The Brazilian president said in an interview from prison that the country is governed by “a bunch of crazy people” and that he is determined to prove his innocence
He looks strong. Determined to change his destiny. The idea that the jail, with time, was going to weaken Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva does not correspond to reality. “I am obsessed with unmasking Sérgio Moro [the judge of first instance who condemned him and, now, is Minister of Justice of President Jair Bolsonaro] and his friends, and of unmasking those who condemned me; I will be imprisoned for 100 years, but I will not change my dignity for my freedom,” warns the former president of Brazil (Caetés, 1945), imprisoned since April 2018 in Curitiba. The leader of the Workers Party breaks his silence in a two-hour prison interview with EL PAÍS and the Folha de São Paulo newspaper .
Lula is serving a sentence of 8 years and 10 months for money laundering and corruption in a purchase operation of a three-story house in the beach of Guarujá (São Paulo). The building was remodeled by a construction company that had contracts with Petrobras, where a corruption plot was uncovered.
He has added small victories in recent days that give him hope to get out of jail early. The permission to give this interview, thanks to the Supreme Court, has been one of those conquests. In addition, the justice reviewed his sentence on April 23. His sentence was lowered from 12 years and 1 month to 8 years and 10 months which opens the possibility of house arrest beginning in September.
He comes into a small room where the interview will take place dressed in sneakers, shirt, jeans and an ash-colored jacket. He does not seem sad or happy. Nor does he seem to have aged, although he looks different. The conversation begins, the first one from prison, a little stuck at first, but soon he relaxes: he does not hesitate to warn that Brazil is governed “by a gang of madmen”, show his fury against the judges who condemned them and cry when he remembers his grandson Arthur, who died in March of meningitis when he was seven years old .
Question. The day of his imprisonment, on April 8, 2018, was historic. What went through your head when you were arrested and transferred to prison?
Answer.Throughout the judicial process, I always had the certainty that there was a central objective: to reach me. That was evident in all the testimonies; remember what the press said: they have arrested so-and-so, they are going to arrive at Lula; They have arrested Mengano, they are going to arrive at Lula. I already knew it because the press was showing it, people told it, lawyers talk with other lawyers. It was becoming clear that the goal was to reach me. Many people believed that I should leave Brazil, flee. But I decided that this is my place. I am obsessed with unmasking Sérgio Moro [the judge of first instance who condemned him and now he is Minister of Justice of President Jair Bolsonaro] and his friends, and of unmasking those who condemned me. I will be imprisoned for 100 years, but I will not exchange my dignity for my freedom. I want to prove the farce that was mounted in here, and in the Department of Justice of the United States with testimonies of prosecutors recorded on video. I have an obsession, but I do not feel hate, I do not hold a grudge because, at my age, when you feel hatred you die sooner. And, since I want to live up to 120 years, I will work hard to prove my innocence.
Q. You may never get out of here. Even so, do you think you made the right decision?
R. I would take it again.
Q. Have you already thought that you can be here forever?
R.Nothing happens. I sleep every day with a clear conscience. I am sure that [Lava Jato’s prosecutor] Deltan Dallagnol does not, and that Moro does not either. Nor those judges of the Court of the 4th Region [of second instance that confirmed the sentence imposed by Moro] that did not even read the sentence. Someone like me, who is 73 years old, who built the life that I built in this country, who regained the pride and self-esteem of the Brazilian people, is not going to betray himself. Those who were born in [the State of] Pernambuco [in the Northeast, one of the poorest regions of Brazil] and did not die of hunger before they turned five, do not bow to anything. Do you think I would not like to be at home? But I do not care, because what I want is to get out of here with my head high, as I entered. Innocent.
P. Do you think you can achieve absolution in the case of the Guarujá apartment?
R. Incredibly, yes. There will be a day when the people who judge me will be worried about the real evidence, and not about the headlines, the covers of the magazines and the false news. I just want, for God’s sake, to be judged on the basis of the evidence. I’m sure [of my innocence], Moro is too. I am here to seek justice, to prove my innocence. But I am much more concerned with what is happening with the Brazilian people.
P. During this year he has gone through two very sad moments: the death of his brother Vavá [in January] and the death of his grandson Arthur [in March] . What is left in your life, after living that?
