Why I went to Venezuela: PT President Gleisi Hoffmann speaks

All of this talk about democracy in Venezuela, about Maduro being a dictator, in reality, masks very strong commercial interests in accessing the petroleum. It’s the same thing that happened in Iraq. Nobody discusses whether Iraq has democracy or whether the Iraqi people are doing well these days, they have simply forgotten.”

Gleisi Hoffmann grew up in a Catholic household in Curitiba where, after giving up plans to become a nun, she entered the student movement, affiliated with the Brazilian Communist Party (PC do B) and was elected President of the Curitiba, Parana State and National High School Student’s Unions. Afterwards, she became a lawyer, affiliated with the Workers Party (Partido de Trabalhadores/PT) and began a political trajectory which culminated with her serving as Dilma Rousseff’s Chief of Staff (2011-2014), Senator, and her current position of National President of the PT.

In 2015 she was accused of corruption as part of the US Department of Justice/Brazilian Public Prosecutors Office’s  Lava Jato investigation, headed by Jair Bolsonaro’s current Justice Minister Sergio Moro. According to a plea bargain testimony made by a convicted criminal in exchange for sentence reduction, she was accused of receiving bribes from Petrobras state petroleum company. The case came up to the Supreme Court in 2017, where it was thrown out by unanimous decision due to lack of material evidence.

On January 10th, Hoffmann traveled to Venezuela to participate in the inauguration ceremony for President Nicolas Maduro. That week, she was broadly attacked in the media. I managed to catch up to her on January 19th to give her a chance to explain to an English speaking audience why she felt it so important to go to the inauguration.

Brian Mier: Your visit to Nicolas Maduro’s inauguration in Venezuela was widely criticized in the North– even by Anglo journalists who write for supposedly progressive publications such as the Guardian. You published a statement about your visit, saying that anyone who criticized it does not understand the concepts of sovereignty and self-determination. Judging from the way the Anglo media responded to your visit, I believe that a lot of people in the historically imperialist nations of England and the US really do not have a good understanding of these concepts. Why are the concepts of sovereignty and self-determination important and how do they relate to your recent visit to Venezuela?

Gleisi Hoffmann: Sovereignty is related to the non-recognition of a higher body in the external order. In other words, the nation has supreme authority – there is no hierarchy among nations. Self determination is the right that a people have to govern themselves, to make their choices without foreign intervention. This is why I mentioned that the US government and those who criticized me don’t understand sovereignty and self-determination – because they believe that forces from outside Venezuela should solve their problems. We believe the opposite. Only the Venezuelan people have the capacity to solve their problems, through a process of dialogue, learning and relationships. My trip to Venezuela, therefore, was related to what the Workers Party thinks about sovereignty and self-determination. No other nation or external body has the right to preach for violence and intervention and meddle in the affairs of another nation. We can, on the other hand, support building dialogue, drawing together the opposing parties and encourage a peaceful solution to conflicts. This is what President Lula always did.

I would like to ask you about lawfare – the use of the legal system to engage in character assassination and political persecution. Just as Lula is a victim of this process, you were persecuted for years in a US Department of Justice/Brazilian Public Prosecutors lawfare operation, Lava Jato, led by Bolsonaro’s current Justice Minister Sergio Moro. Beforehand a lot of people thought you would run for President. Personally, I saw the legal/mediatic character assassination that was carried out against you as an attempt to block you from running. How did this lawfare process affect your life?

Lawfare has evolved into a system of political persecution and an instrument of certain sectors of Brazilian society to access power. It is not just Brazilian society – it is a phenomenon that we are seeing in all of Latin America. It has spread out across the continent, unfortunately. I was deeply affected by the case against me. I was absolved of all the charges they mounted against me by a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court, but before this happened I passed through a series of public embarrassments. My house was invaded by the police. My husband was arrested and released. There were protests against me – the criticism in the press was always acidic – I was persecuted on social media and my children were harassed in public. It was a very painful process. But I was very relieved that this situation was clarified when my final appeal was analyzed and I was absolved of all charges. However, it still causes problems for me in my social relations and my political trajectory.

What are the risks of having a highly politicized ultra-conservative like former Lava Jato investigator, prosecutor and judge Sergio Moro running the Justice Ministry?

Minister of Justice Sergio Moro is now responsible for political persecution. In other words, he is that one who will eliminate rivals and enemies of the system and he will do this using lawfare. He will do this by mounting and directing investigative processes against people who oppose his government or who can create obstacles to what they are trying to accomplish in terms of negotiations and projects.

Was the US involved in these lawfare processes?

