He has been repeating for years that he would never retire from politics. And here he is at 74, after two terms of president, cancer and 580 days in prison for corruption, the seventh child of an illiterate farmer couple, the kid who had to leave school even though he was brilliant, the metallurgist who became into a union leader on strike during the dictatorship, the President of the Republic who lifted millions out of poverty and placed Brazil, for a few years, among the greats. Lula da Silva (Caétes, Pernambuco, 1945) details to EL PAÍS his plans for the future in one of his first interviews after being released by decision of the Supreme Court. Twenty days after being released and while one of his resources is being judged, he receives this newspaper this Wednesday at the headquarters of the Workers' Party (PT) in São Paulo because he is still as hooked on politics as ever, although he is unable to be a candidate. Hours later, a court has ratified his second sentence and has increased the sentence from 12 to 17 years.
Question. What has surprised you the most since you got out of prison?
Answer. Look, there hasn't been much unexpected. What scares me the most is to perceive that the Bolsonaro government manages to be worse than the vision it had when it was imprisoned. I think the way they are governing is a great risk for Brazil.
P. The Government is concerned that the demonstrations in the region will spread to Brazil. And in that context, the Minister of Economy evoked on Monday a decree of the dictatorship. Do you consider this government a threat to democracy?
R. I think there are people in government who do not understand well what democracy is. It is not a pact of silence. It is a society in motion that seeks to consolidate its social achievements and improve the lives of all the people who live in a country. He (Bolsonaro) does not value democracy, nor his children, nor his party. Several times they have spoken of closing the Supreme Court, the Congress, of restoring the AI5 (the decree that started the worst repression of the dictatorship), they have already made or I don't know how many decrees to authorize (the possession) of weapons. He believes that everything is resolved with the armed people in the streets, when, the truth is, I believe that everything is resolved with more technology, more education and more employment. It is the second time (evoking decree AI5), the first was the son of the president. It is a demonstration that for them democracy is not fundamental. For them, it is a hindrance when governing, when I believe that Brazil needs more democracy, more demonstrations because that guarantees the consolidation of institutions.
P. Latin America is very agitated. Why do you think there are no protests in Brazil?
R. I think that because Bolsonaro was elected president of the Republic very recently, he has not yet completed the first year. And in the first year of government, the people have the expectation that good things will happen, but what happens now is that unemployment worsens, income decreases or there are difficulties in buying the minimum to eat, for example. The meat or the gas in the kitchen went up a lot. Many people are living with little money and the Government does not talk about development policy… This is creating dissatisfaction and as it accumulates, there will certainly begin to be demonstrations. The government has to understand that this is part of democracy.
P. What is your strategy now?
R. First of all, continue the political battle to prove my innocence. I need to prove that all the processes against me are fallacies, lies, inventions, both from the media and from the public prosecutor's office and Judge Moro (who convicted him and is now Minister of Justice). The second is to help the Workers' Party prepare to contest the 2020 mayoral elections and for the presidential elections in 2022.
P. Does that help include urging the left to take to the streets?
R. The role of a former president of the Republic is not to agitate society against whoever wins the elections. Once, while chatting with (Felipe) González and (Bill) Clinton, they told me that it is not good policy to remain in systematic opposition or saying: 'Out with the president'. My role now is to show society that only with a lot of democracy, with a lot of income distribution and job creation are the conditions created for this country to grow. But, look, for the left, the street is an obligation in any country in the world. I was born into politics doing strikes in 1975, 78, 79, 80 … we did the campaign of the (direct elections). I don't know why the current government is afraid of the people on the streets. He himself (Bolsonaro) supported the mobilization against Dilma (Rousseff), against the PT. Going out into the streets is a demonstration that society is alive and that he will not allow him to dismantle Brazil. Only that.
