Michael Brooks Interview: Lula, solidarity and the antifascist struggle

Host of the Michael Brooks Show and Majority Report co-host talks about the challenges that lie ahead in the global fight against fascism and the fight to preserve Lula’s legacy

Michael Brooks, host of the Michael Brooks Show and the Majority Report, is one of the most well-informed people in the US media about Brazil and was an important ally to the Lula Livre movement during the time of the former President’s 580 day political incarceration. Unlike many people in the US media who took at face value an obviously flawed story presented by a group of far-right prosecutors and judges working out of the most conservative city in Brazil, Curitiba, to throw the presidential election to a neofascist candidate, Brooks questioned the narrative from day 1. Although he was initially belittled by some for defending Lula, the Intercept revelations of thousands of social media conversations showing illegal collusion between Judge Sérgio Moro, the prosecution team, the federal police and Globo television network has completely vindicated Brooks’ position. The following interview was conducted over skype and subtitled in Portuguese for my web TV program on Brasil 247, which is linked below. The transcript has been fact checked, with linked sources inserted where possible, and edited for readability.

Brian Mier – You have been one of the key people in the United States for helping change the narrative that they had in the media about Lula. What was really pernicious about this narrative is that a lot of publications that people who think of them selves as progressives read, such as the New York Times and the Guardian had just repeated this false narrative, which may have been initially generated by the DOJ, that Lula was involved in this incredible amount of corruption. How did you first got involved in trying to change this?

Michael Brooks – I first heard about President Lula just before I started University, when he became President. I was politically active to some extent and interested in what was happening in Latin America. So I was aware of him.

Moving forwards, I am now a talk show host and political analyst in New York. I followed what happened in 2016 a little bit. Then I saw basically that he was about to be jailed in 2018, and I followed my instincts that it was an important story and that the presentation of it was massively distorted. I saw it in 3 key ways: 1) this was a very significant leader who was going to become a political prisoner. That matters in itself. I would cover that to the extent that I could if that happened anywhere on the globe, right? A leader of the left who had accomplished incredible things and was going to go to jail in a politicized process; 2) I think it was an opportunity to talk about the whole bigger set of issues like US foreign policy but also the way some people on the left in the United States and even globally can be so purely idealistic about their politics that they don’t have a power analysis of how things actually work at times. I thought that there was a kind of “purity left” critique of President Lula’s record which needed to be answered and this had implications for how people were dealing with the moment we were in everywhere; and 3) Brazil is the largest country in Latin America and I think if you want to have some foothold in terms of our hemisphere you have to have a sense of what’s going on there.

Mier: This idea of leftist purity is interesting. I found it really annoying when I was trying to convince people in the US that a coup was going on in 2016. I remember once someone wrote in to a radio show I come on a lot and said, “why does Brian keep talking about this coup against Dilma Rousseff, why isn’t he criticizing her from the left?”

There is a right and a wrong time for everything. I think this ties into the Brexit in a way, because I saw all these articles on the “left argument for Brexit”, that took England out of its geopolitical context, as if if England left the European Union it would suddenly be this autonomous, sovereign country. The documents that Jeremy Corbyn released recently clearly show that one of the goals behind Brexit is to turn the national health service over to the US pharmaceutical industry. The left pro-Brexit analysis did not take what the US would do to Britain if it left the EU into consideration at all.

Brooks: That is such a great analogy, and I had a lot of sympathy for left Brexit analysis – of course there are legitimate critiques. Look, literally anyone who ever occupies a position of power will have legitimate criticism made against them, particularly in a global capitalist system. There are these valid left Brexit critiques but the reality is that that is not on the table. The only thing that is on the table is right wing, xenophobic populism, and right wing forces that actually see Brexit as a great opportunity for primitive accumulation and disaster capitalism. So they are not looking at the geostrategic context.

I’m in the independent media obviously but my reach has certainly grown significantly since 2016. I was worried because I did a couple episodes on Brazil and I have to say that I was relieved that I took the right position that it was a coup. Regarding left purity, I think that you have to strike a balance. There are two sorts of left positions in the United States. Some people say if you are angry at the United States, you are automatically good. That’s it. Other say- for example some self-identified liberals are defending the coup in Bolivia for Christs sake, or a coup in Venezuela, and it is usually on grounds that Maduro and Evo Morales are not Christ-like. They are not the perfect hybrid of John Locke and Doctors Without Borders and whatever else these people have in their fantasy lives. So you have to strike the balance there and I think that one of the things that is so interesting about Brazil is that this isn’t like talking about Cuba or something in the United States. I have a principled defense of Cuba’a revolutionary project but there is no question that Cuba, by definition, is not a liberal democracy. But with Lula and the Workers Party you have someone who literally was a political prisoner – the current President is connected to Rio de Janeiro militias and wouldn’t have been elected without Lula being a political prisoner. But he gets out of jail and says, “we are still going to respect the mandate but people have to participate more in democracy and politics”.