R.Those two moments have been the worst. It could include the loss of a partner, [the ex-deputy] Sigmaringa Seixas [who died at the end of 2018]. The death of my brother Vavá and that of my grandson were, in fact, no, no, no … [stops and cries]. Sometimes I think how easy it would have been if the dead man had been me. Because I have lived 73 years, I could die and let my grandson live. But no. It is not only those moments that leave one sad. I have always tried to be a happy man and I work hard so that hate does not overcome, that deep rancor. When I see those who condemned me on television, knowing how I know they are liars, knowing that they forged a story, I have many moments of sadness. What keeps me alive is the commitment to this country, to this people. I’m obsessed with what’s happening now, The obsession to destroy national sovereignty, to destroy jobs, to raise a billion for what [minister Paulo Guedes said that pension reform was going to generate a saving of one trillion reais]? At the expense of retirees?
Q. What is your routine in jail?
R. I spend all my time alone. Leo, I see what they send me on a pen drive . I see movies, many series, many speeches, many classes. I did a course [of classes recorded on YouTube] about the Canudos war [conflict of a religious group against the Army in the State of Bahia in the XIX century] that tells the lies that Euclides da Cunha told. I take classes every week. I will leave here a doctor.
Q. Do you wash your own clothes? Has prison changed your routine?
R. I always wanted to live alone. Throw clothes anywhere, not to answer to anyone. But when I was a widower for the first time, in 1971, my mother demanded to live with me [Lula has been twice widowed; his second wife, Marisa Leticia, died in 2017]. Now I do not wash my clothes. I send my people to wash it. But I like solitude, I can learn and deepen my spirituality. I want to get out of here better than I entered, with less anger towards people.
Lula follows the news through the television he has in the 15-meter room where he is. Receives visits every week. Of the family, of friends, of politicians, of his lawyers. A few days ago it was the Italian sociologist Domenico Demasi. He receives a daily injection of encouragement from a group of lulistas, fans who meet religiously every day since the former president was imprisoned to shout “Good morning, president”, “good afternoon …”, “good night”, three times a day , around the Federal Police building. They scream so Lula does not feel alone.
Q. Do you hear those screams? What do they mean to you?
R. I listen to them every day. Honestly, I do not know how I can thank those people. Some came from my first day in prison. When I get out of here, I want to walk out and meet them. The first cup I want to take with them. And toast.
P. Your party lost the elections last year and the extreme right came to power with the vote of many voters who were from the Workers’ Party (PT). How do you rate that shift to the right of an electorate that was so grateful to your administration?
R.Many jurists were sure that my candidacy could not be prevented, that, even if convicted, I could could still present myself. I was also safe and felt immense pride in winning the elections from inside the prison. It is important to remember that I raised 16 points in the polls here, unable to speak. We had atypical elections in Brazil. Let’s be honest. The role of false news in the campaign, the amount of lies, the robotization of the campaign on the Internet, was a crazy thing. And then the lack of sensibility of the left sectors in not uniting. Such was the nonsense that Marina Silva, who was almost president in 2014, won 1% of the vote. I had never seen the town with so much hatred in the streets. I’m following it, the whole world is like that. Politics is effectively demonized, And it will take a long time for us to treat it seriously. I did not expect [President] Bolsonaro to solve Brazil’s problems in four months. And then, with the family he has, with the madness he has. His capital enémy, apart from the PT, is the vice president [Hamilton Mourão]. I mean, it’s crazy. The country is subordinated to ungovernability. Until now he does not know what to do, and who dictates the rules is [the minister of Economy Paulo] Guedes.
Q. What self-criticism do you have after all this time? PT mistakes, how will the PT go ahead without you?
R. Obviously, we recognize that we lost the elections. Now, it is worth remembering the strength of the PT. Because, just me personally, there have already been more than 80 magazine covers against me. When they arrested me they did 80 hours of Jornal Nacional [informative program] against me. And they did not manage to destroy me. That means that the PT is very strong. The PT has not been destroyed, it has lost an election. I showed that it is the only party that exists in this country as a political party. The PT must have made mistakes in our governments …
P. And corruption?
R. Ayrton Senna [Formula 1 driver died in 1994] made a single mistake and died. There may have been corruption, but that is proven by evidence. If there was corruption, that is investigated, accused, tried and condemned. We created the mechanisms to investigate corruption, it was not an adversary. The Brazilian elite should do self-criticism. How did they win so much in Lula’s time when the poor lived so well? Let’s make self-criticism about what happened in 2018. It can not be that this country is governed by a gang of crazy people.