P. He came to the presidency and succeeded as a conciliator. Why have you chosen to be more combative?
R. When you want to govern a country you have to bear in mind that society is heterogeneous, you have rich, poor, middle-class people. And you need to govern for everyone, giving preference to caring for those who need it most. Before I was a government, now I have to make an opposition, showing the people the mistakes of the current government, which until now has not mentioned the word development. All they are doing is dismantling the public heritage. If Brazil has not gone bankrupt, it is because of the governments of Lula and Dilma, because of the reserves that we left.
P. Moro is the most popular politician in Brazil and you are one of the most hated. You trust that both convictions will be overturned and your disqualification lifted.
R. First, Moro is the most liar judge in the country. He built his image in a pact with the Brazilian press. My moral obligation is to prove that those people who could contribute to fighting corruption are almost a gang from part of the judiciary, part of the Prosecutor's Office, using Lava Jato for eminently political purposes.
P. Right now three judges are judging the appeal that you filed against your second conviction. Are you afraid of going back to prison?
R. I do not fear. If there is something that does not scare me, it is the cases (pending).
P. But it can happen.
R. Look, I could have fled the country, gone to an embassy so as not to go to prison. I decided to turn myself in to prove that both Judge Moro and Prosecutor Dallagnol lied to the country about my conviction, I am convinced of my innocence. I'm in Brazil, I'm going to stay and I'm going to prove they are liars.
P. Do you trust justice?
R. I am bound to believe that they will do me justice. That is why I turn to higher courts because the first instance is flawed.
P. If you get your sentences overturned, will you run for the presidential election again?
R. It's not about wanting to introduce myself, I'm already 74 years old. In 2022, I'll be 77. It's not recommended. Now, I'm in good health, prepared. The only possibility is that a political disaster occurs, there is no candidate and someone is needed to confront these crazy people who rule Brazil.
P. Of what this government does and what it says, what worries you most?
R. Inattention to social issues. It has no concern with the unemployed people, with the homeless, with deforestation, with the environment, with the oil that reaches the beaches of the northeast. Brazilian society needs books and jobs, he (Bolsonaro) wants to give them weapons. Brazil does not have disputes with anyone, he wants to have disputes and submit in the most shameful way possible to the Americans, something that Brazil never did. It is believed that he is still an ordinary neighbor in an urbanization of militiamen (criminal gangs of ex-policemen) in Rio.
P. How do you think he will finish the term?
R. I don't know, I hope he ends up taking care of the Brazilians.
P. Part of the wealth of Brazil during the presidencies of the PT derived from the boom of the raw materials, that has finished.
R. That's a half truth. What we achieved is that the result of the Brazilian economic growth was distributed more fairly. It was with us that for the first time the poorest 20% improved more than the richest 15%. It was during our governments that the people learned to have their own house, a job, to travel by plane, to enter restaurants. He learned to conquer the bare minimum. For us, there is only one way for Brazil to grow, to include the whole of society to participate in the economy. Here one third of the population has always governed. We dare to govern for 100%.
P. Is inequality the biggest problem of our time?
R. Yes, it is not possible that after humanity has managed to produce more food than it consumes that we still have a billion human beings who go to bed each night without having to eat. It means that they need money to buy food. We see Trump talking about protectionism when he should be talking about helping the poor world develop.
P. Why is there still such a great inequality with the blacks and poor in Brazil?
R. For the first time, thanks to our policy of social inclusion, blacks and mestizos are 51% in universities. That is a conquest. And the data show that it was with our government that we achieved the possibility of making a second revolution to end slavery.
P. But there's still a lot to do…
R. Much remains to be done around the world, not just in Brazil. Now I follow soccer in Spain, Italy and England, and from time to time I see horrifying scenes in which fake whites call blacks “monkeys”.
