Translated and edited for readability by Brian Mier
On January 24, 2018, after three conservative judges rejected ex-president Lula’s appeal against charges that he received illegal reforms in an apartment that prosecutors were unable to prove he ever owned or set foot in, a crowd of some 70,000 people gathered on Praça de Republica in downtown São Paulo. After a series of speeches by some of the most important people on the Brazilian left, including MTST leader Guilherme Boulos, MST leader Gilmar Mauro, and CUT union federation leader Vagner Freitas, the former president took the stage. This is what he said:
As I arrived here I heard someone giving a speech. I don’t know who it was. He said that an election without Lula is a fraud. I became worried that people would leave here with the impression that this is a campaign event. This act is infinitely more important than a mere campaign event. This is an act in defense of national sovereignty and in defense of Brazil. Let me tell you something – after the court decision I felt that people were coming to greet me as if I were suffering. “Oh, Lula” they said, “be strong. Be brave, comrade”. First of all, I never had any illusion about what the court decision would be, never. I never had any illusions about the behavior of the judges in relation to the Lava Jato investigation. Why didn’t I ever have any illusions about this? Because there was a deal made between the Judiciary and the Press in which they decided that it was time to destroy the PT party and our governance in the country. They no longer accepted the social ascension of the poor and the working class in this country. They no longer accepted the educational ascension that went from pre-school to university. They no longer tolerated that we created a program that sent 100,000 young people to study in universities abroad. They no longer tolerated the amount of credit given out to small farmers, the amount of credit for social housing through the Minha Casa Minha Vida program, and they no longer could stand the amount of consigned credit given out by the public banks. To them, it was no longer possible for the country to continue that way. There were a lot of people driving cars and the cause of this was this disgraceful PT party and its government that helped all these poor people to buy cars. Cars aren’t for us. Our place is on overcrowded buses. The more wretched we are are the more they like it and the less traffic they have the more they like it. It’s simple, let the workers drive cars and let them ride on the bus to see what its like in this country.
Any lawyer up here would tell me, “President Lula, you have to respect the decision”. I respect the decision because it was theirs. But I do not accept the lie that their decision is based on. They know that I did not commit a crime. I would like to offer to spend an entire day with these judges on live television for them to show me what the crime I committed was. I am not worried that I won’t be able to run for president. I want them to apologize for the quantity of lies that they have told about me for the last 4 years. I want them to say what the crime that I committed is. I am now condemned another time for the disgrace of an apartment that I do not own, that isn’t mine. Look, if they’ve condemned me for this, at least give me the damn apartment – that would make things more simple. Give me the deed for it. I’ve already asked Guilerme Bolous [MTST leader] to send his people down there and squat in that apartment. If it’s mine, occupy it. So, people, let me tell you something. I don’t want anyone to be worried just about Lula. I want you to worry about what is happening to 210 million Brazilians, and most importantly those who work and live off their salaries in this country. I want you to understand that everything will get worse when they pass the pension reforms. I want you to understand that the FIES [government student loan program], which improved access to education in this country, is ending. I want you to know that the PROUNI [student grant program] is shrinking. I want you to know that that salaries are going down in this country. It’s important for you to know that jobs with signed labor cards will cease to exist and everyone will be stuck with intermittent jobs which only pay for hours worked [e.g. no more vacation, maternity leave, or benefits]. I want you to understand that they are removing rights from us that we won 60 years ago. Lula is on the defense bench, but the ones who were condemned are the Brazilian people, by the Coup that they made. A human being can be imprisoned. Mandela spent 27 years in jail, and that did not weaken his struggle. He returned and became president of South Africa. Here in Brazil I can tell the story of a poor soldier, who wasn’t even a Sargent, named Tiradentes, who was daring enough to think of independence in this country. He wasn’t just condemned by the government at the time. They hung him, they drew and quartered him and hung the pieces of his body on stakes in Ouro Preto in Minas Gerais so that nobody else would ever think about independence in this country. Independence happened thirty years later, and 97 years after that when they proclaimed the first republic, General Marachal Deodoro de Fonseca needed a hero to justify the Republican Proclamation and the only hero they could find was this one who they hung, quartered and salted his meat for nobody to ever remember him again. And he became the only national hero and up to today when someone asks to name a hero in this country we remember Tiradentes. They have to know once and for all – and I’ve been saying this for a long time – this is nonsense about how Lula has to be condemned because I am insignificant.