Well that is what, excuse my language, all these fucking people are rambling about wanting to see everywhere. And then when they see it in the context of a developing nation they buy into a two-bit lie of a corruption narrative about the very same forces that are promoting, essentially, social democracy. It’s ridiculous.

Mier: How do you see the press coverage up there on Lula’s release from jail? It looked like some elements of the press were panicking a little bit.

Brooks: I definitely think on the right there was. I know that sloppy Steve Bannon said that Lula was a big symbol of “globalists” everywhere. And what is funny is that of course he’s wrong in the sense that he means it because Lula is not a neoliberal leader in contrast to what Steve thinks and maybe some Troskyite factions. But he is a symbol of global decency – this is how I put it – like a Bernie Sanders or a Jeremy Corbyn. There has been some mainstream press change in the coverage of Lula in a positive direction in the sense that some of them are covering it in the context of Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy. There was a kind of flurry of “oh this guy got released from Prison”, but, in the big picture, Brian, the press coverage continues to be, as Brasil Wire pointed out, absolutely terrible. Most articles didn’t even talk about the Intercept revelations. They didn’t even explain the clearly documented reality that at the very least, the sets of charges that put him in were false. The coverage still essentially glossed over the major revelations and sort of shifted to a new narrative which is, “well, this is really going to polarize Brazil.” That was the big mainstream media narrative:“This is going to polarize Brazil”.

Mier: Brian Winter is former Reuters Bureau chief down here and he works for this Think Tank called AS/COA, which generates misinformation about Brazil and all of Latin America in favor of the corporations that finance it, such as Boeing, Chevron and Exxon-Mobil, which all benefited from the 2016 coup. I saw that he has started trying to blame what is going on in Brazil today on the “mediocrity” of the Brazilian people. I find that infuriating. Because here is a guy who made his whole career for the last 15 years out of being a Brazil specialist and now he is saying Brazil is mediocre, after he helped put Bolsonaro in power. He put Sergio Moro dressed up like one of the ghost busters on the cover of their magazine, Americas Quarterly, and his managing editor from that period, Juliana Barbassa, is now Latin America Editor for the New York Times. So he was a major player in Bolsonaro coming to power and now he is trying to say that this has all happened because Brazilians are mediocre. I found that infuriating and hope it isn’t a new trend.

Brooks: It fits a global pattern. David Adler did an interesting study showing that the “center” in politics is actually the most opposed to democracy. They mean democracy usually in a pretty narrow sense, like elections, they are not talking about civil rights and social protection obviously. But the people on the far right do generally believe in some idea of democratic mandate, at least according to the research. The most skeptical are people who identify with the center. So right now in the global conflict between this resurgent far right – Trump, Bolsonaro, and these types of people – and people like Sanders and Lula who are trying to present a real alternative, which Lula actually achieved as President. Then you have this dead neoliberal center and their main mission in life – Brazil is such a perfect example of this… FHC didn’t say, “hey, I am a neoliberal whatever, I hate the Workers Party but we need to stop Bolsonaro because he is antidemocratic and he said I should have been killed”. No. He didn’t say that. He said, “It’s corruption, bla bla bla”. I think you can see a deep disdain in that that these centrist neoliberal types have for democracy. They are going to fight tooth and nail to not acknowledge and rectify the role that they played through all of their policy sets in terms of facilitating the rise of these people on the far right and that is another way in which Brazil is like this macro study of all of these trends. You’ve got everything. You have this dead, discredited neoliberalism, you have the corrupted institutions, you have the hybrid warfare, you even have the resurgent fascism. And you even have, arguably, the most extraordinary leader on the planet and real social movements. So you have the positive variables too.

Brian: It’s pretty lame to label a situation like this and the people who live here as mediocre.

Brooks: It’s disgusting. It’s totally disgusting but I think it’s part of a larger attitude. I mean, I’ve heard people who don’t want to try to figure out why Hilary Clinton lost. The people failed her, she didn’t fail the people.

