SAO PAULO – A former president of Brazil and icon of the left opened a regional congress of his party with a call for ordinary Latin Americans to use their voting power to reverse the recent gains of the right.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva participated along with former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica in Friday night’s opening of the congress of the Workers Party (PT), which governed Brazil from 2003 until mid-2016.
Lula said strides had been made recently by the right and far right, citing as examples Donald Trump’s victory in last year’s presidential election in the United States and the current political polarization in France, where conservative nationalist Marine Le Pen will face off in Sunday’s presidential runoff against center-left candidate Emmanuel Macron.
Brazil’s former head of state, who governed from 2003 to 2010 and says he plans to run again in 2018 if his legal woes do not prevent him from doing so, said he had been a part of the “greatest period of progressive presidents in Latin America in the past 500 years.”
In that regard, he mentioned the governments of Mujica in Uruguay, Nestor Kirchner and his wife and successor Cristina Fernandez in Argentina, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Fernando Lugo in Paraguay.
Lula acknowledged, however, that the leftist movement in Latin America had experienced recent setbacks and warned that the right was gaining momentum, an allusion in particular to Mauricio Macri’s victory in Argentina’s 2015 presidential election and the rightward shift in Brazil following the removal from office of the PT’s Dilma Rousseff.
The former president criticized the economic program of Brazil’s current head of state, Michel Temer, and said the right was tearing to shreds hard-fought gains by workers.
“They want to outsource to pay lower salaries,” he said in reference to legislation passed by Congress in March that allows companies to outsource any job.
He said other bills now before Congress, including a broader labor-law overhaul and a planned overhaul of the pension system, would further hurt workers.
Temer’s government says those changes are necessary to lift Brazil out of recession and get its financial house in order, but Lula vowed to end the crisis without stripping away workers’ legal protections and benefits.
“Today at age 71 I have more desire to be a candidate than in 1989,” the former metalworker and labor leader said.
Lula’s aspirations could be stymied, however, because he faces five corruption trials, four stemming from the Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation into a massive bribes-for-inflated contracts scandal centered on Brazilian state oil company Petrobras.
In one of those cases, he will be questioned Wednesday by federal Judge Sergio Moro in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba.
Lula could also face further investigations stemming from the plea-bargain testimony of 77 former executives of Brazilian engineering giant Odebrecht, which has pleaded guilty to running schemes to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials around the world.
But Lula was defiant on Friday night in his criticism of Lava Jato, saying Brazil’s media and prosecutors had entered into a “diabolic pact” against him and the PT.