Bolivia and Brazil at the Crossroads

Bolivia scholar Bret Gustafson and The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald are this week’s guests.

Photo illustration: Elise Swain/The Intercept; Photo: Getty Images (2)

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Evo Morales is in Mexico vowing to fight the coup against him in Bolivia. This week on Intercepted: As right-wing forces attack Indigenous Bolivians and allies of Morales, the Trump administration says the toppling of the democratically elected government “preserves democracy.” Anthropologist and Bolivia scholar Bret Gustafson offers a nuanced analysis of how the coup unfolded, who benefits from the crisis, and what is at stake for the overwhelmingly Indigenous population. Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is now free after spending a year and a half behind bars. He says he wants to run for president and fight the far-right regime of Jair Bolsonaro. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald talks about his recent conversation with Lula, the threats against Intercept journalists in Brazil, and the latest on the corruption investigation into Justice Minister Sergio Moro.

Newscaster: President Trump making history today as the country pays tribute to our nation’s veterans.

Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle: I’m one of your biggest supporters. You know, I tell everybody that comes in this taxi that they have to vote for you.

Donald J. Trump: It is truly an honor to come back to New York City.

RDN: I’m sure you’re gonna win so everybody I know is gonna vote for you.

DJT: You can shoot me.

RDN: Oh, yeah?

DJT: But you’ll have to kill us all.

RDN: Well, I don’t know. You know, I don’t follow political issues that closely, sir. I don’t know.

DJT: This is who we are.

RDN: Well —

DJT: This is our American heritage.

RDN: I think that the president should just clean up this whole mess, just flush it right down the fucking toilet.

DJT: People’s lives. We’ve lost so many lives. This is who we will forever be.

RDN: Damn straight. Nice talking to you, sir. You’re a good man. I know you’re going to win.

DJT: Boy, this looks like it might be easier than I anticipated.

[Music interlude.]

Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.

[Music interlude.]

JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is Episode 107 of Intercepted.

Evo Morales [in Spanish]: Estamos renunciando, estoy renunciando —

JS: Bolivian President Evo Morales has accepted asylum in Mexico for the time being, and he was greeted at the airport as a hero. On Sunday, Morales announced his resignation in a televised address to the country, he described the events as a coup d’etat.

EM [translated]: To my brothers and sisters of Bolivia, the whole world, I want to inform you, from Lauca Ñ — I’m here with the vice president and minister of health — that I have decided, after listening to my friends at CONALCAM and the Bolivian Workers’ Center, and also listening to the Catholic Church, to resign my position as president.

JS: On Tuesday from Mexico, Evo Morales tweeted that he had left the country to save his life, but he vowed to fight against the coup and the racists. Following his resignation right-wing thugs began ransacking the homes, offices and institutions of Morales and his supporters, and violently attacking people.

What direct role the U.S. may have played in this coup is not known at this moment. But for many decades, the U.S. has directly intervened in Bolivia, including supporting and fomenting previous coups, and coup attempts. The White House issued a statement celebrating the removal of Morales, saying it  “preserves democracy.” That statement went on to attack the governments of Venezuela and Nicaragua, concluding that with the departure of Evo Morales, “We are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous and free Western Hemisphere.”

Coming up on the show, I’m going to be joined by my fellow Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald to talk about the situation in another Latin American country, Brazil, where the former President Lula has been released from prison. At the same time, there are increasing threats against my Intercept Brazil colleagues, including Glenn Greenwald, by the Bolsonaro regime and their henchmen. But we begin with this unfolding story in Bolivia.

Anthropologist and Bolivia Scholar Bret Gustafson on the Coup to Oust Evo Morales

JS: What we want to do on the show today is to try to take a nuanced look at how Bolivia got to this point, and what it means for the future of that country. We’re going to discuss some of the people involved with this coup, as well as who was exploiting it to their benefit. The reaction from many U.S. political figures and the coverage and prominent us news outlets has been predictable.

Newscaster: The military asked him to leave office.

JS: And as almost always the case when a leftist government is brought down, filled with hollow rhetoric about it representing grand steps toward democracy. At the same time, not all of the forces that opposed Evo Morales in recent months and years were right-wing thugs or American lackeys. And it’s important to examine all of this honestly, as many indigenous and worker organizations have been doing for a long time in Bolivia. The news surrounding these unfolding events in Bolivia over the last weeks are not as simple as the tick-tock of reported events which suggest. Morales is the first indigenous president in Bolivia’s history, a country that has a long history of military rule, the pillaging of its natural resources for multinational corporate benefit, and repeated overt and covert U.S. intervention. Evo Morales’ rise to the presidency was rooted in the strength and resilience of nonviolent resistance movements and indigenous social movements in that country.