Mier: It’s not our model that failed. The world failed our model.

Brooks: That’s it. And they you have the audacity to go and live in a place and have people welcome you in a certain way for years, interfering in their internal affairs. You facilitate the rise of a disastrous president and then call them mediocre. That’s that mindset. It’s sick. It’s disgusting.

Mier: I would kind of like to get back to this idea of asking you what you did both publicly and behind the scenes to try to build up support for Lula’s release from his political imprisonment. I remember seeing a video of this guy at a Bernie Sanders campaign speech who raised his hand in the back row and asked about Lula and yelled “Lula Livre” and I remember you telling me off the record that you thought this guy was someone who listened to your show.

Brooks: He is. Yes. He is a listener. Well I mean I can’t go too much into private conversations but I can tell you that every single person I knew who had any type of political influence whatsoever – and I do know some people like this and some of those people definitely do watch my show and engage with it – they heard from me constantly about the Lula case. Constantly. So that is number 1. Or I should say, number 2. Number 1 was really my primary role with the Michael Brooks Show and the Majority Report and I just did a huge amount of segments on it. I want to mention my really good friend Ana Kasparian at the Young Turks. She ran with the story, she started talking about it on TYT which is also a really big independent platform. I don’t exactly know how it spreads. I do live shows for TMBS and I was in Chicago and LA and these guys in their 20s, some of them where wearing Lula T-shirts, were saying “Lula Livre” in the crowd. People understood that there was a US role and that fits into a bigger conversation, but people also understood that Lula is a really extraordinary leader. The guy lifted tens of millions of people out of poverty. And he is communicating the values we’re talking about, and he was take off of the playing field by one of the most disgusting, corrupt processes that anyone has ever seen. And so that was it. And the story really resonated with people and as it progressed, people sought my opinion on these things. Just the other day I was on a talk show with one of the major talk show hosts for the Young Turks who is running for Congress now. We talked about Lula. There was just this profile about Bernie’s foreign policy where they called Lula “far left”. To the troskyites on the left he is a crypto-right winger and to the mainstream press he’s a communist here. There is no analysis. [laughs] But I remember this my friend Jake was going, “I guess that this means that over 80% of the Brazilian people are far left because he had an 80% approval rating when he left office.” And I drilled that approval rating number over the air, I don’t how many times. I also have to say that I was reading and am still read Brasil Wire every day. I was having you on my show, and I was able to have Valeska Martins and Celso Amorim – that is a whole other major part of this, just being a conduit for voices on the ground in Brazil that actually know what the fuck they are talking about. I mean, if you want to know what is happening on the left in the United States, talk to me. Don’t talk to somebody who supports Trump or Clinton.

Mier: What is going to happen now? We had this guy with a long history of involvement with intelligence, from the US State Department, [Willard Smith] visit these scumbag judges in Porto Alegre a couple days ago – the ones who denied Lula’s appeal on this ridiculous vacation property case which is even more ridiculous than the triplex apartment case because there is even less, absolutely zero evidence. The federal government already recognized that it is owned by the son of the former mayor of Campinas, which is one of the largest and richest city’s in Brazil – a family that does not have money problems and could easily afford to buy this kind of, like, moderately luxurious vacation house with a fish pond on it. I don’t know if you knew this, the Lava Jato prosecutors said that Lula had this yacht, right, on this “luxurious” vacation property. When the police raided the place they found a 14-foot aluminum fishing boat floating in a Tilapia pond. That was Lula’s yacht. And it didn’t even belong to him. [laughter]

Brooks: These mother fuckers.

Mier: It’s ridiculous.

The yacht attributed to Lula  turned out to be a Squalus 600

Brooks: Jesus Christ. I have to say, for comedy this actually helped. Because when I would play footage before interviewing someone like you and included shots of this “beach side luxury apartment”, people would look at it and they would be like, “what?” You get this image in your mind when you think of a President’s seaside condo. But it looks like where my grandmother lives in Jacksonville Florida. Peole were like, “what are you talking about?” [laughs]. Barack Obama is on a James Bond island with Richard Branson. This is what we are used to seeing. And when we see photos of that place we are just like, ‘What? He couldn’t afford that on his pension if he wanted it? Are you fucking kidding me?´ It’s embarrassing.