What is great in this country is the political consciousness of the Brazilian people, who are beginning to show that they no longer accept subservience. If they show me the crime that I committed, I want to see it. They spoke for ten hours straight today – they read I don’t know how many pages – and there is not one crime. And so this story of condemning people who haven’t committed crimes just because the judge has conviction, or creating the theory of the “domain of fact”, which was used in the mensalão judgment, based on “I don’t want to know if you stole or not, you are the boss so you will pay the price”. I want to tell them that I am not a radical person – if anything I am too moderate. They are not so accustomed to judging the innocent, to judging people who have honor. For me, this judgment is an opportunity to travel across Brazil and start discussing with the Brazilian people what we had, what we are losing and what we can get back. I didn’t even want to be involved with politics anymore. I already was president, I already was approved of, but now I see that everything that they are doing is to try to prevent me from becomming a candidate – not even to win, just becoming a candidate. This provocation is so offensive that it gives me an itch and now I want to run for president of the Republic. Now I want to do it. And they can try to hunt my right to be a candidate, no problem. I don’t want to dispute them with pens. I want to dispute with them for the consciousness of the Brazilian people by saying what we want for this country. And if I committed one crime, present it to me. Present this crime to me and I will give up running for office. In fact I will give up appearing in public. I am challenging them. I challenged the federal police, the Lava Jato prosecutors, Sergio Moro, and now I would like to challenge the three judges who ruled on my appeal: prove that I committed one crime. They judged me because this entire process is subordinated to Rede Globo TV Company, Veja Magazine, Estado de Sao Paulo, Folha de Sao Paulo and the Brazilian press, which does not tolerate the social ascension that the people conquered. They never supported it and they won’t do it. Who can forget that when Fernando Haddad and I created the PROUNI [student grant program] they said it would lower the quality of university education. They said it would put unprepared students in the university system. And after two years all studies showed that the best students were the poor one from the periphery who were studying through PROUNI. They are ending the FIES student loan program because it showed that the government trusted students with credit that they could pay back after they graduated. They thought this was an expenditure, but they don’t consider lending money to companies as expenditure. It’s only expenditure when its for students. I don’t have a university diploma but I want to tell these ignorant people who do have one that the best investment a nation can make is investment in education because it is education that will guarantee national sovereignty, the sovereignty of knowledge, scientific and technological sovereignty, productive sovereignty, and competitive sovereignty. And they never accepted the fact that we sent the Free Trade of the Americas Proposal away, that we strengthened MERCOSUR. They never tolerated that we created an institution to gather together all of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. They never tolerated our visits to 39 African nations. They said, “The place Lula should be visiting is the United States and not Africa,” because they have inferiority complexes. I visited Africa with great pride. On Friday at 1 AM I am flying to Ethiopia to talk about fighting hunger in Africa, because Brazil has good examples of social policies. They never tolerated this, comrades. They never tolerated the fact that a metallurgical worker without a college education would go down in history as the president who built the most public universities and who put the most students in universities in the history of the country. They never tolerated this this quasi-illiterate is the president who built the most public technical schools in the history of this country. They never tolerated that this illiterate and his government are the ones who settled the greatest number of landless peasants, who built the most houses, who raised the minimum salary more than anyone. These are the conquests that were judged today. And I want them to know that I am not as worried as they think I am. Because they can’t arrest a dream of freedom. They can’t arrest ideas. They can’t arrest hope and Lula is just a man of flesh and blood. They can arrest Lula but the ideas are already in the mind of Brazilian society.
The people already know that it’s nice to eat well. The people already know that it’s nice to live well. The people already know that it’s nice to travel by airplane. The people already know that it’s nice to buy a new car. The people already know its nice to have a house, with a TV and a computer, where every child has a phone. The people learned that this is good and they think that we didn’t learn this and that we will be happy continuing to buy second class things. We are not second class people. We want our kids to have the same opportunities that they have. We want to put the son of a kitchen maid in the same school with the son of the boss to see who is more competent. They won’t be able to condemn or arrest this. So, comrades, I don’t want you to ever lower your heads. None of this, “poor Lula, oh, he’s been condemned, oh, they want to arrest him”. Don’t lower your heads. And I say this, they are the poor ones who think that arresting Lula will end the struggle because Brazil has millions of men and women who are stronger than Lula, braver than Lula and more conscientious than Lula. So people, it’s not the time to resist or desist. It’s time to continue down our path for the future of this country. They should prepare themselves because the Leftist Political parties are uniting to return, not just to govern this country, but to treat the Brazilian people with the respect that they deserve. To take care of the women, the children, the blacks, the Indians, the LGBT, to take care of those who are so marginalized in this country. We are tired of prejudice. We are tired of envy. We are tired of hate. We want to build a country of peace. A country where people greet each other, who say good morning, good afternoon, where people aren’t angry with each other like what is happening now. Right now I hear there is a protest on Paulista avenue by those guys in the yellow shirts. They protest in yellow shirts, but on Monday they put on American shirts and fly to Miami to go shopping instead of spending their money here and generating jobs for our people. I would like to finish by thanking the unions and social movements who organized this event. I came here with Guilherme Boulos (MTST) and Vagner Freitas (CUT) to say that now is the time to march and to occupy Paulista avenue.