Joining me now to discuss all of this is Bret Gustafson. He’s an associate professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. He studies the relationship between indigenous political movements and the Bolivian state. Gustafson is also the author of “New Languages of the State” and the forthcoming book, “Bolivia in the Age of Gas.” Bret Gustafson, welcome to Intercepted.

Bret Gustafson: Thanks so much for having me.

JS: Take us through a brief history of how we ended up in this exact situation where the military came and basically told Evo Morales you’re finished.

BG: If we look just recently at the latest elections, which were very contested Evo Morales was running for a fourth term. He lost a referendum to change the constitution and used the Supreme Court to do away with term limits. So many people saw his candidacy as fraught from the beginning. Nonetheless, the opposition mustered candidates and played along with the elections. During the vote count on October 20, the counting system paused for a while, the opposition immediately cried fraud. When the count began again Evo’s lead moved above the 10-point lead threshold that would guarantee a first round victory.

Evo Morales [translated]: One new triumph, we have won once again. We have achieved four consecutive election wins in Bolivia.

BG: The protests started.

France 24: The controversial election results have sparked riots and a general strike that Morales has denied electoral fraud and claimed his opponents are conspiring to oust him.

BG: The protest escalated in coming days and weeks. Evo called for an audit by the OAS, the Organization of American States. While that audit was going on, a very loud political force appeared this civic committee leader from eastern Bolivia named Luis Fernando Camacho, who took a very much more extreme stance demanding that Evo step down, intensifying clashes between supporters of Evo and the opposition. And as the conditions deteriorated, and the OAS audit proceeded, it became increasingly clear that Evo was losing control. Finally, November 10, the OAS reported that there were many irregularities in the process. Evo conceded to holding second elections. Few hours later, the military shifted position slightly and suggested that Evo resign, that was followed by his resignation.

JS: If you just take it down to the micro situation of a military coming to a democratically elected leader and demanding their resignation I mean, that is pretty clearly the definition of a coup d’etat.

BG: This is certainly something that people are arguing about, but I would certainly refer to it as a coup, yes.

JS: Under the Bolivian system, there are kind of two ways that the vote count is presented to the public. There’s the kind of flash results that are not official that people are informed of, in sort of more real time and then there’s the official results. What you’re referring to is this sort of semi-official count all of a sudden jumping up in Evo’s favor, correct?

BG: Almost, so the semi-official or so-called preliminary count — it’s called the TREP — is a preliminary account, and they were making those results — the preliminary results —public up until late in the evening on the day of elections. When they got to about 80% or so of the votes, they shut down the preliminary count and began to emit the official results. The argument being — and this is the way the system has always worked — is that you can’t be putting out the preliminary count and the official count at the same time. So the argument is that once you start counting on the official side, you shut off the preliminary side.

And there are plenty of evidence CEPR put out a good report showing that while he didn’t appear to have the 10% lead when that shift happened, statistically the votes that were coming in could have put him over the 10% hurdle. This is what’s highly contested — was there some sort of fraud going on behind the scenes? And if you read the OAS report, they’re not able to point out where or how any major miscount happened so I’m still waiting for more evidence on that. They did point out that the handling of the computer systems and so forth was fraught with “irregularities.”

JS: You mentioned CEPR. That’s the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Mark Weisbrot who wrote a piece for The Nation magazine, he said the following about OAS that it “did not present any evidence for its questioning of the election results. This is an outrage for an electoral observation mission as anyone familiar with such procedures knows.” He also talks about the intervention politically of OAS in other elections, including in Haiti, that its impartiality has been called into serious question. What do you make of Mark Weisbrot’s criticism of the OAS audit and the general political history of the OAS when it comes to these kinds of electoral situations?

BG: The OAS is certainly being questioned largely because of the role played by the United States and Brazil and Argentina. And the very outspoken role that Luis Almagro the head of the OAS has had trying to facilitate the ouster of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. So, the neutrality of the OAS can certainly be questioned.

JS: What we’ve seen in the hours following Evo Morales leaving power have been some really grotesque attacks on supporters of Evo Morales and also this kind of right-wing Christian fascist rhetoric and desecration of indigenous symbols. I wanted you to talk, you mentioned him earlier, but a little bit  more about Luis Fernando Camacho, who you know, goes into Evo Morales’ home in the hours after Morales leaves and he has a bible in one of his hands and then the national flag in the other and he places a bible, you know, on top of the flag and says “Pachamama will never return to the palace. Bolivia belongs to Christ.” Who is this guy?

BG: Yes, you’ve done a good job of describing him and this is what a lot of Bolivians and observers are fearful of. Camacho was basically a nobody really until maybe six or eight months ago, at least in a public political sense. He’s a businessman from Santa Cruz. His family runs million dollar operations in the insurance business. But historically, his family has also been deeply involved in natural gas distribution networks basically privately owned gas utilities. These businesses were apparently negatively affected when Evo Morales moved to take national control over the gas industry, a move that was very popular in Bolivia. But Camacho is like many on the right-wing in eastern Bolivia, who consider themselves white or white-ish, have a long history of anti-indigenous racism, very much associated with a long history of fascist political organizing in Bolivia and very much wedded to symbols of Christianity. He’s part of an organization called the Civic Committee or “Comité Cívico.” It’s an unelected body much like a chamber of commerce. I’ve been watching them for 10 or 15 years.

After Evo was elected in 2005, the Civic Committee and it has a group of shock troops called the Crusenño Youth Union named for the city of Santa Cruz, which is a bunch of muscular guys who go out and intimidated and beat and harassed supporters of Evo Morales. In 2008, the Civic Committee was involved in another attempt to topple Evo Morales. In 2009, many members of the Civic Committee were implicated in bringing mercenaries into the country to attempt to assassinate Evo Morales. Camacho is someone who represents that broader group of interests in Santa Cruz as an individual, certainly not all that impressive, but behind him are a lot of very powerful economic interests.

JS: The official statement that came out of the Trump administration, out of the White House celebrated the departure of Evo Morales and this is what the statement said: “The United States applauds the Bolivian people for demanding freedom and the Bolivian military for abiding by its oath to protect not just a single person, but Bolivia’s constitution. These events send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail.” Of course, the United States has directly intervened multiple times throughout Bolivia’s history without question, and certainly under both Democratic and Republican administrations has tried to get rid of Evo Morales to one degree or another. What do we know about the U.S. role in this current situation? Is there a direct connection that we see yet or is this the Trump administration celebrating this and now trying to take advantage of what has happened? What’s your assessment?

BG: Certainly they’re celebrating it and trying to tie it to their efforts in Venezuela and Nicaragua as well. You know, a historian friend said to me the other day, well, you know, we won’t know if the CIA was involved for another 30 years. So, and I also myself, tweeted out that you don’t necessarily have to have the CIA to stage a coup in Bolivia. The right-wing in Santa Cruz is quite capable of mobilizing itself. There are signs that they had conferred with Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia before this. So I’d rather not speculate on a sort of a CIA-type role. But certainly what is appearing is evidence that the United States has been using its so-called soft powers by funding directly and indirectly, organizations that were taking in, for example, an environmentalist position against Evo Morales. Organizations like the International Republican Institute, organizations that are claiming to be human rights advocates that are voicing opposition to Evo Morales.

It’s very hard to show the direct financial links. But the signs are there that these sort of soft organizations have been mobilizing for some months in preparation for the elections. I should also say the opposition never planned on accepting the outcome of the elections. Even Carlos Mesa, the presidential candidate, said that if Evo wins, we’re not going to accept the outcome. They played along with the election process, but there were long plans in the works to take to the streets.

JS: On the one hand, you do have institutions from Evo’s traditional base of support, including major labor organizations and civil society organizations, sort of taking a position that Evo Morales has kind of strayed off the path and agitating against him but not part of a coup d’etat force. And then on the other hand, what you’re describing is you have this sort of extreme right-wing and political forces that are saying even if he wins through a democratic election, we won’t accept that. Why do these extreme right-wing forces despise Evo Morales so much — the first indigenous president, the first indigenous head of state of Bolivia, a largely indigenous country?

BG: The election of Evo Morales was taken by many in eastern Bolivia — much like a lot of white people in the racist parts of the United States took the election of Barack Obama — as a direct threat to their historical privilege. You know, that sort of racism is certainly at the core of much of that opposition. And at the beginning, they were also threatened because Evo Morales promised aggressive land reform and these are what we call a latifundia. They own large, super large land holdings in eastern Bolivia. They’re soy farmers. They’re cattle farmers.

Evo promised to distribute land to the poor and they took that as a direct threat to their base of power. The nationalization of the gas industry was also a threat to their regional interests in benefitting from the multinational gas and oil firms. It’s kind of like Texas resisting any government control over the oil companies and they want their regional benefit rather than national control. So that was a direct threat to their economic interests. So those are big structural issues that put them in opposition to the program of Evo Morales.

Having said that, by 2008, when Evo finally brought them to heel and established a sort of detente — in other words, you don’t try to overthrow me, and I won’t attack your deep interests — what we saw with Evo’s government was stepping back on land reform. We saw the government basically expanding its assistance to soy farmers with state credit. This decree that will allow more expansion of the soy frontier. Evo’s government actually gave control over agricultural policy to the eastern Bolivian elites.

Whether for pragmatic reasons or not, but the point being that some folks on the left in Bolivia think Evo was way too friendly with many of these right-wing economic interests. So, the appearance of Camacho and this sort of resurgence of right-wing opposition, I’m still trying to unravel it myself because there are some divisions within the business elite of Santa Cruz. But my initial reading is that they saw a political opening to seize the state and I think that’s what we’re seeing unfold.

JS: What about the social movements and labor organizations, teachers and others who have been supporters of Evo Morales? What has their critique of his time in power looked like in the past year or recent months leading up to this?

BG: It’s important to note that a lot of indigenous movements, workers movements, and farmers movements also saw Evo as being spent is the word you heard a lot — desgastado — politically spent because the state had sort of ossified. The movements had been co-opted by the state. And any dissent within the movements had been silenced. Those who had sort of managed to become a part of the state and party structure remained loyal to Evo Morales. They’re always the other parts of the movements who were marginalized. And so that’s where the opposition to Evo staying in power comes from. In the case of indigenous peoples, indigenous movements, many indigenous leaders supported Evo. They had access to new jobs, new resources, new investments in their communities. Others opposed Evo because a lot of that redistributive largess came from natural gas and the natural gas industry has deeply impacted many indigenous territories, among other industries such as mining.

JS: I wanted to ask you Pablo Solón, who you describe as a respected progressive voice from Bolivia, wrote the following: “The government has tried to show this mobilization as a coup d’etat of the fascist and racist right. Indeed, all sectors of the reactionary right have applauded the protests… there have been different articulations of independent and political sectors of the right and left that have led the protest. In Potosí, the opposition to the government was radicalized before the elections for the signing of a contract for 70 years and without payment of royalties for the production of lithium hydroxide from the Uyuni salt flats.” Explain this to people, what Solón is talking about here.

BG: Bolivia has a lot of lithium, and now that we’re entering into the age of electrification, electric vehicles, lithium is expected to boom because it goes into batteries. Evo’s government passed a law which basically was a law to establish a contract with a German company to mine the lithium for 70 years. The region where the lithium is found is called Potosí. Potosí is where the silver mines and the tin mines were — the silver that fueled the Spanish Empire and the tin that fueled the United States war machine during World War II. Now, it’s where the lithium is and so that region has a long history of feeling like they’ve been exploited for the benefit of others. So when it came to lithium, the Bolivian government under Evo wanted to do what it had done with the gas, set up a national lithium company, make contracts with foreign multinational firms, and use the resources for its various redistributive policies as it has done with natural gas. What happened in Potosí is that another example of this local civic committee led by a fellow named Marco Pumari thought that it would be better if they had a Potosí lithium company instead of a national Bolivian company.

So this issue has been sort of fermenting for years actually. Evo tried to manage it by sending extra resources to the region of Potosí. Here again, where we don’t know enough about the background, what was happening behind the scenes. The civic committee in Potosí basically mobilized around an argument that Evo Morales himself was acting against the interests of Bolivia in signing this 70-year contract and that it needed to be done away with. And in fact, after the election, as Evo was scrambling to dismantle various parts of the opposition, he did away with that law, said, OK, we’re going to start over on this lithium thing. But it was too late. And Marcos Pumari, the unelected civic leader of Potosí was actually the fellow who you saw kneeling in the National Palace alongside of Camacho and the Bible. So that’s a very curious articulation between this racist right-wing proto-fascist interest from the east and this admittedly indigenous civic leader in lithium rich Potosí.

JS: In talking to Bolivian friends, the sense I have is part of the feeling now among people on the left in Bolivia is yes, there are serious problems with what Evo has done during his time in power, particularly this latest term. But the alternative and what could come next is going to be so horrifying for this country and so much progress is going to be rolled back that this is basically an almost unspeakable disaster even with all of the problems of Evo Morales because it does seem like with a Donald Trump in power in the U.S., with a Jair Bolsonaro in power in Brazil, with the United States posturing against Venezuela and Nicaragua and other countries the way that it is, that Bolivia now could be completely taken over by corporate interests and far-right political figures. And it will just erase all of the documentable progress that has been made in the country on poverty and other issues during the reign of Evo Morales. I’m wondering your thoughts on that analysis.

BG: Evo and the MAS [Movement toward Socialism] did what no neoliberal or so-called free-market government has ever been able to do. First of all, they were able to capture the economic surplus and keep it in the country. They were also able to dramatically reduce poverty levels, dramatically reduce inequality, expand access to credit, expand health infrastructure in rural areas, expand road infrastructure, transport infrastructure. A taxi driver told me, a year or so ago, before Evo was elected he never set foot in a bank and now he had a note on a car and a note on a house.

So, it’s important to remember that. Now, detractors will say, well, that’s just because gas prices were high. Well, it’s not true. It’s because of the state policies for redistributing that gas wealth. So that’s something that the neoliberals are going to be trying to do some revisionist history on and we need to stay vigilant about documenting the progress. Now, having said that, going back to your question about the future, and is this a disaster? Bolivian social movements are some of the most organized, disciplined and fearless on the continent. So whatever government emerges out of this, if it takes some, “neoliberal position,” or attempts to restore the kind of racist model of rule that characterized the country for centuries, the social movements in Bolivia are going to give them a really hard time. So I am not foreseeing disaster and apocalypse. I certainly foresee some instability and conflict but I have a lot of faith in Bolivian social movements.

JS: What should people, as we watch the news coming out of Bolivia, but also now out of Mexico where Evo Morales is, what are some of the things you’re going to be looking to that are significant to follow?

BG: Well, I’ve already seen that the PAN [Partido Acción Nacional], the right-wing party in Mexico is raising a fuss about this, even though Mexico has a long history of providing refuge to people persecuted by military dictatorships. But I think as you saw the reception of Evo Morales in the International Airport of Mexico City.

[Crowd cheers and sings.]

BG: Despite the fact that many Bolivians are sort of concerned about Evo’s flaws and shortcomings Evo Morales remains, as does the vice president, Álvaro García Linera, they remain with almost iconic status among many people in the left in Latin America. Much like the release of Lula in Brazil, the arrival of Evo in Mexico City was seen as a sign of continental solidarity in support of the pueblo — the people.

JS: Well, it’ll also be interesting, I mean, you talked about your colleague saying that it may take 30 years to find out what, if any, role the CIA played. I think we may learn things before that. And it’ll be interesting to watch how this unfolds. But I really appreciate your analysis and taking the time to speak to us.

BG: Well, thanks, Jeremy. I’m a big fan. And hopefully, you can dig up something before we do. And if you do, I look forward to reading it.

JS: Bret Gustafson is an associate professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of “New Languages of the State” and the forthcoming book, “Bolivia in the Age of Gas.” You can find him on Twitter @bretgustafson.

[Music interlude.]

JS: Just a heads up for our listeners, we also have put out a bonus episode of this show on the case of Rodney Reed. Rodney Reed has an execution date set for November 20 in the state of Texas and there is an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest that he is innocent. I talked to my colleagues Liliana Segura and Jordan Smith about this. Jordan, by the way, has been covering this case for 18 years. Make sure to check that out. If you already subscribe to the show, it’s in your feed.

Glenn Greenwald on Brazil’s Former President Lula Being Freed From Prison, Threats Against Journalists, and Corruption Investigation Into Justice Minister Sergio Moro

[Protesters chant. Shots fired.]

JS: Last Friday in Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, universally known as Lula, was released from prison. His freedom, following a year and a half in prison, came a day after Brazil’s Supreme Court abolished a politically charged change to the rights of people accused of crimes. In Brazil, it was long-standing law, enshrined in the constitution, that people had the right to remain free until all of their appeals were exhausted. That law was altered in February of 2016, ultimately paving the way for Lula’s imprisonment after being convicted in a sweeping and dubiously run corruption probe. Since Lula has not exhausted all of his avenues for appeal, he was released following that Supreme Court decision. It is also abundantly clear that the reporting over the past months from The Intercept Brazil about the abuses of power of the current Justice Minister, Sergio Moro, had a major impact in winning Lula’s freedom. Moro was the top judge in the case that sent Lula to prison.