Q. Are you following the movements of General Hamilton Mourão, current vice president?
R. I can not say anything, because I do not know him either. I appreciate, for example, the gesture he made when my grandson died. Unlike Bolsonaro’s son, who posted a lot of nonsense on Twitter, Mourão said it was a humanitarian issue that I go to my grandson’s funeral. I want you to leave here and portray this: that you have not talked with a broken citizen, but with a citizen who has all the defects that a human being can have, but that there is something that he does not renounce. I learned it with Dona Lindu [her mother], who was born illiterate and died illiterate: dignity and character are not sold in supermarkets and are not learned in the university. They are from birth. And I have plenty, and I do not give them up. They are my heritage.
P. Ukraine has chosen a comedian as president, the right has advanced strongly in several places on the planet, and there will be elections this weekend in Spain. How do you see these elections, with the growth of the right, despite the fact that the PSOE progressives lead the polls.
R. I think that, in Spain, PSOE and Podemos will win the elections. The advance of the right in the world is the demoralization of politics. I can not think it’s wrong for a comedian to have won the elections in Ukraine. What did they say when a metallurgist won the elections [in Brazil]? They underestimated him, that if he was illiterate, that he can not speak, that I don’t know what … Everyone can become a great politician.
Q. How do you see Venezuela?
R. Obviously, I do not agree with the economic policy of Venezuela, I think it is a mistake. But I’m still less in agreement with Brazil recognizing this [Juan] Guaidó. Sincerely, what little shame. They have taken Brazil to the lowest level of foreign policy I have ever seen in my life. And after that embarrassment to say they were going to send a food truck and they sent two empty vans … Let each one take care of their affairs and let the people of Venezuela democratically choose their leaders. If they want to go out to the streets to overthrow the government, let them go out, but it is the people, and not Trump, who is going to overthrow the Government of Venezuela.
Q. Would you run for presidential elections at your age? Do not you think that you will never be a candidate again?
R. I believe in many things. I see that scientists say that the man who will live 120 years has already been born. Why can it not be me? I think the Catholic Church taught that 75-year-olds are better off retiring to make room for young people. I think a lot of good people are going to emerge in this country and I will be content to support anyone who, from now on, will be running for the presidential elections. But I see that in the United States a lot of people stand for election at 78 and 79 years.
P. Your former minister Antonio Palocci has become an informer. He even said that there was an account abroad, in the name of entrepreneur Joesley Batista, where money was deposited for the PT. Why do you think your minister would be lying?
R. I had a deep respect for Palocci. He was a person who, if he had not played the fool, could have grown in Brazilian politics. I began to lose confidence in him with that history of the landlord in my first term. I believe that the human being has a limit to endure, from the psychological point of view, the pain he feels. I’m sorry for Palocci. Because a man of his political quality had no right to throw his life away as he did. He did not deserve to do to himself what he has done.
Q. What worries you more when you are here locked up? The family, the friends, to know that they have trouble finding a job?
R. All badly. My assets are frozen. Look how absurd: I had to pay a fine of 32 million reais [7 million euros], to pay I do not know what. The Superior Court of Justice reduced it to 2 million [450,000 euros]. Why this difference? What logic does it even have to impose a fine of 2 million? I hope that the assets are released at least so that my children can survive with dignity. It worries me. I worry about my son, who always comes to see me. But what worries me the most is the situation in Brazil. I can not imagine the dreams I had for this country, when we discovered oil. I have pride and I dreamed high, because I was a very respected president. Here in Latin America, Brazil was the reference. I dreamed of creating a block in Latin America so that we would have the strength to negotiate with the European Union, with the United States, with China. Individually, we are weak. I was the only president who participated in all the G-8 meetings. All that has come down. Now the mayor of New York does not want to organize a dinner for the president of Brazil. At what point have we arrived? What a shame!
Q. If you ever leave here …
R . I’m going out. And I hope you are here.
Q. And what will you do first?
R. I would love to be able to hold a debate at a university one day with Moro and Dallagnol together. They with thousands of pages that tell lies and I with my truth. With a good face, calm, handsome as I am today. But, really, I want to make a barbecue, a very well made bacon and have a drink. But I’ll do it. Have patience.
Translated by EF