Noam Chomsky on Lula: He Is “Kept in Isolation So That the ‘Soft Coup’ in Brazil Can Proceed”

Lead Photo: Supporters of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gather in front of the headquarters of the Metalworkers' Union while awaiting Lula's speech. Photo by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images
Supporters of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gather in front of the headquarters of the Metalworkers' Union while awaiting Lula's speech. Photo by Victor Moriyama/Getty Images
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This year’s presidential election is one of Brazil’s most important and most uncertain. Up until a court banned Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – currently serving a 12-year sentence for corruption – from running for a third term, he led the polls. But as an important fight for Brazil’s future unfolds, right-winger Jair Bolsonaro leads with 28 percent of the vote. Lula’s replacement, Fernando Haddad, comes in at second, with 22 percent. Ahead of the October 7 election, social critic Noam Chomsky wrote an essay for The Intercept about why keeping Lula from running is a disservice to the country and the world as a whole.

In the piece, which Chomsky wrote after visiting with Lula, he criticizes the way Brazilian authorities have reportedly tried to keep media away from Lula ahead of the election. “To Brazil’s power structure, imprisoning Lula is not enough: They want to ensure that the population, as it prepares to vote, cannot hear from him at all, and are apparently willing to use any means to accomplish that goal,” he writes.

Lula surrendered to police in April. His guards had to push their way through a crowd, who for hours tried to stop him from turning himself in. Before he did, the 72-year-old spoke out against the judges and prosecutors for coming after him on groundless claims. “I do not forgive them for creating the impression that I am a thief,” he said. But at the time, he said that his arrest couldn’t stop what was already taking place across the country. “I won’t be stopped because I am not a human being,” he added. “I am an idea. And going forward, all of you will become Lulas.”

In August, Partido dos Trabalhadores named Lula its candidate for the election. At the time, the party said it wouldn’t choose another candidate. Soon after, a court ruled he couldn’t run, but it hasn’t stopped others from supporting him, including former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, France’s François Hollande, Bernie Sanders, and Bolivian President Evo Morales. And Chomsky, who says Lula’s “alleged crime is almost undetectable by Brazilian standards.”

“Brazil is facing an election that is of critical importance for its future. Lula is by far the most popular candidate and would easily win a fair election, not the outcome preferred by the plutocracy,” he writes.

“Although his policies while in office were designed to accommodate the concerns of domestic and international finance, he is despised by elites, in no doubt because of his policies of social inclusion and benefits for the dispossessed, though other factors seem to intervene: primarily simple class hatred. How can a poor worker with no higher education who doesn’t even speak proper Portuguese be allowed to lead our country?”

Chomsky and others have argued that without Lula, Bolsonaro has a better chance at winning, and then acting policies and laws that hurt the most disenfranchised. As people, and women in particular, protest Bolsonaro regressive views and people scrutinize Lula and Haddad for the Petrobas Car Wash and unemployment numbers, Chomsky warns of what shutting Lula out means to the country. He concludes, “All of this brings us back to the prison, in which one of the most significant political prisoners of the current period is kept in isolation so that the ‘soft coup’ in Brazil can proceed on course, with likely consequences that will be severe for Brazilian society, and for much of the world, given Brazil’s potential role.”

Read Chomsky’s full essay here.