Lula da Silva a resurrection

Lula da Silva, a resurrection

Few people have traveled the world as much and seen so little outside of hotels, palaces and offices as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (76 years old, Garanhuns, Pernambuco). He was already the ex-President of Brazil when, on an official trip to India, he did not reserve a moment outside the official program, not even to make a short excursion and visit one of the most beautiful monuments in the world. “Lula has done nothing but politics in recent years. He doesn’t use a trip to see anything. In India he hasn’t even seen the Taj Mahal. He received politicians at the hotel,” reveals his biographer and friend Fernando Morais, who has been following in his footsteps for a decade, over the phone.

Politics is the fuel that feeds this pragmatic and chameleon-like man who, after his fall from grace, stars in the most unexpected political resurrection in recent memory. He is petting a third term at the head of the first power in Latin America, which ruled between 2003 and 2010.

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Four years ago, when the metalworker-turned-union leader who founded the Workers’ Party (PT) was practically a political corpse, one could have imagined the current scenario. Jailed six months before the elections for corruption, he couldn’t even take part in the elections won by a far-right politician nostalgic for the dictatorship, Jair Bolsonaro, 67. Lula had seen prison during the military government.

Now, four years later, Pernambucans are 12 points ahead of the far right in the polls ahead of the Oct. 2 elections that will also elect Congress, governors and state legislatures. If no candidate receives half plus one of the valid votes, there will be a second ballot four Sundays later. The two favorites are old acquaintances of the electorate. For Lula – which means squid in Portuguese – it’s his sixth pick, having lost three times before two wins. He was about to leave, but Cuban Fidel Castro persuaded him, arguing that he could not betray the working class.

Fidel Castro speaks with Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva during a demonstration in Havana, Cuba November 27, 2000. Photo: Getty Images | Video: EPV

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Lula made history in 2003 when he became the first – and so far only – worker to lead this class-oriented and unequal country like few others. For some of his compatriots, he is the hero who lifted millions out of poverty and opened up opportunities for them that were unimaginable for the elderly. For others, the leader of a gang of looters of public funds at the Petrobras oil company (although the corruption convictions that led to 20 months in prison have been annulled or archived). He always maintained his innocence and faith in justice.

He has been the central figure in Brazilian politics for more than three decades. For better or for worse, almost everything revolves around him. Few deny that he is a skilled negotiator, charismatic, insightful, cunning and a great storyteller. Already at school he excelled in his oral and written expression, although according to his biographer he was not a good student.


The PT is Brazil’s most solid party, but it’s no longer the powerful voting machine of Lula’s prime. His territorial power has dwindled since Dilma Rousseff was impeached in 2016. He or his allies govern five states, all in the poorest of Brazil, and since the last municipal ones they have not administered any of the capitals; just a handful of communities totaling four million out of a population of 210 million. The party is, after all, a personal formation. His faction, one of the largest with 56 seats, failed to establish itself as a strong opposition to Bolsonarianism. Lula took over this role when he was released.

His speeches constantly refer to Doña Lindu, his mother. This illiterate and strict woman who managed to raise her seven children after leaving an abusive husband was named Eurídice Ferreira de Melo. And when journalists ask him about his spending limit, Lula usually slips away and says that thanks to this housewife he learned to manage money in a poor home. Although economic power feared him as radical, he was quite orthodox, although he did push through policies for a slightly more equitable distribution of income: with the progressive governments, the average income of Brazilians rose 38% faster than inflation, but that of the poorest rose much more, 84% , according to the Workers’ Party.

A poster of Lula da Silva at the PT (Workers' Party) office in Brasilia, on September 20, 2022.A poster of Lula da Silva at the PT (Workers’ Party) offices in Brasilia, on September 20, 2022. Gustavo Minas (Getty Images)

For many of the neediest Brazilians, Lula is one of them because he knows the misery. Born in the interior of Pernambuco, a country stricken by poverty and drought, he was seven years old when, in 1952, he traveled with his mother and brothers in a van for 13 days to reach thriving São Paulo in an exodus of Northeasterners from the South. They settled with the second family started by their father Aristides, a longshoreman who struggled to support all his offspring while treating them with a cruelty that bordered on sadism, Morais recounts in Lula, Biografia volume 1 (Planeta in Spanish; Companhia das Letras, in Portuguese). Life was hard, but there were opportunities. Lula took advantage of her. He worked as a shoeshine boy and errand boy before attending trade school, his springboard to becoming a lathe operator. He lost his left little finger in the process. Bolsonaro usually calls him “nine fingers”.

He likes to hear countless opinions before making a decision. He handles ambiguity well and is a politician who moves among poor people, bankers or kings without coming across as a swindler. He’s “a multiple personality,” stresses Morais, who also highlights his ability not to hold grudges. Not even his time in prison harmed his character. “He has more ability to forge alliances with former enemies than most people I know,” he says of his friend.

Just look at who he’s chosen to be his travel companion. His vice-presidential candidate is Geraldo Alckmin, a former opponent in the 2006 presidential strife, a historical center-right figure, 70 years old, who even said of him in the previous election campaign: “After Lula wants to ruin the country, return to power, to the scene of the crime “, a sentence with which Bolsonaro now attacks the duo.

Lula is also “stubborn”. He was still in prison when he said: “I’m leaving here to fight for the presidency of the republic,” recalls the journalist, who also spoke to him during this final phase of the election campaign.

When he went to jail in 2018, Lula thought it would be a matter of days, but it’s been 20 months. Enough time to write hundreds of letters to his girlfriend Rosángela Silva, Janja, 55, whom he just married. And read like never before with a Portuguese dictionary and an atlas. Those readings that “brought consistency to their principles and goals,” says Morais, who adds, “It came out a lot better than it came in.” He wasn’t afraid to ask his lawyers questions like, “Tell me, what’s the history of identity politics?” He also doesn’t digest other modern issues like cell phone use well. And it irritates him greatly that those present consult the phone screen in the middle of meetings.

Lula da Silva greets supporters during a campaign rally in Rio de Janeiro on September 25, 2022.Lula da Silva greets his supporters during a campaign rally in Rio de Janeiro September 25, 2022. Buda Mendes (Getty Images)

Much admired abroad, Obama said of him in a group at the G20: “I love this guy. He’s the most popular politician in the world!” The following year, he left power with a popularity rating of 87%, as he fondly recalls. After traveling the world as a former President, he was eventually sunk by the hurricane that was the Lava Jato corruption scandal. Both loved and hated, resentment towards Lula and the PT eased slightly after his release from prison. There is no shortage of Brazilians who are afraid of Bolsonaro, who will vote for him even though they are convinced he was not a politician of integrity.

Father of five children, life has dealt him other blows. His first wife died along with the baby they were expecting. The second, Doña Marisa, in full judicial chicanery. He overcame throat cancer.

He’s excited by the heat of the rallies, being in direct contact with the people who are complicating the pandemic and now safety. But no one remembers him in earthly activities like visiting the supermarket, the cinema, a restaurant, or going to the Corinthians Stadium, the legendary Socrates’ team of which he is a fan.

Before he went to prison in 2018, he played a few football games with friends (he met Janja at one) and on some Saturdays organized a barbecue at his home with old comrades from the time they were on strike against the dictatorship. Not even that anymore. Just politics. Always accompanied by his wife, he is on a mission to defeat Bolsonaro, save democracy and return to power to “put the poor back in the household and that all Brazilians eat three meals a day”. He himself says that he is aware of the magnitude of the challenge in these times, which are no longer those of the abundance of raw materials. “That’s why I do gymnastics every day.” To serve Brazil. And rewrite your story.

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