Lula da Silva’s dramatic return to politics could trigger a new Pink Tide in Latin America

By Frank Pachas

FORMER Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva – simply known as “Lula” – has proved to be a tireless fighter in life, particularly in the fierce world of Brazil politics.

Despite suffering poverty as a child, he managed to lead Brazil for two consecutive terms (2002-2010) after four failed attempts.

He, as the leader of the Workers’ Party, left office with an 83% approval rating as millions of Brazilians left poverty during his two tenures.

He defeated cancer in 2012. He suffered bereavement with the loss of two wives. His first wife died while she was pregnant in 1971. His second wife Marisa Leticia died in 2017 at the age of 66, after 43 years of marriage.

And if that weren’t enough, he was convicted and sent to prison in the same year to serve a 26-year sentence for two corruption cases and money-laundering in the Car Wash (Lava Jato in Portuguese) scandal.

In November 2019, he was released from prison after the Supreme Court ruled he should be free while his appeals were pending.

While he was in prison he fell in love with Rosangela Silva, a sociologist friend in her forties he met in the 90s. She visited him seven times in prison and they got engaged after he was released.

He was diagnosed with Covid-19 in Cuba and as a result he had lung lesions, but got over the illness last year.

A Brazilian electoral court ruled in August 2018 he would not be allowed to run for a third term due to his criminal record.

But when most thought his political career was dead, Supreme Court judge Edson Fachin decided to annul all criminal convictions against him two weeks ago.

The unexpected decision from two weeks ago has given Lula back his political rights and opened a path for him to run again and beat Bolsonaro in 2022.

The decision has done more than that, though. It has also opened the possibility of a new Pink Tide of left wing Latin American governments as it happened in the early 2000s.  

[Read more: Why Evo Morales’ fall isn’t the end of socialism in Latin America]

Dr Marieke Riethof, a Senior Lecturer in Latin American Politics at the University of Liverpool, told Redaction Politics: “If you had asked me two years ago, I would’ve said Latin America with Macri, Piñera, Bolsonaro and the growing left was more polarised between left and right, but you can see now the left is picking up steam again.

“Looking at most recent polls after Lula’s convictions annulled, it is clear to me, whether he will run or not, he has already started an election campaign and he has got a quite strong base.”

Lula’s scrapped convictions have been celebrated by incumbent left wing Argentine President Alberto Fernández, who welcomed Mr Fachin’s decision and denounced that Lula´s convictions only sought his elimination from political life altogether.  

In 2019, Alberto Fernández, a Peronist like former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, ejected tycoon Mauricio Macri from La Casa Rosada (the House of Argentinian government) and brought back Fernández as his vice president.

Likewise, former Bolivian President indigenous Evo Morales also said the judge’s decision was an act of justice for Lula, whom he sees as a victim of vicious persecution and lawfare from right wing politicians.

Evo Morales’ political party MAS came back to power last year but now with Luis Arce, Morales’ former finance minister. Morales stepped down in 2019 after allegations of fraud in his election win and was succeeded by interim right wing politician Jeanine Áñez.

“Latin American oligarchy, press and corrupt judges. Do you understand that you will never be able to fight the force of truth and integrity? Long Live Lula! Long Live Brazil! Love live the Great Homeland,” former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said on the day the judge overturned Lula’s sentences.  

Correa, who served as president for two terms, is one of the key figures of the Latin American left and now his close ally Andrés Arauz will be competing against conservative banker Guillermo Lasso in a runoff vote on April 11.

So the left could also be back in Ecuador and replace current incumbent President Lenin Moreno who became president supporting Correa’s legacy but later on turned against him.

For Dr Marieke, if Bolsonaro has seen his popularity surge despite his government’s poor mishandling of the pandemic, it is because of the emergency financial supports his government gave to about 67 million Brazilians last year and to a possible extension of such aid programmes for the current year.

She told Redaction Politics: “There is still a lot of dissatisfaction in the region and the left is probably better able to provide a structural solution than just emergency supports.

“The left also has a tracked record of increased government spending on social programmes.”

But Dr Marieke also admitted that recovery is going to be more difficult even if the left wins next year’s election in Brazil as the giant country, differently from the early 2000s, will have to deal with a contracted economy.  

With Bolsonaro’s mishandling of the pandemic and with the Brazil health service in its worst crisis in its history, voters are likely to support the leader of the Workers’ Party once again despite his corruption allegations, she also said.   

On the same day Ecuadorians will choose their new leader, Peruvians will also be heading to the polls to cast their votes for a new president after five tumultuous years of political instability, economic and health crisis due to the pandemic.

Out of the five favourite candidates to become the next Peruvian president, two of them, Yohny Lescano and Verónika Mendoza represent the centre left and the radical left respectively.

Recent polls suggest indecision is still very high among Peruvians with a 35% of them not sure enough who to vote for, but if either Lescano, leading the polls with a 15%, or Mendoza go to a run off to compete against the other three right wing candidates, then the left could win in Peru too.  

Chile will also hold elections in November and communist Daniel Jadue is among the leading candidates to fight for presidency.

It’s not premature to think a new Pink Tide could spread across Latin America again following Lula’s annulled sentences – but next elections in the region will tell. 

Featured Image: Agencia Brasil (Ricardo Stuckert) @ Wikimedia Commons

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