P. What is your recipe for Latin America, with everything that is happening in Colombia, Chile and Bolivia?
R. It is necessary for Latin America to live longer in democracy so that we can build solid institutions. A country does not go anywhere with a coup every 10 or 15 years. What has just happened in Bolivia is not possible. Evo Morales managed to be the longest-serving president of Bolivia, with the highest growth in the region and the best transfer of income… Why the coup? I think the best model is that of Brazil. You are president, you can have a re-election, period. You don't need two. Alternation is important I was the first worker to become president. And Evo Morales, the first Indian in Bolivia. Now, the elite here do not know how to live with democracy if they are not in power, which is unfortunate.
P. Did that Brazil that rubbed shoulders with the greats have feet of clay?
R. That is the great self-criticism of the Brazilian elite, who destroyed the dream of the Brazilian people to transform themselves. We were the most optimistic people in the world. We got along well with the socialists and conservatives of Spain, France, England, Germany, I got along well with Bush and Obama, with the Chinese and the Russians. Brazil is a builder of consensus, of peace. That was his role in Latin America. He did not have to think about growing alone, he had to think about growing by bringing all the countries with which it borders. I was very careful with Latin America because the US does not like any country in Latin America to be a political protagonist.
P. Those were other times, of increasingly open societies, of advancement of minority rights. Now there is a clear setback, have you been surprised?
R. Yes, and this setback is largely due to the behavior of the media. Because here in Brazil for years, the media have urged society to deny politics. And when you deny the policy, what comes is much worse. Thus were born Nazism and Fascism.
P. I have met many people who voted for you and now hate you. They are disappointed with the corruption of the PT. They did not expect this from you, what would you say?
R. Why do you think I started the interview by telling you that I want to prove my innocence? If you watch television, you will realize that for more than four years every day, in the main newspapers of the country, I am sold as if I were corrupt.
P. You have nine pending cases in addition to two convictions.
R. There may be 20 cases. What is being judged is Lula's mandate. And I want it to be judged so that people understand what happened in that country.
P. Why is Brazil so polarized?
R. You are from Spain, which has been polarized for a century. The European continent has been polarized for a century. Germany, England, Sweden, Finland, Italy … have been polarized for a century.
P. But now they accept the adversary, he is not an enemy.
R. It's not that Brazil is polarized, the whole world is polarized. I think that is a challenge for politicians around the world. Restore civility, common sense. People need to learn to coexist democratically in adversity.
P. Can you live with President Bolsonaro?
R. I don't need Bolsonaro to like me to respect the institution of the presidency of the Republic. Nor does he need me to like him to respect me as a human being. I do not want to marry my political adversary, it is enough for me to be civilized. Arguing is an extra topic.
P. And now that you are free, have you gone to a park, a beach, some open place?
R. I have taken care of myself for 30 years. I haven't been to a restaurant, a night bar, in 30 years. The greatest security that a politician can have is not to go anywhere that can make something happen.
P. And the successor, by when?
R. I do not know. There are good cadres in the PT, as in other parties. It is very possible that someone in better physical, health and intellectual conditions will emerge to be a candidate.
P. Will the alliances be only with the left or also with the center?
R. I think the PT does not have to ally itself with the right. You can make alliances with sectors of the left and with some politicians from the center, as I did in 2002 and 2006. No problem. We must prioritize an alliance with the left. Look at Spain. Now the PSOE and Podemos have achieved it. It's good. The unpleasant thing is winning and not being able to form a government. And then you have to prove that you are capable of running the program you have been voted for.
P. Now comes the difficult part, that of negotiating the program.
R. There, politics is important. And that is not learned in any university. You can study 30 years at Harvard that you will not learn. You have to have intelligence, perception, intuition.
P. When does that tour that you announce in the country begin?
R. Now I will rest a little in my freedom until Christmas. Then I have to find a home and I'm going to get married.
R. When I have time.
P. Before Christmas?
R. There is no time. I have to prepare myself.
P. Do you confirm that Chico Buarque is going to be your godfather?
R. There is nothing concrete but it would be a pride. There is no date but there will be a wedding.
P. Here in São Paulo?
R. I dont know. I will invite her.
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