Prison report: Lula in, Leopoldo out

While all kinds of terrible things are happening in South America and around the globe, that continent recently supplied us with a couple of pieces of very good news.

Lula

In Brazil, almost a year after socialist President Dilma Rousseff’s removal from office, her mentor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has been sentenced to nine years and six months in prison. Both were brought down by their roles in the Petrobras scandal, a.k.a. Operation Car Wash, the largest scandal ever in the history of that nation. Lula, a Worker’s Party politician who served two terms in Brazil’s highest office and who anointed Rousseff to succeed him, was found guilty of corruption and money-laundering. Lula plans to appeal the verdict; meanwhile, four – count them, four – other corruption trials lie ahead of him.

Dilma Rousseff

The specifics of Lula’s corruption are tawdry and rather dull: he was found guilty of taking a massive bribe – in the form of a luxury beachfront apartment – from a construction company, OAS. In addition to presenting Lula with the apartment, OAS also gave Lula’s party about $27 million in bribes in return for a suspiciously lucrative contracts with Petrobras. At the trial, Lula denied having anything to do with the apartment in question.

Protégé and mentor in happier times

It’s hard to explain just how staggering the conviction of Lula is in his home country. He’s not just a former president but a national icon. His admirers believe that his socialist policies helped boost the Brazilian economy, lifting millions out of poverty. As a result, he’s widely revered as a folk hero, the ultimate man of the people, the very personification of socialist largesse – so that the idea of him raiding the treasury on behalf of OAS in exchange for an apartment seems a particularly cheesy sort of betrayal.

Lula is actually eligible to run again for president, and, prior to his conviction, was leading the polls in the run-up to next year’s elections. But if his appeal fails, he won’t be allowed to be a candidate. In any case, his conviction has surely diminished him in the eyes of at least some of his fans.

Leopoldo López

So that’s the good news from Brazil. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Venezuela, which is basically a tool of President Nicolás Maduro, took an action that surprised the world: it ordered that Leopoldo López be removed from prison, where he has languished for more than three years, and placed instead under house arrest.

Nicolás Maduro

López, of course, is someone whose fortunes we’ve been following pretty closely on this site: as we wrote in March of last year, he is “the chavista regime’s most eloquent critic [and] the opposition’s most charismatic leader” and was plainly locked up “for no other reason than that he is …by far the most potent threat to the power of…Maduro.”

Hugo Chávez

This is a man who, as mayor of one of the five municipalities that make up Caracas, was recognized for his erudition and eloquence and showered with international awards for excellence and transparency in public service – making him the very antithesis of the crude caudillo Hugo Chávez and his lunkhead successor, Maduro. As we have put it previously:

López is so manifestly everything that Maduro is not, so completely the Gallant to his Goofus, that it seems almost too tidy a scenario; if this were a film script, the producer would almost certainly order the writer to make the villain at least somewhat less buffoonish and corrupt and the hero somewhat less noble and courageous.

Liliana Tintori at the White House in February with President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Senator Marco Rubio

Our most recent mention of López here was in March, when we noted that his wife, Liliana Tintori, had met with President Trump at the White House not long after the latter’s inauguration. At the time, Trump issued a call for López’s immediate release. It was more than President Obama had ever done for López, and it may well have made a difference.

In any event, López is out of jail, and that’s good news. But, like the rest of the people in his country, he’s not yet entirely free. We’ll continue to keep an eye on the course of Venezuela’s fortunes, and Leopoldo’s.

Exit Rousseff

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Dilma Rousseff

Well, it’s over. On Wednesday, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was removed from office.

Back in January, we wrote about the increasing calls for Rousseff’s impeachment by ordinary Brazilians who had lost faith in her government’s disastrous socialist policies, who were disgusted by the massive scandal surrounding the government oil firm, Petrobras, and who – bottom line – were determined not to let her turn their country into another Venezuela.

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Olavo de Carvalho

Brazilians, commented Romanian-American political scientist Vladimir Tismaneanu, were turning out to be less susceptible to utopian promises than their neighbors in Venezuelan and Argentina. Philosopher Olavo de Carvalho observed that Brazilians weren’t just rejecting Rousseff – they were rejecting “the whole system of power that has been created by the Workers’ Party, which includes intellectuals and opinion-makers in the big media.”

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Dilma the terrorist: a mug shot

Today, on the other side of the Brexit vote and the GOP’s nomination of Donald Trump, it’s hard not to wonder whether the grassroots Brazilian effort to oust Rousseff is part of a spreading global thumbs-down for corrupt, supercilious socialist elites. If so, good show. 

As it happens, we spent that whole week in January on Rousseff, recounting her beginnings as a rich girl who joined a revolutionary terrorist group called COLINA; her entry into politics (a career in which, from the outset, she distinguished herself by her combination of administrative incompetence and genius for making and exploiting connections); and, finally, her increasingly disastrous tenure as president, capped by the Petrobras scandal, described by the Wall Street Journal as “the biggest corruption case ever in a country with a long history of scandals.”

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Kim Kataguiri addressing an anti-Rousseff rally

We also profiled one of the leaders of the anti-Rousseff movement, 20-year-old Kim Kataguiri, whose activism was spurred when one of his college teachers praised the socialist policies of the ruling Worker’s Party. Kataguiri responded by making a series of You Tube videos promoting free-market capitalism and founding the Free Brazil Movement, which has grown like kudzu.

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Rousseff with Lula

In March, we noted the arrest of a Rousseff sidekick, the imprisonment of two more of her cronies, and the resignation of her justice minister; in April, we reported on a government raid on the home of former president – and fallen saint – Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. (We also noted Rousseff’s unsuccessful, and patently ludicrous, attempt to shield him from prosecution by naming him as her chief of staff.) Not long after, we reported that Marcelo Odebrecht, the CEO of Brazil’s biggest construction firm – and, naturally, a close associate of Rousseff’s – had sentenced to 19 years for bribing authorities in connection with Petrobras contracts.

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Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda

Later in April, we learned that notorious journalist Glenn Greenwald (of Edward Snowden scandal fame) and his husband, David Miranda, were on Team Rousseff, with Miranda signing his name to a Guardian op-ed accusing Rousseff’s opponents of seeking to engineer (what else?) a “right-wing coup.” In a July profile of callow, reliably far-left Salon columnist Ben Norton, we pointed out that he’d used the same exact words as Miranda, calling Rousseff the victim of a would-be “right-wing coup.”

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Evo Morales

And now – well – here we are. She’s out. Congratulations to the people of Brazil. Needless to say, this doesn’t mean an instant turnaround for their country –that’ll take serious, comprehensive reform – but it’s a necessary start. 

Oh, and then there’s this news. In reaction to the “right-wing coup” in Brasilia, three of Rousseff’s fellow socialist economy-destroyers – Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, and Evo Morales of Bolivia – all recalled their ambassadors. Well, birds of a feather and all that. Let’s hope their days in power are numbered, too.