In 2017, Brazil's "anti-corruption task force" secured a conviction against the incredibly popular former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who had enacted a series of reforms that addressed the country's longstanding issues of corruption, racial discrimination and inequality.
The task force, and its "Operation Car Wash," convicted many prominent Brazilians, including some of the nation's untouchable oligarchs, as well as Lula's anointed protege Dilma Rouseff and her pro-austerity, pro-billionaire successor, Michael Temer.
But two years later -- after the election of the far-right, murderous, ecocidal, racist, homophobic, misogynist, ultraviolent authoritarian Jair Bolsonaro -- the prosecutors behind Operation Car Wash were revealed by The Intercept to have secretly conspired with Sergio Moro, the world-famous judge who presided over the Lula case, to secure the conviction. Moro was subsequently elevated to a newly created position in Bolsonaro's regime, with oversight of both the police and the judiciary, but the revelations led to a collapse in public confidence in Moro from all quarters, including the more honorable elements in the country's pro-business lobby, who looked into their hearts and found that the rule of law was more important to them than sweetheart tax deals and the erosion of labor and environmental protections.
Since then, the judiciary, the Brazilian establishment, and Brazilians themselves have made life increasingly difficult for Bolsonaro, Moro, and those who want to see Lula -- and his climate-friendly, racially inclusive, anti-oligarchic policies -- kept out of Brazilian politics.
Two weeks ago, Brazil's Supreme Court nullified one of Moro's most celebrated "anti-corruption" convictions, citing the kind of corrupt conduct revealed in The Intercept's reporting.
Now, facing the possibility that the same process will lead to Lula's exoneration and return to political life, the prosecutors who insisted that he be locked up in a remote jailhouse deep in the jungle (a site not normally used for long-term incarceration) and denied access to family and the press are asking to have Lula released to serve the balance of his sentence under house arrest.
But Lula has refused to be moved, apparently on the theory that the prosecutors who want to relax the conditions of his incarceration fear that sending Lula to their tropical gulag makes him a sympathetic figure and increases the likelihood that Lula's case will be taken up by the Supreme Court.
In the meantime, Brazil's Congress has passed a suite of laws that punish prosecutors and judges who abuse their power in the manner of the anti-corruption task force and Moro. Bolsonaro's attempts to veto these rules were repeatedly overridden by Congress.
Bolsonaro has also failed to enact his signature campaign promise to immunize police officers and members of the military and paramilitary groups from prosecution for violent acts towards the public, having been dealt multiple, stinging defeated from Congress. And Bolsonaro's chief prosecutor appointment for Augusto Aras had to performatively denounce the Operation Car Wash prosecutors in order to secure a confirmation from the Senate.
Bolsonaro is one of the many violent populists to earn the "Trump of the Tropics" sobriquet, and, like Trump, Bolsonaro represents a mix of policies that enrich billionaires, policies that please bigots, and a chaotic, administrative incompetence that endangers those policies. As with Trump, Bolsonaro is struggling to enact his own agenda, thanks to his impulsivity, corruption, and incompetence.
Beyond the Supreme Court, Moro’s “anti-crime” package — which is principally designed to fulfill Bolsonaro’s dream of immunizing the police and military when they kill poor, innocent favela residents — has suffered multiple defeats in Congress. Bolsonaro’s choice for chief prosecutor, Augusto Aras, was confirmed by the Senate in September only after he publicly condemned the “excesses” of the Car Wash prosecutors, claiming that the prosecutors’ youth and lack of adult supervision made them believe they could cross all ethical lines.
Longtime defenders of the Car Wash probe — including one of the center-right leaders in the Senate of the 2016 impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff, as well as the former chief prosecutor in his new book — have expressed remorse about the unethical components of the prosecutors’ actions as revealed by The Intercept’s last several months of reporting. One Supreme Court minister, Gilmar Mendes, this week read from The Intercept’s published Telegram chats to accuse Moro and the prosecutors of engaging in “organized criminality” and being “torturers” (for using the tactic of “preventative imprisonment” as a means of forcing defendants to accuse others as a condition for being released).
A new bill to punish prosecutors and judges for abusing their power — aimed at least in part at the abuses of Moro and the prosecutors — easily passed both houses of Congress last month, and most of Bolsonaro’s vetoes of parts of the bill were swiftly overridden. Numerous disciplinary proceedings are pending against Dallagnol and at least several harsh punishments are expected. A clear anti-Car Wash momentum is now driving many of Brazil’s key institutions.
Lula’s Prosecutors Want Him Released From Prison. He Refuses. [Glenn Greenwald/The Intercept]