by Brian Mier. Originally published November 12 2018.
On April 3, on the eve of the judgment which resulted in the arrest of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his subsequent removal from the presidential race, Brazilian Army Chief of Staff General Eduardo Vilas Boas made two tweets which appeared to threaten the Supreme Court. That night, as studio lights dimmed, William Bonner, anchor of the most popular news program in Brazil, Globo TV’s Jornal Nacional, read them over the air.
The next day as the Supreme Court issued a split decision , a nervous-looking Justice Rosa Weber announced that she was going to vote against her personal opinion on the matter and side with the majority (which only became a majority due to her vote) in favor Lula’s imprisonment. With a one-vote majority, the Supreme Court voted to uphold a dubious prison sentence against the leading presidential candidate, from a case that was investigated and ruled on by Bolsonaro’s future Justice Minister Sérgio Moro with no material evidence. 3 days later Lula was arrested.
On Sunday, November 11, General Vilas Boas gave an interview to Folha de São Paulo newspaper in which he admits threatening the Supreme Court against issuing a decision favorable to the former President.
“I recognize that there was an episode in which we really pushed the limits, which was that tweet I made on the eve of the Supreme Court vote on the issue of Lula” he said. “We consciously knew we were on the edge. But we felt that the situation could escape our control if I did not publicly express myself. Because other people, military reservists and citizens, identified with us and were speaking more emphatically.”
Responding to the interview, PT President Gleisi Hoffman accused Villas Bôas of hatching a scheme involving sectors of the media and the judiciary to remove ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from the Presidential race that resulted in a Jair Bolsonaro victory. “General Villas Bôas’ statements reveal the political plot against Lula. He makes it clear that there was interference in the Federal Supreme Court decision,” she said.
This announcement by the Army Chief of Staff further further confirms the growing international opinion, recently voiced in the Economist, that Lula’s imprisonment, which opened the door to a return to neofascism in Brazil, was political and made to prevent him from running for President. A recent Economist article states that Sérgio Moro’s acceptance of the Justice Minister post in Bolsonaro’s government, “appears to confirm the claims of the left-wing Workers’ Party (pt) that the judge’s motive earlier this year for jailing its leader and putative presidential candidate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was more political than judicial”.
Update 11 February 2021: In lengthy interviews for a new book, General Villas Boas has revealed various unknowns, and confirmed long held suspicions about the military’s motivation to remove the Workers Party from government, and what was done to achieve that.
He confirmed that his threat to the Supreme Court was from the Armed Forces as a whole, not him as an individual. He also explained that at the time of Lula’s court judgement, the Business and Banking community was demanding military intervention. These subjects will be the focus of future Brasil Wire articles.