The South African Federation of Trade Unions condemns the imprisonment of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former President and leader of the Workers Party of Brazil, as he starts a 12-year sentence.
This is not an isolated attack on an individual but an all-out offensive against the Workers’ Party of Brazil, the Brazilian workers as a whole, the broader left in Brazil and all workers in South America and the world.
The federation sends a message of solidarity to the thousands of Brazilian people who have been protesting outside the Steelworkers Union headquarters where he was staying, expressing their outrage at the decision to send their leader to jail.
The federation fully agrees with the International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary, Sharan Burrow, that “the collusion between elements of the judiciary, oligarchs who built fortunes under the military dictatorship, military commanders and extreme right-wing forces, including armed militias, is a severe threat to democracy itself in Latin America’s largest country. The international trade union movement stands in absolute solidarity with our Brazilian colleagues and will assist in every way we can their quest to defend democracy and reinstate the rule of law.
“Lula was found guilty by a lower court on the basis of no evidence, something that the lower court judges themselves have admitted. Now, with the military threatening to intervene, Supreme Court judges have, by the narrowest of margins, again bowed to powerful business interests which want to undo forever Lula’s achievements in fighting poverty and inequality in Brazil. Lula is Brazil’s most popular politician by a huge margin, and the judicial persecution of him is aimed at stopping him becoming President again”, said Sharan Burrow.
SAFTU insists that Lula is the victim of a political witch-hunt, based on trumped-up charges, to ensure that he will ineligible to run for president again, despite being the most popular political leader in Brazil.
Lula da Silva was accused of accepting over a million dollars in bribes from the construction company OAS to pay for the renovation of a beachside apartment in Guarujá, São Paulo state, which was owned by his wife.
His legal team however gave evidence that he never received any benefits other than his salary and the gifts routinely bestowed upon any head of state. The prosecution failed to provide any proof linking him to any crime. None of their witnesses provided any evidence linking him to the alleged bribery.
The federation supports the appeal by international human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson to take Lula’s case to the UN Human Rights Commission, on the grounds of the blatant bias of judges and prosecutors, who have violated Lula’s rights to privacy, right to a fair trial, freedom from arbitrary arrest, the right to freedom of movement and the right to be presumed innocent until found guilty.
The charges are so obviously lacking in legal credibility, and so obviously politically motivated, that Robertson believes the accusations and the manner in which the case has been handled violates Lula’s fundamental rights.
Comrade Lula has been a life-long workers’ activist. He joined the Steel Workers’ Union, and was elected as its president in 1975 and 1978.
He helped form the Workers’ Party in 1980 and was selected as its presidential candidate. After three unsuccessful election campaigns, he was elected as president of Brazil in 2013, serving two successful terms.
Lula did not just talk about radical transformation but acted on it. His 2003-2010 Workers’ Party government raised the minimum wage every year. He expanded welfare payments with a program called Bolsa Família, which kept 14 million families from going hungry. According to the U.N., 6.3% of Brazilians were living on just a dollar a day in 2000; by 2009 it had been reduced by half to around 3%.
His “Zero Hunger” programme enabled more than 12 million families to get three meals a day. Despite being the only president in Brazilian history who did not have a university degree, Lula built more universities than any other leader before him.
Yet at the same time he presided over economic growth, and reduced the country’s massive social and economic inequality. He thus smashed the argument of right-wing economists who argue that developing countries cannot afford such reforms.
The economy grew, leading to a radical improvement in the lives of the working class and the poor. 40 million Brazilians were lifted out of poverty. Unemployment fell from 12% to below 6% and, according to the World Bank, the poverty rate fell from 22% to 7% between 2003 and 2009.
His presidency was also a personal triumph; he left office with approval ratings of more than 80% in public opinion polls, making him the most popular president in the country’s history.
This could not be more different from the record of the ANC government, particularly under Jacob Zuma’s presidency, during which everything moved in the opposite direction, with rising unemployment, widening inequality, worsening services in education and healthcare , a stagnating economy and the president’s approval ratings plummeting.
The only common feature of the two countries in the recent past has been the rocketing levels of corruption, which has had a devastating effect in South Africa, on jobs, economic growth and the lives of workers and the poor.
In South Africa billions of rands which could and should have been used to improve public services, create jobs and raise the living standards have been looted by political leaders, CEOs of state-owned enterprises and their cronies in private business.
SAFTU has consistently condemned this theft of the country’s resources and demanded that all those responsible must be prosecuted and punished if found guilty, and that there must be no exceptions.
The federation is however equally adamant that there should be no bogus prosecutions for alleged corruption on the basis of no evidence, as a means of attacking political opponents. This it the case with Lula, who is facing a political witch-hunt just like his successor, Dilma Rousseff.
Another motive for his prosecution was to deflect attention from the corruption within the ruling class, in particular by the current right-wing president, Michel Temer, who is also facing corruption charges, and the hundreds of business people who have been implicated in acts of corruption.
Zuma is now trying to pretend that he also is the victim of a political conspiracy, but this must be rejected. There is no comparison with the clear evidence of his guilt and the complete lack any such evidence in Lula’s case.
Corruption is endemic within the capitalist system. The main lesson from this ongoing tragedy is that, progressive though the Workers’ Party governments were, and how welcome its reforms, it left economic power firmly in the hands of the Brazilian capitalist ruling class which is now using that power to attack Lula and his party.
Although Lula’s government organised mass meetings in communities to explain and popularize its policies, the workers and communities were not in control of the levers of economic and political power. These remained firmly in the hands of the ruing elite.
This enabled the workers’ class enemies to regroup and, using the media, to mobilize thousands of aggrieved middle-class Brazilians on to the streets ostensibly to fight corruption, and the trumped-up charges against Lula were the main issue which aroused them.
SAFTU will continue to defend and support Comrade Lula and the socialist ideals that he fought for. The current neo-liberal administration of Michel Termer will stop at nothing to undermine the good work which President Lula did for the working class and the poor people of Brazil.
SAFTU supports the call to defend Lula and the Workers Party and to ensure that Lula’s legacy is protected and that his vision of a socialist society is realised.
As Lula said on Saturday, in front of a large group of supporters before turning himself in to the federal police: “I’m no longer a human being – I’m an idea. The death of a soldier doesn’t stop the revolution.”