We need to step up international solidarity campaigning for Lula’s freedom, and democracy and social progress in Brazil, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.
As many Morning Star readers will know, Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been detained in jail since April 7.
This imprisonment has been widely condemned as politically motivated by the international labour and trade union movement, and this week Britain’s largest trade union Unite added its voice to those demanding Lula be freed.
Unite also expressed its solidarity with Brazil’s trade union movement and demanded an end to the attacks on democracy and social progress that have taken place in Brazil since the coup of summer 2016.
This “parliamentary coup” saw Dilma Rousseff — who had received 54 million votes — removed from the presidency without a single vote from the Brazilian public.
Incredibly, despite the fact that Lula is now in jail — and the widespread and persistent attacks and smears on Lula in much of Brazil’s privately owned media in recent years — opinion polls show he is still the leading choice of Brazilians in opinion polls for October’s presidential election.
Lula has faced this trial by media as part of a concerted campaign against him, where his basic human rights have been breached, but he and his supporters are still fighting.
Lula remains the most popular politician in Brazil because he oversaw a period of success, lifting millions from poverty with his groundbreaking social programmes and reducing inequality.
When I was mayor of London I had the privilege of meeting Lula and what was absolutely clear was how improving the lives of ordinary Brazilians was his passion and his reason for being involved with politics.
As the International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow has recently said: “Democracy must be restored urgently and the only way to achieve that is through fair and democratic elections in which Lula has the right to be a candidate.”
But this struggle isn’t just about one man — we must also make a stand for democracy and social progress in Brazil, and in solidarity with all the movements resisting the coup government across the country.
Since the summer of 2016, the unelected government of Brazil has imposed hard-line neoliberal measures, including a 20-year public spending freeze and plans to privatise the state oil company.
Indeed, the current right-wing, unelected government in Brazil is so bad that it even relaxed the definition of slavery in a controversial measure criticised by the UN special rapporteur on modern-day slavery, who said that the government decree “would weaken the protection of poor and excluded populations that are vulnerable to slavery.”
All of this has been done without any electoral endorsement, and the current president is sitting on a 2 per cent popularity rating.
Additionally, the imprisonment of Lula has gone alongside increased repression from the current government of the unelected president, which has included ripping up established trade union rights, repression of social movement protests, and particularly worrying developments such as the politically motivated assassination of socialist, black and bisexual councillor Marielle Franco in March.
Nonetheless, resistance is taking place across the country against the illegitimate government, through strikes, protests, land occupations and more.
The stark reality is that 54 million Brazilians voted for a left-wing president, they then had a right-wing president imposed on them and will now face a choice between hard-right and centrist candidates at the next election if Lula is kept off the ballot. That is why the fight in Brazil for democracy and social progress is our fight too.
And this struggle is also important more broadly in Latin America for the future of progressive movements and trade unions, as this motion points out.
The Trump administration has supported the backward steps in Brazil, and this is part of a worrying trend of the US backing up reactionary, right-wing, anti-worker governments and movements in the region.
As well as backing the unelected government in Brazil, where governments remain in place that don’t follow the path Donald Trump wants, such as in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, the US is imposing — or threatening to impose — harsh sanctions and blockade against these countries, and in the case of Venezuela, Trump has even threatened military action.
Lula’s future and whether he can run as a candidate is likely to be decided soon — let’s step up the international pressure so the stunning victory for the left in Mexico last week is not the only major gain for the left in Latin America this year.
First published by the Morning Star.