and prevented from participating in the Brazilian presidential election of 2018

This gave the presidency to JairBolsonaro

On Quora I did a certain amount of arguing against the accusations, and here are some of my answers.

While I couldn't be 100% sure the accusations were false, and corruption is endemic in Brazil and BrazilianPolitics, I was pretty sure that the accusations were a campaign of political character assassination and lawfare, designed to further discredit the PartidoTrabalhista and consolidate the Brazil2016Coup

As of writing in 2022, Lula spent some time in prison before all charges against him were thrown out by the supreme court on the grounds that the legal case was unsafe and the judge demonstrably biased against him.

(See also VazaJato for the leaks which revealed this definitively)

Quora Answer : Is Lula da Silva actually a corrupt politician, or is he really innocent and suffering political persecution?

Apr 21, 2018

He's certainly suffering political persecution.

Is he corrupt or innocent? That's a harder question. No one in Brazilian politics is 100% pure. Everyone has done favours, looked the other way, done deals with other powers etc. That's how the system works.

This isn't just true of Brazilian government. It's true of private companies too. The difference is, when a politician is caught bending the rules, his political opponents will make damned sure everyone hears about it. In the private sector, when the CEO is caught stealing from the company, the board of directors don't go around telling everyone (it reflects badly on them, and no-one has an interest in saying that the company is damaged by bad management.) When businessmen hear rumours of other businessmen engaged in bribery, they don't rat each other out, they just quietly recalculate their budgets.

I guarantee you, anyone on Quora who tells you that politicians are the only corrupt professionals in Brazil is probably a student with no experience in Brazilian industry.

So Lula ran a government in a fractious legislature that has something like 40 parties. Various coalition partners needed (and still need) to be bought off to make any kind of policy work at all.

That certainly happened under Lula (as demonstrated by mensalao scandal). It's undoubtedly happening now too in one form or another.

No one is likely to be a senior politician without buying friends.

Is Lula guilty of what he's actually been put in prison for?

That's a much tougher question. The proof against Lula is basically some ambiguous paperwork, which people on plea-bargains are saying can be interpreted as referring to him.

We're literally at the level where the letter L scrawled on a piece of paper is being held up to mean "this notes that this is going to be given to Lula"

And Lula is in prison because 6 judges (but no jury) have decided that this is an acceptable level of "proof".

No one has, as far as I can tell, been able to demonstrate that "Lula was paid X in return for Y", where Y is actually something that he had direct responsibility for and did.

At the most, they're insinuating that particular pieces of work by construction companies (that were undoubtedly "in with" Lula and had made political donations to the PT ... along with all the other parties, as most large corporations try to "keep in" with all major political players) were somehow payback for contracts given to them years earlier. Lula hasn't had any executive power since 2012. So, again, it's hard to know what corporations thought they were buying by giving him presents in 2014 or 15.

In fact everything is "indirect". The paperwork doesn't mention Lula, but somehow people interpret that it does. Lula doesn't legally own any of the things that are alleged presents to him. But intermediaries are said to own them on his behalf. Lula doesn't actually have any executive authority to hand out contracts to people, but it's assumed that he has huge amounts of informal influence with the rest of the PT government and so if you do a deal with him, he can make something happen for you through putting in a good word.

It's not that any of these accusations are automatically wrong or impossible. But they are incredibly nebulous. A huge amount of interpretation had to be made to decided that all these unknowns and indirections definitively add up to Lula's guilt. And that interpretation was made by just 6 judges under a large amount of political pressure : from the mainstream media, from parts of the public, from other politicians (including the current government), from the top brass of the military making oblique threats, from evangelical leaders who have made a religious crusade against the PT, etc. etc. to find Lula guilty.

An entire establishment that was terrified that Lula was still more popular than any other political candidate and would have still been likely to win the presidency in this year's elections.

It very much wanted to make sure he was taken out so he couldn't stand again.

Let's be clear about this.


That is NOBODY

I'm going to repeat that ...


... believes that this was an impartial judicial process simply working itself out, following the evidence wherever it most obviously led.

Not the left, who no longer believe in the judiciary. (Which is something that should worry everyone, whatever their political position. Half the country believing that the judges can't be trusted to do an honest job is a massive issue.)

Not the right, who make make explicit analogies with Al Capone and are cheer-leading this legal process as a way to get Lula for other crimes and conspiracies they attribute to him.

Not the judges. Who have explicitly said that their real motivation is to demonstrate that no politician is above the law and want to make an example out of Lula. And are now scared to be seen to back down. However weak the actual proofs are.

Not the generals who feel it necessary to send coded messages that they will be really pissed off if the judges DON'T send Lula to prison.

Not the other corrupt politicians who are desperately hoping that the cathartic fire will have satiated itself and burned out before it gets to them.

Not even, I suspect, the people you see driving around Brazil with stickers in their cars saying "Lava Jato #EuAcredito" (I believe in Car Wash) as though it's some new kind of Pentecostal revelation. These people didn't believe that Lava Jato would find the "right answer". They believed it would wreak righteous judicial vengeance on the party they hate.

