After Lula’s Corruption Conviction

Where Brazil Goes From Here

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is seen during the inauguration of the new National Directory of the Workers' Party in Brasilia, July 2017. Ueslei Marcelino / REUTERS

The anticorruption juggernaut that has convulsed Brazil’s graft-ridden political system since 2014 rolled on to new heights this week. Federal judge Sergio Moro sentenced former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula) to nearly 10 years’ imprisonment for illicit enrichment. At the same time, charges of corruption leveled by General Prosecutor Rodrigo Janot could topple the current president, Michel Temer, whose party engineered the impeachment of then President Dilma Rousseff last year, unleashing the current political crisis.

This is a dramatic moment for democratic rule in Brazil, which boasts a population of 205 million and the world’s eighth-largest economy. The turmoil will probably last until Brazil’s next presidential election, in November 2018. This election will be the test of whether Brazilian civil society has acquired real antibodies to fight political corruption.


Temer narrowly escaped indictment by the federal electoral court last month on the same charges of falsifying budget deficits that led to Rousseff’s impeachment. He was absolved after packing the court with two new justices who voted for his acquittal alongside Gilmar Mendes, the court’s president, who is also a member of the Supreme Court. Now Temer is applying similar tactics in the chamber of deputies the lower house of Brazil’s Congress, substituting friendly deputies for ones who don’t agree to vote for him, to obstruct any prosecution by the Supreme Court. Brazil’s judicial rules provide the sitting president with legal immunity, which requires a two-thirds congressional majority to override.

In a similar way, by virtue of Brazil’s judicial code, Lula’s conviction can’t put him in jail until a higher court of appeals confirms the initial decision. In Lula’s case, that higher court will be the three-member Federal Appeals Court for the Southern District, in Porto Alegre, which supervises Moro’s region. Lula has continued to deny the charges against him in the face of well-documented accusations by former associates in his Workers’ Party (PT) and wealthy tycoons who

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