Exclusive Interview by Glenn Greenwald With Former Brazilian President Lula da Silva

Facing the worst scandal of his political career, including a criminal investigation, Lula is more defiant than ever, clearly planning his next presidential run.

THE LIFE TRAJECTORY of Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (“Lula”) has been extraordinary. Born into extreme poverty, Lula left the presidential office in 2010, after serving two terms, with an unprecedented 86 percent approval rating, seemingly destined to enjoy almost universal respect on the world stage and to be remembered as one of modern history’s greatest statesmen. Similar to the post-office path of Tony Blair and Bill and Hillary Clinton, Lula, since his term ended, has amassed great personal wealth by delivering speeches and providing consulting services to global power centers. The moderately left-wing party he co-founded, the Worker’s Party (PT), has now controlled the presidency for 14 straight years.

Demonstrators parade large inflatable dolls depicting Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in prison garb and current President Dilma Rousseff dressed as a thief, with a presidential sash that reads "Impeachment," in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, March 13, 2016. The corruption scandal at the state-run oil giant Petrobras has ensnared key figures from Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, including her predecessor and mentor, Lula da Silva, as well as members of opposition parties. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Demonstrators parade large inflatable dolls depicting Brazil’s former President Lula da Silva in prison garb and current President Rousseff dressed as a thief, with a sash that reads “impeachment,” in São Paulo, Brazil, March 13, 2016.

Photo: Andre Penner/AP
But all of that, the entirety of Lula’s legacy, is now seriously threatened. A grave, widespread corruption scandal involving the national oil company, Petrobras, is engulfing Brazil’s economic and political elite, with PT at its center. His protégé and handpicked successor, the former anti-dictatorship Marxist guerrilla and current president, Dilma Rousseff, faces a credible impeachment threat (now supported by a majority of Brazilians) and widespread unpopularity due to an intractable, severe recession. Senior members of PT have been arrested and imprisoned. Massive street protests, both in favor of and against impeachment, have recently turned ugly, with physical altercations becoming increasingly common.

Lula himself has recently been implicated in the criminal investigation (known as Operation Car Wash), briefly detained by the federal police for questioning, accused by the former Senate leader of his party (turned informant) of “commanding” a massive bribery and kickback scheme, eavesdropped on by judicial investigators who publicly released recordings of his telephone calls, and charged formally with receiving and hiding improper gifts (including a house and a farm). As a result, his approval ratings in Brazil have dropped precipitously.

But thanks to entrenched support from Brazil’s ample poor population, those ratings are still higher than most other nationally prominent politicians (most of whom are fighting off their own corruption allegations), and it is widely believed that Lula will run for president again at the end of Dilma’s term — whether that’s in 2018 as scheduled or earlier if she’s impeached or resigns. Nobody who has watched Lula’s career — including those who want to see him imprisoned — can be dismissive of the prospect that he will again be Brazil’s president (a new poll released today shows Lula leading the 2018 presidential race along with the evangelical/environmentalist Marina Silva).

Lula vehemently denies all accusations against him and regards himself as a “victim” of Brazil’s still-powerful plutocratic class and its dominant media organs, which shape popular opinion. He insists that the targeting of PT is due to the inability of these elites to defeat the party in four straight elections, and their fear that Lula will once again run and win. Two weeks ago, The Intercept published a long article reporting on the scandal and the dangers it poses to Brazilian democracy, which I wrote with Andrew Fishman and David Miranda; last week, we published a condensed version in an op-ed in Brazil’s largest newspaperFolha de São Paulo. The realization that impeachment is being led by, and would elevate, politicians and political parties facing far more serious corruption charges than those aimed at Dilma is spreading, and has stalled the momentum of the pro-impeachment campaign, which, only weeks ago, seemed close to inevitable.

On Friday, at Lula’s Institute in São Paulo, I conducted the first one-on-one interview Lula has given since the emergence of these recent controversies. We discussed various aspects of the corruption scandal, the impeachment campaign, the accusations against him, his and PT’s political future, and the role of Brazil’s dominant right-wing media in inciting a change of government. We also discussed his views on several other hotly debated political issues, including Brazil’s new anti-terrorism and spying law, the drug war, the heinous conditions in the country’s prison system, LGBT rights, abortion, and the role of corporate donors in Brazilian elections.

