SAO PAULO, Brazil — Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will turn himself in to authorities to begin serving a 12-year corruption sentence, he told a crowd of supporters Saturday, one day after he defied a judge’s order to surrender at a federal police station.
“I will comply with the order,” Lula said to supporters surrounding the headquarters of the metalworkers’ union where he had avoided prison for two days. “That way, they will know I am not afraid. I am not running. I will prove my innocence.”
The moment marked a stunning reversal for Lula, once a global standard-bearer for the left and the front-runner for Brazil’s upcoming presidential election. He was carried off the stage at the headquarters on the shoulders of his supporters as they chanted his name and showered him with flowers.
For two days, Lula defied a prison order and hunkered down at the union building, where he had led strikes during Brazil’s military dictatorship and vaulted to national fame.
The former president was convicted accepting bribes from a large Brazilian construction company in return for government contracts.
His refusal to turn himself in created a tense impasse between authorities and the one of the country’s most famous political icons. Lula has vowed to campaign from behind bars if necessary.
“If my crime was putting poor, black people in universities, allowing poor people to eat meat, to have their own cars, have their own homes” Lula said, “then I will continue being a criminal in this country, because I will do much more.”
Protests both in support of and against the former president flared throughout the country over the weekend.
Brazil’s federal police ruled out forcibly arresting Lula on Friday and were reportedly in talks with his defense team to negotiate a surrender. Lula denies any wrongdoing and has called the investigation a media-led political witch hunt. After holding out for two days at the union headquarters, Lula emerged Saturday morning to partake in a street mass celebrating the birthday of his late wife.
Surrounded by former president Dilma Rousseff and leading members of the Workers’ Party, which he founded in 1980, he urged supporters to take action.
“You will burn tires as you so badly wanted; you will represent me,” he said.
“Don’t surrender!” protesters shouted in unison to the president.
Other speakers emphasized peaceful resistance and urged calm.
“This is a prayer for peace,” Rousseff said at the mass. “Today, more than ever, it shows we are of peace. We are not for injustice or violence.”
Earlier on Saturday, a Supreme Court judge rejected a last-minute injunction that would have temporarily delayed Lula’s imprisonment.
In 2003, Lula was celebrated as the first working-class president in a country with stark inequality. During his mandate, Brazil rode a commodities boom and Lula became an international icon.
His social programs were credited with lifting 20 million people out of poverty, according to a World Bank study, and he left office with soaring approval ratings. He dreamed of making a comeback and reclaiming his place as the country’s leader through October elections.
But he has become the highest-profile figure ensnared in a sprawling corruption scandal that has tarnished Brazil’s political class. In addition to his current conviction, Lula faces six other corruption trials.
“We see the return of this ‘us versus them’ dynamic, of poor versus rich, educated class against the working class, a theme that will dominate the electoral cycle,” said Alexandre Bandeira, a political consultant in Brasilia. “The question is whether he can maintain the activism of his supporters from behind bars.”
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Publish date : 2018-04-07 18:35:05