I have no doubt about the interests and involvement of the United States in the Lava Jato investigation process in Brazil. I don’t know if their objective was to persecute the PT, but certainly they engaged in the operation to advance the commercial goal of opening Petrobras to the North American petroleum companies, and they succeeded. These are very strong business interests. And certainly if they manage to weaken or destroy whoever engages in political opposition and is not aligned with their concept of international relations, they will not hesitate to do this.

What is the role that the international petroleum industry played in the 2016 coup, in the character assassination and persecution of Lula and the coup attempt that appears to be underway in Venezuela?

US government got involved in the Lava Jato process in Brazil due to its interest in accessing our petroleum. We have huge offshore petroleum reserves in the pre-salt layer. We recently developed a way to extract it very cheaply due to the technology that was developed by our state petroleum company, Petrobras. We developed an extraction process and policies for use of this petroleum that were very different from what is done with normal commercial petroleum wells. We developed specific laws and a sharing regime to give limited drilling concessions. We created a fund for saving part of the money that was raised through this drilling and we allocated part of the profits to the public education system, In other words we acted with sovereignty over our petroleum. This was not interesting to the North American petroleum companies, that wanted to come here and extract the pre-salt petroleum the way that they work in other places around the world by making a bid and keeping all of the oil without having to be accountable to the Brazilian government or the Brazilian people. Therefore I have no doubt that this coup process is totally connected to facilitated access to Brazilian petroleum- so much so that immediately after the 2016 coup which deposed President Dilma ( and there are interviews with Edward Snowden showing that Brazil, President Dilma and Petrobras were subject wire tapping and communications monitoring from the US Government) – a law was ratified in Congress changing the rules for exploitation of the pre-salt petroleum reserves. Now they are working on another one, changing the regulations for auctioning off the wells. So this is clear. Above all the coup government minimized and greatly weakened Petrobras, forcing it, after the Lava Jato investigation, to sell off its assets.

Lula is a great leader of the Brazilian people and he always worked for our sovereignty and our self-determination without ever disrespecting any other country. So they knew that Lula would have been a huge resistance to these interests that they had here. He would have mobilized popular support against these foreign interests and he would have, in fact, been elected President. They arrested him to prevent him from being elected.

This is all evident in Venezuela as well. Venezuela has the world’s largest petroleum reserves. It is a lot closer to the US than the Middle East. It has a strategic geographical position in Latin America. Since Chavez took over the government over 20 years ago, Venezuela has adopted a different posture in relation to the commercialization of its petroleum and also in relation to its internal policies. And this has greatly displeased the Americans because Venezuela has not aligned with them. So all of this talk about democracy in Venezuela, about Maduro being a dictator, in reality, masks very strong commercial interests in accessing the petroleum. It’s the same thing that happened in Iraq. Nobody discusses whether Iraq has democracy or whether the Iraqi people are doing well these days, they have simply forgotten. The Americans succeeded in positioning themselves in Iraq to access the petroleum and the situation was resolved. So paying close attention and taking a position in favor of Venezuela’s sovereignty and self-determination is essential now. The problems with the opposition should be resolved through a process of mediation and debate and a peaceful solution.

You visit Lula frequently. How is he?

Lula is well. Lula is a political, emotional and physical fortress, even though he survived cancer and so many other problems in his life. Of course he is 73, so this imprisonment has consequences on his disposition. But he is politically well and has a clear vision of his role in history and what we have to do here to defend Brazil – what we have to do to position ourselves on the side of the Brazilian people. We have no perspective on when he will be released. All legal measures were blocked. We have done everything that we could legally and we are fighting politically. Lula’s imprisonment is political. It’s not based on legal facts because no proof was mounted to back up his conviction. His condemnation was not made on the basis of material evidence. There is not even a clearly defined crime. So this is very serious. But, unfortunately, since we are victims of lawfare here in Brazil, I don’t see any perspective for a rapid release of Lula. We are going to fight a lot, and we will always defend our former President to Brazilian society.

What can the international community do to help?

The international community can and is helping us. It is fundamental that supporters of democracy, intellectuals and people who understand Lula and Brazil’s story show their support, and many already have. I also think that the Nobel Peace Prize for Lula – even just his nomination – would serve as recognition of his innocence. I have no doubt that if he won the Nobel Peace Prize it would be out of recognition of what he means for Latin America and the World in terms of pacification of conflicting relationships. Lula was very important – not only from the external point of view of peace building, but from the internal point of view when he gave the Brazilian people access to dignified living conditions.

Sign the petition to nominate Lula for the Nobel Peace Prize 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.