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Who is the former president of Brazil who was just released from prison?

  • 11 Nov 2019

After 18 months in prison, Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva pledged to bring the country back to the left.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrives to deliver a speech after being released from prison, in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil November 9, 2019. ( Reuters )

Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, also known as Lula, was released from prison on Friday.

A day after his release, Lula organised a speech in front of supporters focusing on economic conditions in Brazil and pledged solidarity with leftist governments in Bolivia and Venezuela.

Lula criticised right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro for impoverishing the working class within the country and vowed to unite the left to win the 2022 presidential election.

The 74-year old politician announced his return to politics by saying: “I want to tell them, I’m back.” 

He was in prison for more than 18 months on corruption charges. The release order came after a Brazilian Supreme Court decision that defendants can only be imprisoned when all appeals have been exhausted. 

Who is Lula?

The veteran politician was born in 1945 into a working-class family in northeast Brazil. Like millions of other Brazilian families, they moved to Sao Paulo to find work.

Until age 10, Lula was illiterate and worked as a metalworker until the age of 14. 

His interest in politics started from his days in the factory and Lula organised several strikes against military rule when serving as head of the metalworkers' union during the 1970s and 80s.  

In 1980 Lula said: "The working class has never got anything in this world without a battle, without perseverance and without the will to fight until the end.”

The Brazilian military arrested Lula for his role in the strikes. After a month in prison, Lula helped to set up the Workers’ Party - the first socialist political party in Brazil. 

After a running battle, Lula was elected president in 2002. He served two consecutive presidential terms - the constitution allows only two terms.

Lula’s two-terms were marked by a commodity boom that momentarily made Brazil one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. His ambitious foreign policy aligned Brazil with other developing nations and raised the country’s profile on the global stage.

He invested in social programmes and achieved unprecedented economic growth during his term.

What were the allegations?

Lula was imprisoned in 2018 and sentenced to 12 years, which was then reduced to eight years and 10 months, after being found guilty of taking bribes from construction companies in return for public contracts. 

He was found guilty of accepting $1.2 million in bribes from engineering firm OAS SA.

Federal prosecutors have accused Lula of masterminding a long-running corruption scheme that was uncovered in a probe into kickbacks around Petrobras. 

Lula’s legal team said in an emailed statement that he was innocent and they would appeal. 

“For over three years, Lula has been subject to a politically motivated investigation,” they wrote. 

“No credible evidence of guilt has been produced, and overwhelming proof of his innocence blatantly ignored.” 

What next?

Lula told thousands of supporters on Saturday that the left can take back Brazil's presidency in the 2022 election.

"We are going to do a lot of fighting. Fighting is not one day on, then three months off, then back. Fighting is every day," said da Silva.

In his 45-minute speech, he spoke briefly about conservative President Jair Bolsonaro, who won the 2018 election.

Da Silva said Brazilians must accept the results of the democratic election and work to defeat the "ultra-right" in 2022.

If he loses his appeals in either conviction, he could be sent back to prison.

Da Silva said he had a message for his opponents in power: "I want to say to them: I'm back."

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