Conducted in Portuguese, the 45-minute interview can be watched with English subtitles on the recorder below; a full transcript in English follows:


This transcript has been edited for content and clarity.

GLENN GREENWALD: Good morning, Mr. President. Thank you for the interview.


GREENWALD: Let’s begin with the Operation Car Wash investigation. In 2008, Wall Street’s fraud and corruption created a terrible financial crisis. It generated extreme economic suffering for many countries, including Brazil, which continues through to today.

Most incredibly, not a single big businessman went to jail or suffered legal consequences for these crimes. It created the perception that the wealthy and powerful are above the law. Only the poor and disenfranchised are punished for their crimes.

Yet here in Brazil, with Operation Car Wash, we’re seeing the opposite: the country’s wealthy and powerful going to jail. Billionaires, magnates, members of almost every political party.

I know you have many objections about the ongoing process. I have also reported on how [chief Car Wash] Judge Sérgio Moro’s behavior has become political.

But do you agree that there is a positive aspect to this moment? That it is sending a powerful message, saying that all — no matter their power, connections, or wealth — are subject to that law?

DA SILVA: First, our party, the PT [Workers’ Party], the government and I have no reason to be upset about the investigation process because the government carries a lot of responsibility for what is happening. It was during PT’s government that we created all the conditions for our institutions to work correctly.

Our government consolidated the Public Prosecutor’s Office’s autonomy by always nominating a prosecutor that was chosen by his peers. We were the ones who made the Federal Police a functioning institution. We invested in hiring new professionals, intelligence and on the Federal Police’s autonomy.

We were the ones who created the government transparency websites. We created a law that allows any journalist to have all the information they want about the government at any time.

We were the ones who strengthened the Public Property Controllership, which is in charge of investigating every ministry and sending their findings to the National Accounts Tribunal. And we were the ones who developed — along with the Accounts Tribunal — a process that gave them agility in this oversight.

So, first of all, the government has responsibility for everything that is happening.

Second, I believe it is important that for the first time, the wealthy are being arrested. In Brazil, we arrested the poor for stealing bread, but not the rich for stealing a billion. We arrested the poor for stealing medication, but not someone rich for tax evasion.


Photo: Laura Colucci/Fireworx Media

GREENWALD: Is that the positive side of things?

DA SILVA: Yes, that’s the positive side — a positive that I believe is very important and that allows us to dream that this will be a serious country someday.

What do I think is negative? That’s something I ask myself every single day this investigation goes on. For this investigation to go on, is it really necessary to make “reality TV” out of it, to put up a fireworks display every single day? And never account for the fact that with a headline or a TV segment you could be condemning someone who will later turn out to be innocent?

Is it possible to conduct the same investigation, arrest the same people without the pyrotechnics? I believe it is.

Is it possible to analyze how much this operation is costing, how much it will return to our public accounts and how much it is costing the country? How much this operation is costing our GDP, unemployment rates, what investments fled the country.

GREENWALD: But do you believe this process is about destroying PT? Because 60 percent of the accused politicians belong to PP, a right-wing party, not PT.

DA SILVA: I will go into this matter about PT because I hope there will be a specific question coming. First of all, when you create a law, establish conditions for institutions to work properly, there is no protection — the only protection one has is following the law. It is doing things right, not making mistakes. And if PT makes mistakes, PT has to pay for it like any other political party or any other person that doesn’t belong to a party, because after all, the law applies to everyone. That’s the way to consolidate democracy in Brazil and anywhere else on Earth.

Secondly, what I find odd with plea bargaining — and I denounced that in December of 2014, it is not something new — what I find odd is how information is selectively leaked. And it is usually against the PT. When there is an accusation against another political party, the press puts it out in small print. It is on TV for five seconds. When it is something against PT, you’ll have 20 minutes on television, the front page of every newspaper, making it crystal clear that for the past two years there’s been an attempt to criminalize the PT.

GREENWALD: Yes, we will discuss this in a few minutes. But first I want to ask: On several occasions, you have used the word “coup” to describe this impeachment process against President Dilma. The Brazilian Constitution explicitly allows for the possibility of impeachment. And this process is being conducted under the authority of the Supreme Court, with 11 members: eight appointed by PT, three by yourself and another five by President Dilma. And this court has ruled several important decisions in your favor. How could this process be called a coup?

A demonstrator holds a Brazilian flag with a sticker that reads in Portuguese "Down with the coup, impeachment no" during a protest in support of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, March 31, 2016. Rousseff is currently facing impeachment proceedings as her government faces a stalling national economy and multiple corruption scandals. Lula da Silva has been linked to a sprawling corruption scandal involving Brazilian oil giant Petrobras. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

A demonstrator holds a Brazilian flag with a sticker that reads in Portuguese, “Down with the coup, impeachment no,” during a protest in support of President Rousseff and former President Lula da Silva in São Paulo, Brazil, March 31, 2016.

Photo: Andre Penner/AP

DA SILVA: It has also ruled against us many times. Let me tell you …

GREENWALD: Every court does that. But how can it be a coup when it is happening under the authority of a court?

DA SILVA: I’ll tell you why it is a coup. It is a coup because while the Brazilian Constitution allows for an impeachment, it is necessary for the person to have committed what we call high crimes and misdemeanors. And President Dilma did not commit a high crime or a misdemeanor. Therefore, what is happening is an attempt by some to take power by disrespecting the popular vote.

Anyone has the right to want to become president, anyone. They just have to run. I lost three elections — three! I didn’t take any shortcuts. I waited 12 years to become president. Anyone who wants to become president, instead of trying to take down the president, can run in an election. I ran three of them and didn’t get angry.

That’s why I think the impeachment is illegal. There is no high crime or misdemeanor. As a matter of fact, I believe that these people want to remove Dilma from office by disrespecting the law. Carrying out, the way I see it, a political coup. That’s what it is: a political coup.

GREENWALD: They can’t win the election. I want to ask: The PT requested the impeachment of the three presidents that came before you. Do you believe that those three presidents were involved in high crimes and misdemeanors that justified an impeachment?

DA SILVA: No. PT requested the impeachment of Collor and it went through because he had committed high crimes and misdemeanors. With Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the Chamber of Deputies didn’t accept the request. So it died then and there. Maybe because there weren’t high crimes and misdemeanors. Now, this impeachment request could’ve been denied too.

Why was it requested? Why did they open the process and send it to the commission? Because the president of the chamber was angered that PT didn’t vote with him in the Ethics Committee and he decided to get back at PT by trying to manufacture the impeachment of President Dilma, which I see as a gigantic abuse in this political scenario.

Meeting for presidential elections in Sao Bernardo Do Campo

Meeting for presidential elections in São Bernardo do Campo circa 1989.

Photo: Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

GREENWALD: I want to ask about Eduardo Cunha, the president of the Chamber of Deputies. The evidence of him being involved in corruption is overwhelming. They discovered his Swiss bank accounts with millions of dollars he can’t explain. He clearly lied to Congress when he denied having offshore bank accounts. How can one explain to foreigners — and to Brazilians — how such a corrupt politician can not only remain a leader of the National Congress, but also spearhead the impeachment process against the president?

DA SILVA: What’s even graver is how the press treats him with normalcy, and doesn’t treat Dilma that way. In truth, Dilma is being judged by people who have been accused of crimes. And she hasn’t got a single accusation against her. The accusation against her is one of budgetary impropriety. And this accusation isn’t a crime and her budget hasn’t even been reviewed by the National Congress.

GREENWALD: Explain that to me, because I think there are many foreigners who can’t understand it.

DA SILVA: There is no explanation apart from some people in this country being insane. The National Congress could show some self-respect by taking into account that they are in no political condition to carry Dilma’s trial as they have. Eduardo Cunha doesn’t have the respectability, not from Congress, nor from society, to spearhead this. But it is going on, sometimes even under protection by some sectors of the national media, which I believe is very serious.

What worries me most in all of this is that Brazil has only 31 years of democracy. It has been our longest period of uninterrupted democracy. And what we are doing right now is trying to play with democracy. And we shouldn’t play with democracy, because every time we play with democracy, every time we deny politics, what comes after is worse.

GREENWALD: There is strong evidence of corruption within the parties leading the opposition against PT’s government — that is clear — but do you agree that there is also a serious corruption issue within the PT?

DA SILVA: Let me tell you one thing. So far, there is plea bargaining in a case against PT’s treasurer. He was implicated during a plea bargain and that case is still awaiting trial. He says he didn’t do it. Well, in this plea process you have the bargaining. A jailed businessman can get out by trying to stick blame on someone else. Any day, someone can accuse you of receiving money from a company.

What I find fantastic and ironic is that it is as if companies have two types of accounts: One with clean money and another one with corrupt money. The one containing the clean money is for PSDB, PMDB, and the other parties. Meanwhile, the one with the dirty money is for PT. To believe this is insanity, to say the least. It is, at the very least, a failure to comprehend this historical moment … and I’m not saying PT is free of blame, and if PT is guilty, it will have to pay like any other party. PT isn’t immune — what I am saying is that in this moment …

GREENWALD: But there is a serious problem.

DA SILVA: In this historical moment, what exists is an attempt to criminalize PT, to remove Dilma and avoid any possibility of Lula ever coming back as a presidential candidate in this country.

GREENWALD: I understand your reasoning and everything you just said, but I want to be very clear about my question. Do you believe … there are very serious problems, I think even worse cases of corruption in other parties, including the ones spearheading the impeachment process against Dilma. But you, as one of PT’s founding members, the most important person in PT along with President Dilma, do you acknowledge there is a serious corruption problem within your party?

DA SILVA: I believe there is a problem in my party. I don’t believe … let me tell you one thing, when the mensalão scandal began, certain sectors of the media said this was the biggest corruption scandal in the history of planet Earth. Then the process started and it became harder and harder to prove.

Then, to consolidate their case, they came up with the notion of “prevalence of fact,” the theory of “prevalence of fact.” Which meant they didn’t have to provide any proof. You run the organization? Then you are responsible. That’s how it happened during the mensalão scandal. Now they are constructing another theory. See, we ran our campaign in October 2014 and a magazine published the cover: “Lula and Dilma knew about all of it.” Do you recall it?

GREENWALD: Yes, of course.

DA SILVA: Let me tell you one thing. It’s been two years. Every single day there is an article, every single day there is a tweet, every single day I receive the information: “Look, they arrested so-and-so who is going to tell all about how Lula is involved.”

GREENWALD: Just to make this point clear: The former PT leader in the Senate, Delcídio Amaral, said you knew about the bribery schemes and commanded them.

DA SILVA: Let me tell you, Delcídio wanted to get out of jail. Delcídio was someone with strong ties to Petrobras, even before PT. He was strongly linked to Petrobras during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso presidency. He had a strong connection with Petrobrás because he was this field for a long time. To sum it up: Delcídio lied shamelessly.


DA SILVA: To get out of jail. Obviously, to get out of jail.

Photo: Laura Colucci/Fireworx Media

GREENWALD: A lot of research has been revealing a strong and pervasive feeling of indignation towards the government and PT, including people who supported PT for a long time. Do you believe all of this anger against the PT is illegitimate or do you accept that some of it is valid?

DA SILVA: I don’t believe the hatred that has been fostered against the PT will prevail. Today we are living in times when hatred against the PT is stoked 24 hours a day. It is the party that has advanced social policies the most in this country. The party that in a mere 12 years changed the history of this country. We gave workers a face; we gave a face and citizenship to the poor. All the things they never had. That’s why the hatred is fostered by people who don’t know how to share public spaces with people who came from below.

I feel peaceful and that’s why I can debate this with a lot of tranquility. Because I can say this: I doubt there is a businessman, friend or foe, that can say he ever negotiated some kind of crooked deal with me. I see things happening, I witness the lies, I see fabrications against Lula. They made up an apartment they said was mine. Someone is going to have to give me that apartment.

GREENWALD: But do you acknowledge there are a lot people, including PT supporters, who are suffering under the economy? Of course, you acknowledge that.


GREENWALD: And PT’s government — and I know there are many causes that have nothing to do with the government and involve the global economy and China — but is there also some guilt to be attributed to President Dilma for this suffering?

DA SILVA: Now let’s start with the economic part, shall we? Let’s talk about economics. Brazil is suffering the most perverse consequences of a worldwide economic crisis caused by the global system itself. The very one that started in the United States, which got even worse after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and still hasn’t been resolved even after spending over $13 trillion.

During the first G20 summit in 2009, I proposed that if we wanted to resolve the crisis, rather than cutting spending, we needed to invest more in the poorest countries in order to help them get cheap money, so that they could develop. We all agreed that protectionism had to be avoided and that international trade was necessary, especially for Latin America and Africa.

They all agreed upon that and it appears in the first leaders’ statement from the G20 London summit. Meanwhile, each country went ahead with its own protectionism. In 2009, I criticized this, saying that the problem at the heart of the economic crisis was the lack of political leadership. World politics have been outsourced and important decisions are now being made by bureaucrats while leaders are simply hiding.

GREENWALD: But is the Brazilian government now totally guilt free on this issue?

DA SILVA: I am going to talk about Brazil now; I just wanted to place the crisis in context first. It’s impossible to imagine that the crisis is still happening in Europe or that the United States hasn’t reduced it yet. But this is all because they have chosen to cut spending, precisely the force that is capable of increasing production and industry in a country.

From 2011 to 2014, the Brazilian government pursued a policy of tax breaks and cuts and gave up nearly R$500 billion in order to boost economic growth. This led to a very low unemployment rate in December 2014 of only 4.3 percent. You could compare Brazil to Finland or even Sweden with such a low unemployment rate.

However, the government did not see how these tax breaks and exemptions decreased its tax revenues and emptied its accounts. Dilma obviously didn’t want to change this during the elections. After she was reelected and officially committed to the Brazilian people, she offered a tax readjustment and started changing a few small things concerning workers’ rights. And this turned a large part of our electorate against us, something we have still not managed to recover from.

This is exactly what I have been discussing with President Dilma, saying that the only way to face this is to promote a new economic policy that brings new hopes and possibilities to the Brazilian society. The ones that are now one step higher on the social scale can’t fall back. They have to remain. Which is why we are in need of an economic policy that encourages funding, loans, expenditure, micro-industry, small- and medium-sized businesses, something that will get us going again.

GREENWALD: Is it possible to justify the austerity programs put forward by the government? Do you think it would be worse under another political party?

DA SILVA: Let me tell you something, there is no austerity.

GREENWALD: No such thing in Brazil?

DA SILVA: What we have here is a lack of tax revenue and without any revenue, you can’t spend — same thing goes for my house and yours and for the government and for a company. In other words, the government lowered its tax collecting believing that the world economy would recover quickly, but it did not. Neither did Brazil.

So what needs to be done now? The government cannot go on another year talking about cuts. What we need to discuss is growth. Let’s talk about investment. If no public budget is available, we need to create financing.

We need to seek out partners. We need to develop strategic projects with other countries. In the middle of a crisis, we must do what we weren’t able to do under normal circumstances. We need to be more courageous and innovative.

GREENWALD: There is a common belief in the West that the PT has a lot in common with left-wing parties in Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba or Ecuador, and that you and Dilma would like to put Brazil on that same path. I also hear this a lot among Brazilians. Is it true? What are the principal differences between the PT and these political parties?

DA SILVA: Don’t be unfair to the PT, for the love of God, because the PT has a lot in common with the German SPD and British Labour Party. Also with the French Socialist Party and Spanish Socialist Party. The PT has a lot in common with all of them.

Let me tell you something, the PT is Latin America’s biggest left-wing party, it has never even defined which kind of socialism it follows since the PT says that it will be defined and built by the people itself and not the PT with its dozen of intellectuals telling us what kind of socialism we want. The PT is more open than the other leftist parties in Latin America. We are greater, more diverse. No other political party in the world is more democratic or open than the PT. Within the PT there is anything you can imagine — it’s like Noah’s Arc, which means anyone or any political belief is welcome in the PT. However, one must understand that once something is decided by the PT, it becomes an obligation to all its members.

Workers' Party (PT) supporters demonstrate in support of President Dilma Rousseff and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 18, 2016. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's supporters took to the streets Friday to fight back at attempts to oust her, as a flurry of court battles raged over her controversial cabinet appointment of predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. AFP PHOTO / YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP / YASUYOSHI CHIBA        (Photo credit should read YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Workers’ Party supporters demonstrate in defense of President Rousseff and former President Lula da Silva in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 18, 2016.

Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

GREENWALD: You held a press conference with foreign correspondents two weeks ago and said something very interesting about Judge Sérgio Moro. You said he is an intelligent and competent individual, but, to use your words, “being human,” people with great power and much adoration are vulnerable to be tempted to abuse power. Does that apply to you as well?

DA SILVA: The thing is, I don’t have any power.

GREENWALD: No power?

DA SILVA: I have no power. When I had power, when I was president, the thing I was most proud of was that the society was more involved in decision-making under my government than at any other time.

GREENWALD: When you had power and if you ever have it again, would it also apply to you? The idea that people who have a lot of power can be tempted to abuse power?

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL:  A worker puts up a campaign sign for Brazilian presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, of theWorkers Party, (PT) 24 October, 2002, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Lula heads to the 27 October second round of voting with 65 percent support and a massive lead over the ruling party's Jose Serra. AFP PHOTO/Mauricio LIMA   Un trabajador pega un afiche con la imagen de Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, candidato opositor del Partido de los Trabajadores (PT) a la presidencia de Brasil, el 24 de octubre de 2002, en Sao Paulo, Brasil. Segun sondeos Lula, obtendria del 66% de las intenciones de voto para el balotaje del 27 de octubre, mientras que Jose Serra, del Partido de la Social Democracia Brasilena (PSDB), obtendria el 34%.  AFP PHOTO/Mauricio LIMA (Photo credit should read MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images)

A worker puts up a campaign sign for then-presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of the Workers’ Party, on Oct. 24, 2002, in São Paulo, Brazil.

Photo: Marucio Lima/AFP/Getty Images

DA SILVA: I think anyone with a lot of power is vulnerable. However, not every human being is able to handle the popularity. The media, the photographs, can do a lot of damage. I’ve seen a lot of people, from baseball, soccer and snooker players to judges, senators, state representatives and even presidents succumb to it.

GREENWALD: Do you also have to fight this danger?

DA SILVA: Of course! Ever since I was a union leader, I was conscious that I had to be very careful not to allow myself to be influenced by media adoration. I know how good it can feel to be on the front page of a newspaper, to be on the television every day. But if you’re not careful and responsible, you can go down a totally wrong path. What’s more, whoever thinks he is indispensable, who starts to think he is irreplaceable, starts becoming a dictator, which is very bad.

GREENWALD: I would like to talk about the Brazilian media and its role in inciting the protests against President Dilma and pressuring her to exit. As a journalist who is not Brazilian but has lived here a long time, I am shocked by the local media. Globo, Veja, Estadão are all so involved in the movement against the government and in defense of the opposition. They pretend they are impartial when they actually serve as the principal implements of propaganda. Most of them are owned by a few very rich and powerful families. Is that a danger to democracy?

DA SILVA: Yes it is.

GREENWALD: Why is that?

March 17th, 2016 - A few hours after the nomination of the ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for Minister Chief of Staff, hundreds of people went to Paulista avenue, in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil, to protest against him and president Dilma Roussef's government. Almost 24 hours later the avenue was still closed and crowded with people criticising Lula, who is investigated in the corruption scandal involving Petrobras, and his and Ms. Rousseff's party, PT (Workers' Party) (Photo by Gustavo Basso/NurPhoto) *** Please Use Credit from Credit Field ***

After the nomination of former President Lula da Silva for minister chief of staff, hundreds of people went to Avenida Paulista, in downtown São Paulo, Brazil, to protest against him and President Rousseff’s government, March 17, 2016.

Photo: Gustavo Basso/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/AP

DA SILVA: Let me tell you what I think would be the best situation for the world: It would be an extremely democratic media that has a political opinion and expresses it in editorials, but stays very faithful to the facts. Not versions or takes — the facts. Well, nowadays in Brazil, we don’t have opposition parties, in reality, the opposition is the media itself.

GREENWALD: Globo, Veja 

DA SILVA: We have three newspapers, magazines and TV channels that openly oppose the government. They call for marches and protests. They encourage hate. You see, I lost three elections, I lost once, twice and a third time, and each time, I would go back home and moan and seek support from my wife and companions in the PT. Then one day I won, and unlike me, they don’t know how to lose and they lost again to President Dilma. They’re still on the soapbox about it to this day. Since the party is fragile, the media has assumed the role of the party. This is serious. This is a risk for democracy.

When I finished my term in 2010, we held a national communication conference. We built a regulation model that could be the American or British or French model — not the Chinese or Cuban model. Unfortunately, it never reached Congress given the fact that our regulations go back to 1962, when we did not have satellites, internet, digital television or even fax machines. We did not have any of that then. Our regulations are from 1962! And they don’t want to change it! I think we will be discussing this again soon enough.

GREENWALD: But the media at least accepted or even supported your candidacy in 2002 and 2006, didn’t they?

DA SILVA: No they did not. In 2002, it was a sure thing that I was going to win. In 2002, I was not worried because something told me that with that election it was my turn to become president.

So the media obviously was not hostile. However, in 2006, I was already president but they supported the fourth place candidate more than they supported me, the first place candidate and sitting president. They did everything they could so that I would lose. When Alckmin made it to the second round, they celebrated my impending defeat. What happened next? Alckmin got fewer votes in the second round than the first, whereas I got 62 percent of the votes.

Then they all thought there would not be any successor, they all thought Serra would become president in 2010 and we introduced a woman, with not much political experience, from the left, who had spent 3 1/2 years in prison, who had been tortured and with no political experience.

So, this woman was elected president and let’s not forget she had a good first mandate. People would complain that she did not like to discuss issues; she did not like to do politics. Details. The fact is, when the next elections came, they all bet she would lose. “Dilma is going to be defeated! Dilma is going to be defeated!” And she wasn’t. They all went mad.

GREENWALD: They still don’t accept the results until today?

DA SILVA: They still don’t.

GREENWALD: I would now like to change the subject a bit. When the reporting emerged showing how the NSA was engaged in electronic surveillance against Brazil, you, along with President Dilma, strongly denounced it, calling it an extreme invasion of privacy. You said the same when your own private conversations with Dilma were released by Judge Moro.

Recently, the government adopted a new anti-terrorism law, strongly supported by Dilma herself, which gives her government extreme spying powers. Isn’t that a contradiction? What do you think about this new law?

DA SILVA: I was against this law because I don’t think this model can apply to Brazil as much as it does to countries that are directly affected by terrorism. Brazil, thank God, doesn’t have that kind of problem, even though some people think we need to worry about it.

GREENWALD: Was the government exploiting this fear?

DA SILVA: No, I don’t think so. They’re just worried about the Olympics and overreacted. This is not a country in which people have traditionally committed acts of terrorism.

GREENWALD: But these spying power that the Brazilian government has now are very dangerous.

DA SILVA: I don’t like it either. Let me tell you something. I am very afraid of transforming the state apparatus, above all the state’s police apparatus, which is very powerful. Because this turns against democracy, it turns against democratic institutions. I think we need to find equilibrium. We don’t need to create a monster to defend ourselves against a monster.

GREENWALD: Several international human rights organizations are complaining that Brazil is violating its prisoners’ rights given the unacceptable conditions that exist inside prisons. A lot of people are held prisoner without so much as a trial.

A large part of this problem stems from the war on drugs, which the PT has always supported, but that leads to many Brazilians — most of whom are poor, black and young — being put in prison. In the past, you have supported this war. Now, former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, along with many other world leaders, say this war has failed and is inhumane.

Do you agree with them, or do you want to continue this war?

DA SILVA: This war has failed because the judicial system is very slow. There are people that have been in prison for two or three years without trial. Same goes for the Operation Car Wash investigation. The problem is within the judicial system.

GREENWALD: Nobody cares when a young, poor, black person is left in jail for two or three years without trial.

DA SILVA: But there is a preference right there, you know? And we have denounced it. I have had many meetings with a group of young people from poor communities, there’s a preference, in fact, to arrest poor, black people, to kill poor, black people. Meaning there is a problem that we are trying to solve — not only as a party, but also the judiciary, judges’ organizations — of how we are going to expedite, you know, the release and trial of these people.

GREENWALD: But with the conditions in the Brazilian prison system, is it fair to put someone in jail for a year, two years, three years, six months, or for any time for drug possession with this level of poverty?

DA SILVA: I am for the decriminalization [of drugs]; therefore I don’t think that a citizen who commits any old crime should be in jail. I don’t think that a citizen who is caught, a drug user, should be arrested. In many cases, this person needs psychological counseling much more than jail. It is one thing is to arrest a drug trafficker and another thing to arrest a user. I am against it. You know, we fought against it. Now, we have a problem in Brazil: We still have a very conservative judiciary.

GREENWALD: My last question: For a long time, Brazil was one of the leaders in Latin America in treating gays equally. In fact, Brazil has been more progressive than the USA and many European nations on this issue. But now there is this very strong evangelical movement in Brazil that wants to roll all of that back, and I know that you have supported some LGBT rights in the past, but I want to ask: Do you support absolute equality for LGBTs under the law?

DA SILVA: I approve!

GREENWALD: Including the right to marry?

DA SILVA: Let me tell you something, my friend, in Brazil many important things have happened. I was the only president that took part in a national conference with the LGBT community. When many people thought it was dangerous for me to go to the conference, I went, along with two thousand other people. It was an extraordinary lesson for the government. Second, we managed to approve civil unions in the Supreme Court, which was an extraordinary progress, you know?

GREENWALD: But it’s not equal.

DA SILVA: With the National Education Plan we …

GREENWALD: But it’s not the same right to marry as heterosexuals have. It’s less …

DA SILVA: But in any case, for the Supreme Court to make such a decision was extraordinary progress. I support the people’s right to decide whatever is best for themselves.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva holds a flag of the gay movement during the opening ceremony of the I National Conference of Gays, Lesbians and Transsexuals, on June 5, 2008, in Brasilia. AFP PHOTO/Joedson Alves (Photo credit should read JOEDSON ALVES/AFP/Getty Images)

President Lula da Silva holds a flag of the gay movement during the opening ceremony of the first National Conference of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transvestites, and Transsexuals on June 5, 2008, in Brazil.

Photo: Joedson Alves/AFP/Getty Images

GREENWALD: Including the right to marry?

DA SILVA: Including the right to marry. When I speak about civil unions, I also mean marriage, OK? I honestly believe that people should live as they choose. As long as every one of us respects each other’s rights, you know?

Here in Brazil, when it was about the matter of abortion, and it was said that it was a criminal thing to do, I used to say, “Look, I, as a citizen, father of five children, am against abortion. But I, as the president of Brazil, deal with the matter of abortion as a public health issue.”

GREENWALD: Because a woman has the right to choose and not you?

DA SILVA: Of course! Of course! You know, I think Brazil has progressed a lot, but in some areas we are still very behind.


DA SILVA: I just wanted to say something more on the matter of Operation Car Wash to you, a foreigner in Brazil. Let me tell you, what worries me about this Car Wash story is that there is another thesis in play, which is about the theory of control over the facts. There is the idea that first you detect a criminal, you “stamp” someone as a criminal, and then you look for a crime to pin on him. I am saying this because every single day someone comes up saying, “They want to catch Lula! They want to catch Lula! It is Lula who they want to catch!” And I’ve been saying this every single day.

GREENWALD: Because they believe you will run again for president. Is it true?

DA SILVA: I don’t know. If that’s the reason, that’s silly. Look, I doubt that there is a single businessman in this country who could say that they negotiated some kind of crooked deal with me.

GREENWALD: Back then, they gave you a lot of money to support your campaign; you’ve received a lot of support from businesses, large corporations …

DA SILVA: In Brazil, only rich people have the money to donate to campaigns. Let’s be honest! There’s no country in which a candidate sells their home to fund their candidacy.

GREENWALD: They must have support from rich people.

DA SILVA: Of course! In the USA it is even charming, you even get awards for who collects more.

GREENWALD: Obama, Clinton, they both have support from Wall Street and other businesses.

DA SILVA: This was the rule of the game: You asked for money, the businessman gave you the money, you accounted for the money and the justice officials would approve your filing and that was it.

GREENWALD: And that’s how rich people get favors.

DA SILVA: Now, there’s this idea around, and PT used to defend this idea of “Let’s put a stop to private money donations and make it all about public financing, which is the most dignified way to campaign.”

GREENWALD: PT is no longer going to accept corporate cash for campaigns?

DA SILVA: PT has decided not to accept the corporate contributions for an electoral campaign, therefore I think it’s an extraordinary thing, a brave thing, and this could make PT’s rebirth that much stronger.

GREENWALD: And if you run for president again, will you keep this promise?

DA SILVA: Of course! I’m already very well-known.

GREENWALD: There’s a lot of criticism from the Brazilian left that PT is perpetuating the neoliberal model, that it is protecting the interest of rich people and not the poor. Is this valid?

DA SILVA: No. We are going to use the workers and the humblest people in the country to make Brazil’s economy rise again. For that, we need funding, credit and partnerships. And this, God willing, I want to help Dilma accomplish.

GREENWALD: Well, thank you very much for the interview, Mr. President.

DA SILVA: Thank you.

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