Mier: It would be embarrassing as a citizen of a nation to think that a former two time president would be even living in a place like that. But Lula has simple tastes. He’s been living in the same place for years, he doesn’t like luxury but even so….

Brooks: It’s a testament to him

Mier: But he didn’t live there anyway. Anyway, I don’t know if you know this. When they seized his assets, after the New York Times and all these papers reported it as if he had built this fortune – the Guardian erroneously claimed he had been sentenced over an R$88 million graft case – of millions of dollars in illicit funds. When they froze his bank accounts, do you know how much money was in there? Half of what Obama charges for one speech. R$600,000, which was around $200,000 US at the time. That’s all he had.

Brooks: This is the other thing. We need to have a real conversation about what is and isn’t corruption. That is another subject that I focus a lot on on my show, but I will say this: in every country where the global right wing movement has won electorally – India, the United States, Brazil, Hungary, wherever – the anti-corruption discourse has been a major part of it. Major. So that is a big, big problem, in that people just hear that word corruption and… There is another point that I made to my audience too that gets a little bit trickier to articulate, but you need to understand the difference. People hear the word corruption and they think there is a fund that is set up to get people clean drinking water and you steal the cash and you stash it in your mattress, or you take lobbying money from a pharmaceutical company or whatever, that is all corruption. But maybe I am running a country and I need to actually work with the system as it is to be able to deliver things to people – that is not corruption, it’s called governing.

Mier: It’s called capitalism.

Brooks: And that is the foundation, right. It’s called capitalism. But I think that we need to be really serious in the United States about understanding this. In 2009, when the Obama administration supported a coup against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras – obviously the Bush administration had been trying to dislodge Chavez the whole time. But let’s just say, 2009 is the beginning of the process of the US government basically saying in various ways, not some secret conspiracy but in terms of a shift in foreign policy, judicial, intelligence and the state department, that “we don’t want this pink tide thing to happen anymore, because even the most moderate threads of it are basically saying they might protect geostrategic assets, they are not going to implement austerity programs at the drop of a hat, and we want to develop our own independent foreign policies and industries”. That does not sit well with Empire.

I do think that electing Bernie Sanders is really important. There is an entire bureaucracy that you go up against – they call it “the Blob” here. Military, defense… It was actually an Obama administration official who coined that because the Blob went to war against them for cutting a deal with Iran. You can’t think about it in a conspiratorial way, but it is a locked group with a locked set of policy preferences. The only candidate who is talking about going up against it from the perspective of global solidarity is Bernie Sanders. And Ilhan Omar, when she endorsed him, said, “he is the only candidate who will go up against Western Imperialism”. I have to say, to see a Congresswoman who is a refugee, who I have nothing but admiration for, at a rally for a leading Presidential candidate – a guy who could win – say “Western Imperialism”… That blew my mind. So there is a lot more to do, the situation is very dangerous. I have no doubt that people are working against Lula as we speak in the United States, but I do think awareness of the issues is rising. I was happy with the overall left with Bolivia, right up to Bernie Sanders. There was no bullshitting about it. Bernie Sanders looked at Jorge Ramos and said, “that is called a coup. That’s it.” There are also some people in the foreign policy world who are recognizing that the next phase, and its much more difficult, can’t just have a left critique, you can’t just have left foreign policy people saying in the heart of empire that what we are doing is wrong. We need some people who are actually going to sit down and say, if we actually took over and wielded power, what would this look like? So there are people having those conversations and a major part of it is pulling back from military engagements and slashing defense spending. But there is also a whole other conversation about debt relief and another conversation about, I mean, just respecting other countries’ sovereignty. It’s funny because it is not really that radical.

Mier: That is the most ironic thing, right. When you look at Latin America all of the coups happen against people who are like, FDR-style democrats or something. But in any event I feel like this conversation could go on for a long time

Brooks: It always does, my friend. Please read Brasil Wire, and unlike Brian Winter I think the Brazilian people are great. Take care.


Watch entire interview here


By Brian Mier

Writer, geographer and former development professional who has lived in Brazil for 26 years. Former directorate member of the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana (National Urban Reform Forum). Has lived in São Luis, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Author of “Os Megaeventos Esportivos na Cidade do Rio de Janeiro e o Direito á Cidade” (CEPR: Porto Alegre. 2016). Editor of "Voices of the Brazilian Left" (Sumare: São Paulo. 2018). Editor of "Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil" ((Sumare: São Paulo. 2019) Irregular correspondent for the Chicago radio show This is Hell.