Free Lula Campaign Goes Global as Allies Try to Sway Court

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(Bloomberg) -- Demonstrations, sit-ins and blanket social media coverage. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party has pulled out all the stops to rally public opinion to get the former president out of jail and into contention for October’s elections.

Despite his imprisonment, Lula could still register for this year’s presidential race, though it’s highly likely the electoral authorities would bar his candidacy. The first poll released after his jailing showed that he’s still the front-runner.

A crowd of Lula supporters are camping near his prison cell in the southern city of Curitiba to protest his treatment. In addition to the permanent vigil, the ex-president’s admirers are also arguing his case outside of Brazil, where they consider the audience to be more sympathetic to their cause. For Alexandre Padilha, the vice-president of the PT, it’s a logical strategy given Lula’s influence on the global stage.

"This was how it was during the dictatorship, denouncing internal atrocities to the world," he said. "That’s the way it was with apartheid, that’s the way it was with Mandela."

PT lower house leader Paulo Pimenta was recently in Buenos Aires and will soon travel to New York to promote Lula’s defense.

"One way to get our message and opinion out is by drawing on a less-biased media abroad," he said in an interview. "The message is: Lula is a political prisoner and Lula will be a candidate."

At the University of California, Berkeley on Monday, Lula’s handpicked successor -- impeached former President Dilma Rousseff -- told an audience that Lula’s imprisonment was akin to a state of emergency and that Brazil’s democracy was at risk.

In Brazil that same day members of the homeless workers’ movement, or MTST, temporarily occupied the beach-side apartment that Lula was found guilty of receiving from a construction company in exchange for favors.

"If it’s Lula’s, it’s ours. If it isn’t why is he jailed?" read the banner hung from the apartment balcony.

Meanwhile Argentine artist, activist and Nobel peace prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel is gathering signatures to propose Lula as a candidate for the award.

Yet voiding a legal process that allowed Lula to appeal to four different courts involving more than 20 judges won’t be easy. Respecting Supreme Court decisions is essential to the rule of law, argued Claudio Lamachia, head of the Brazilian bar association, in reference to the top court’s ruling that denied Lula the right to further appeals at liberty.

The argument that Lula has been singled out and other politicians let off the hook took a blow on Tuesday when the Supreme Court put Senator Aecio Neves on trial for graft. Neves was the opposition candidate who only narrowly lost the presidential race to Rousseff in 2014. In all, over 100 people have been sentenced to jail to date as part of the so-called Carwash anti-corruption probe. Prisoners include the former lower house chief Eduardo Cunha of President Michel Temer’s MDB party.

Some are critical at the president’s continuing claims of innocence and political persecution.

"Lula was taken to jail not because of the good things he did but the bad, and that includes, for example, the astonishing corruption at state-owned Petrobras and its contractors which cost the battered Brazilian people 3 billion dollars (2 billion of which in bribes)," Mario Vargas Llosa, the Nobel prize winning novelist, wrote in O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper this week.

Still, Lula may get another shot at freedom if the Supreme Court decides to debate whether convicts should be able to appeal their prison sentence at liberty or not. Justice Marco Aurelio Mello told Bloomberg News that he would not put the case on the agenda this Wednesday as had been previously expected.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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