Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A supporter of the former Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva holds a flag during a national strike protest called by unions and students against the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's pension reform in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 14, 2019. (Photo: Mauro Pimentel/AFP/Getty Images)

A supporter of the former Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva holds a flag during a national strike protest called by unions and students against the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's pension reform in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 14, 2019. (Photo: Mauro Pimentel/AFP/Getty Images)

Five Hundred Days of Injustice: On the Imprisonment of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

For normalcy to return to Brazil and for hope to be recovered, Lula's freedom—along with annulment of the faulty process by which he was condemned—is essential.

Celso Amorim

On April 7th last year, Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was arrested in a São Paulo suburb and taken to Federal Police offices in the southern town of Curitiba. It was the culmination of a campaign, waged jointly by the mainstream media and part of the judiciary, that had begun two years earlier with a series of maneuvers that led to the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff. The underlying objective, in both cases, was to roll back a progressive political project; one repeatedly endorsed by voters and that focused on bringing greater justice and equality to Brazilian society.

In May 2018, in what was widely understood as a reference to these events, Pope Francis spoke of a new form of “coup d ́État.” Later, as he addressed magistrates from all over the Americas, the Pope spoke of the danger that “lawfare” poses to democracy.

The trial leading to Lula’s imprisonment was acutely flawed from the beginning. The sentence given by Judge Sergio Moro states Lula was convicted for “undetermined acts” related to an infamous São Paulo beach condominium, without proof that Lula benefited from any sort of illicit exchange. In fact, all available evidence demonstrates that the apartment never belonged to Lula or anyone in his family.

"Given the credibility he has among the great majority of the population, only Lula can reestablish dialogue among all sectors of society, which is indispensable for Brazil to return to a path of peace and development."

The power of the media campaign against Lula, and the naive worshipping of the fight against corruption by any means, sowed doubts in the minds of even the most skeptical individuals. But this began to change with the appointment of Judge Moro as minister of justice under current president Jair Bolsonaro—a move widely seen as a reward for Moro keeping Lula, the top-polling candidate, from participating in last year’s presidential election. This was followed by revelations in The Intercept proving what careful observers already knew: Lula was the object of political persecution, conducted by a biased judge and fanatical prosecutors obsessed with their personal project to amass power.

The growing awareness of these facts recently led seventeen jurists (including renowned law professors, members of constitutional courts, and former ministers of justice) from Europe, the United States, and Latin America to publish a statement demanding annulment of the process by which Lula was convicted and stripped of his freedom.

Lula has recently told the media that he believes the U.S. government was involved in his persecution. This belief is based in the fact that Department of Justice officials worked with Judge Moro and the Brazilian prosecutors that targeted Lula. The former president is not alone in wondering what role the U.S. may have played in his persecution: on August 20, thirteen members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr asking for details regarding DOJ involvement in the case against Lula.

On the day of his arrest, Lula, in a spontaneous and highly emotional speech, affirmed that while his enemies could arrest an individual, they could not imprison the dreams of a people. The spectacle of cruelty we have seen lately, with the outrageous and alarming actions of Brazil’s highest dignitary, who climbed to power thanks to Lula’s imprisonment, leaves us wondering whether this hopeful assertion will prevail.

In today's Brazil, the dreams have turned to nightmares: the poor are increasingly deprived of their rights; censorship, often veiled and insidious, restrains freedom of expression; numbing fear prevents good people from taking action; prejudice and stupidity have launched a full-scale assault on reason and science; and, as a consequence of all this, Brazil has become an object of shame in the world, a real international pariah. We live an environment of abnormality without precedent.

For normalcy to return to our country and for hope to be recovered, Lula’s freedom, along with annulment of the faulty process by which he was condemned, is essential. Given the credibility he has among the great majority of the population, only Lula can reestablish dialogue among all sectors of society, which is indispensable for Brazil to return to a path of peace and development.

Even before Lula’s imprisonment, Nobel laureate Adolfo Perez-Esquivel spearheaded a movement to honor him with the Nobel Peace Prize. In the next weeks, the commission in charge in Norway will make a decision. We hope it takes into consideration the work of a labor leader, elevated to the presidency, who lifted millions of Brazilians from poverty, who contributed to peace in South America and around the world, who took courageous measures to protect the environment and the rights of Black and indigenous people, and who defended democracy in a developing country of continental dimensions, whose destiny will not cease to impact the region and the world as a whole.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Celso Amorim

Celso Amorim

Celso Amorim served as Brazil's Minister of Foreign Affairs (2003-2010, Lula da Silva's government) and Minister of Defense (2011-2015, Dilma Rousseff's government).

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

EPA Urged to 'Finish the Job' After Latest Move to Protect Bristol Bay From Pebble Mine

"Local residents, scientists, and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently," said one activist in Alaska.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Zero Tolerance for Corruption': Grijalva, Porter Demand Answers on Alleged Trump Pardon Bribery Scheme

The Democrats believe a real estate developer donated to a Trump-aligned super PAC in exchange for the pardons of two other men.

Julia Conley ·


Millions of Americans Lack Adequate Health Coverage, But the Pentagon Has a New Nuclear Bomber to Flaunt

"This ominous death machine, with its price tag of $750 million a pop, brings huge profits to Northrop Grumman but takes our society one more step down the road of spiritual death," peace activist Medea Benjamin said of the new B-21 Raider.

Brett Wilkins ·


Betrayal of Railway Workers Ignites Working-Class Fury Toward Biden and Democrats

"Politicians are happy to voice platitudes and heap praise upon us for our heroism throughout the pandemic," said one rail leader. "Yet when the steel hits the rail, they back the powerful and wealthy Class 1 rail carriers every time."

Jessica Corbett ·


With GOP House Control Looming, Pascrell Calls for Swift Release of Trump Tax Records

"Donald Trump tried to hide his tax returns from our oversight but after 1,329 days we have finally obtained the documents," said the New Jersey Democrat. "We should review and release them."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo