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The life trajectory of Brazil’s former President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (“Lula”) has been extraordinary. Born into extreme poverty, Lula left the presidential office in 2010, after serving two terms, with an unprecedented 86% approval rating, seemingly destined to enjoy almost universal respect on the world stage and to be remembered as one of modern history’s greatest statesmen. Similar to the post-office path of Tony Blair and Bill and Hillary Clinton, Lula, since his term ended, has amassed great personal wealth by delivering speeches and providing consulting services to global power centers. The moderately left-wing party he co-founded, the Worker’s Party (PT), has now controlled the presidency for fourteen straight years.


Demonstrators parade large inflatable dolls depicting Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in prison garb and current President Dilma Rousseff dressed as a thief, with a presidential sash that reads


Demonstrators parade large inflatable dolls depicting Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in prison garb and current President Dilma Rousseff dressed as a thief, with a presidential sash that reads “Impeachment,” in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, March 13, 2016.


Photo: Andre Penner/AP

But all of that, the entirety of Lula’s legacy, is now seriously threatened. A grave, widespread corruption scandal involving the national oil company, Petrobras, is engulfing Brazil’s economic and political elite, with PT at its center. His protégé and handpicked successor, the former anti-dictatorship Marxist guerrilla and current President Dilma Rousseff, faces a credible impeachment threat (now supported by a majority of Brazilians) and widespread unpopularity due to an intractable, severe recession. Senior members of PT have been arrested and imprisoned. Massive street protests, both in favor of and against impeachment, have recently turned ugly, with physical altercations becoming increasingly common.


Lula himself has recently been implicated in the criminal investigation (known as “Operation Car Wash”), briefly detained by the federal police for questioning, accused by the former Senate leader of his party (turned informant) of “commanding” a massive bribery and kickback scheme, eavesdropped on by judicial investigators who publicly released recordings of his telephone calls, and charged formally with receiving and hiding improper gifts (including a house and a farm). As a result, his approval ratings in Brazil have dropped precipitously.

But thanks to entrenched support from Brazil’s ample poor population, those ratings are still higher than most other nationally prominent politicians (most of whom are fighting off their own corruption allegations), and it is widely believed that Lula will run for President again at the end of Dilma’s term: whether that’s in 2018 as scheduled or earlier if she’s impeached or resigns. Nobody who has watched Lula’s career – including those who want to see him imprisoned – can be dismissive of the prospect that he will again be Brazil’s president (a new poll released todayshows Lula leading the 2018 presidential race along with the evangelical/environmentalist Marina Silva).

Lula vehemently denies all accusations against him and regards himself as a “victim” of Brazil’s still-powerful plutocratic class and its dominant media organs which shape popular opinion. He insists that the targeting of PT is due to the inability of these elites to defeat the party in four straight elections, and their fear that Lula will once again run and win. Two weeks ago, The Intercept published a long article reporting on the scandal and the dangers it poses to Brazilian democracy, which I wrote with Andrew Fishman, and David Miranda; last week, we published a condensed version in an op-ed in Brazil’s largest newspaperFolha de São Paulo. The realization that impeachment is being led by, and would elevate, politicians and political parties facing far more serious corruption charges that those aimed at Dilma is spreading, and has stalled the momentum of the pro-impeachment campaign which, only weeks ago, seemed close to inevitable.

On Friday, at Lula’s Institute in São Paulo, I conducted the first one-on-one interview Lula has given since the emergence of these recent controversies. We discussed various aspects of the corruption scandal, the impeachment campaign, the accusations against him, his and PT’s political future, and the role of Brazil’s dominant right-wing media in inciting a change of government. We also discussed his views on several other hotly debated political issues, including Brazil’s new anti-terrorism and spying law, the Drug War, the heinous conditions in the country’s prison system, LGBT rights, abortion, and the role of corporate donors in Brazilian elections.