This whole thing started as a way for the far right to score points and win through lawfare what they couldn't win through elections. It's burned the Brazilian political class. Now it's wrecked the Brazilian justice system. And judges are seen to be as corrupt as politicians.

Perhaps fanbois of military intervention are happy. They shouldn't be. The only difference between corrupt politicians and corrupt generals is that the generals are going to shoot the whistleblowers and investigators before their crimes come out.

Update 2019 : I got pushback from right-wingers in the comments. Naturally. Not a problem. Sometimes they are even right, and correct my own biases.

But people reading this answer should know that in October, 2019, less than a year after I wrote this, the supreme court of Brazil is indeed, finding that the prosecutions were biased. And may be flawed : Decis\xc3\xa3o do STF pode anular condena\xc3\xa7\xc3\xb5es da Lava Jato, mas ministros ainda discutem limitar impacto

Quora Answer : Lula has a lot of corruption accusations by the mainstream media in Brazil. Is there any proof of it?

Jan 31, 2018

There is. But it's all "circumstantial".

Circumstantial evidence is basically evidence that isn't a direct witnessing of the guilt of the person, but contextual facts that you are invited to make an inference from.

Let's give an analogy. Consider Jim.

Jim is in court, accused of receiving stolen goods. The evidence presented is that Jim is the cousin of Bob, a known housebreaker. Furthermore Bob has been seen around Jim's house various times in recent months. And Jim has been driving around in a rather nice car that technically belongs to Bob, but seems to have been given to him as a present or on indefinite loan.

Furthermore, Steve, a small-time crook, also facing jail-time, has entered a plea-bargain with the judge saying he "knows" that Jim has been receiving stolen goods from Bob.

On the other hand. The defence points out that there are no witnesses that have actually seen Jim with any stolen goods. Nor does there seem to be an itemized list of the goods that are alleged to have been stolen and handled by Jim. And it's widely believed that that the judge who has taken Steve's plea-bargain has it in for Jim, and so it's plausible that he has, deliberately or not, encouraged Steve to point the finger at Jim in return for a more lenient sentence.

So, if you don't like Jim all that much, you're inclined to say "Well, I always knew he was rascal and no-good. Obviously he consorts with criminals. He's obviously been paid off by them. And we have a witness to say that he's involved. The whole thing is an open and shut case. The fact that he's managed to handle the stolen goods without being seen doing it is just further evidence of how tricky he is and how important it is to take him down."

OTOH, If you like Jim, you're inclined to say "Seriously? Is that it? There's no direct evidence of any wrong-doing! It's all just hype and insinuation. You can't put a man in prison for 12 years on something that flimsy."

So, Lula's position is similar. He's known to consort with corrupt politicians and the kind of oligarchs who bribe politicians. But just as Jim can't help having a cousin who's a burglar, a Brazilian president and political player can't really avoid dealing with a whole tranche of corruption at the top of Brazilian society. He's known to have received some kind of presents from some of these people. Which certainly doesn't look good. But there's no evidence that these are the result of any negotiated deal. Except for some accusations in plea-bargains. But there's strong reason to be suspicious that the judges concerned are gunning for Lula and may well be encouraging that.

On a case where a jury was required to set a high standard of proof, and presume innocence unless that bar was reached, I think you'd be fairly unlikely to get a conviction on just this evidence. OTOH, IANAL!

Quora Answer : Do Brazilian left-wingers think that Lula deserves to be arrested?

Nov 17, 2016

Maybe. But that's not what is happening.

What is happening is a deliberate, concerted attempt by right-wingers, in the media, in the judiciary and politicians, to destroy the PT's image and credibility by creating a theatre of hatred against Lula.

Just like the US Republican Party's pursuit of Hillary Clinton over Benghazi and her emails, this is not some kind of neutral process to discover the truth and apply justice wherever it is deserved. This is a process with a goal already determined - Lula in prison, his reputation shredded, and the PT effectively eliminated from the 2018 presidential elections - and they are now trying, repeatedly, to find something, anything, to get to that end-point.

If this were a legitimate investigation there would be no great public arrests in front of the TV cameras, there would be no speculative leaks whereby half the TV and magazines cry "proof!" because someone in the investigating police force thinks that they might have discovered a connection between Lula and a bribe (despite this not having come to court). There would be more public caution about evidence from plea-bargains (where people looking at long and unpleasant jail-time are given strong incentives to point the finger wherever they think the investigator would like it to point)

Everyone deserves the presumption of innocence until the legal process is finished.

Lula is suffering one long presumption of guilt, loudly trumpeted by his enemies.

Quora Answer : Why does Lula's conviction not change his position in the election polls?

Feb 1, 2018

Because a large number of Brazilians think that these are trumped up, or at least overblown, charges. And they figure that in the cosmic scale of things, Lula's corruption is no worse than the rest of the political class who are seeking to benefit from his political demise.

It's one thing to have zero tolerance for corruption if you think you'll get a slate of genuinely honest and more responsible alternatives. But another if you think that the whole thing is just a scam to put in a bunch of people who are just as corrupt and a lot more obnoxious.