Lula appeared poised to once again win the Brazilian presidency back in 2018 on the Workers’ Party ticket. But then he was locked up. The Intercept Brazil’s reporting has revealed clearly that the entire anti-corruption investigation that led to Lula’s imprisonment, was itself, corrupt. I’m joined now by my friend and colleague, fellow Intercept co-founder, Glenn Greenwald. He spearheaded the incredibly important reporting by The Intercept Brazil and he is now under threat of attack from the Bolsonaro regime and its supporters. In fact, one of these people, a right-wing journalist, attempted to physically assault Glenn, during a radio show just last week. Glenn Greenwald, thanks for joining me.

Glenn Greenwald: Great to be with you, Jeremy.

JS: So let’s begin with the latest news out of Brazil the freedom for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Lula, what happened there and what does this all mean?

GG: So there’s a technical legal aspect to it and then there’s a political journalistic one. The technical legal aspect is that the Constitution in Brazil says that you cannot be imprisoned when you’re convicted of a crime while you have appeals pending. In other words until all of your appeals are exhausted. And the anti-corruption probe run by Sergio Mora — who’s now Bolsonaro’s justice minister — and his team of prosecutors disregarded that and they just started imprisoning people after they lost their first appeal, which is the case was Lula. They ordered him imprisoned after he lost his first appeal, even though he had three left. And the Supreme Court ruled not for Lula, but for everybody that because of the Constitution’s clear language, you can’t put people in prison until their appeals are exhausted, absent some violence or some likelihood that they’re going to injure somebody or impede the investigation. And once they ruled that a judge said, that’s not Lula’s case, and they released him.

[Protesters chant “Lula Libre.”]

GG: So, that’s the technical legal issue. The journalistic and political one which is the really important one is that for years in Brazil, everybody, including the Supreme Court was petrified of Sergio Mora because he was so wildly popular. And after the last six months of our exposes nobody is scared of Sergio Mora anymore. People in Congress ignore him. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that he violated the rights of defendants and that created the climate that allowed them to stand up to him and his corrupt task force and apply the constitution and free their biggest prisoner, which is Lula and release him from jail with no conditions.

JS: Glenn, you received what was probably one of the last handwritten letters that Lula sent from prison. And then you spoke to him after he was freed. What did Lula say to you?

GG: Yeah, I mean, they actually called me with that letter and said that he purposely wanted his last letter in prison to be to me. He was expecting to be released later that day, and he wrote it on the day of his release. I mean, it’s very emotional, because even with my criticisms of his policies, and all of that, he’s still this remarkable figure. I mean, this giant in Brazilian politics and world history and it’s emotional that he was able to walk out of this prison where he was unjustly detained, and I wanted to kind of commemorate that with him. And he was really not interested in that. I’ve talked to other people who talked to him and they said the same thing. He was all business. He wants to plan in protest in front of Globo, but he was very intent on talking to me about his political plans. It’s as though he had never been imprisoned. His resilience is really remarkable.

JS: Do you get the sense that he does, in fact, want to run for president again?

GG: Absolutely. I mean, right now, technically, his political rights are still suspended because of the conviction. So his conviction hasn’t yet been annulled. He’s going to try and get his conviction annulled using the evidence that we’ve been reporting, but it’s likely the Supreme Court will rule that his political rights need to be restored until his appeals are completed. He obviously feels with very good reason that the presidency was robbed from him in 2018.

Remember, he was leading all the polls by 15 or 20 points over Bolsonaro at the time that Judge Moro convicted him on very dubious charges. He’s been working out in prison. He’s probably in better shape than he’s been in in 20 or 30 years. He has a new younger girlfriend that he intends to marry. He’s very rejuvenated and he definitely intends to restore himself to what he believes his proper place is.

JS: Now over the past six or so months, you and the team at Intercept Brazil have just been relentless in doing these investigative exposes.

Newscaster: Last month, an online news outlet, The Intercept Brazil began publishing a series of exposes about the wheeling and dealing of the Minister of Justice, Sergio Moro.

JS: Just give people an overview of what you all have reported and the significance of it and the impact that it may have on Bolsonaro’s grip on power.

GG: Right, so obviously, it was a major, major event when Lula was convicted of what even a lot of his harshest critics agree were very dubious charges. Because it resulted in the removal of him from the race at the time that he was leading all the polls and the majority, or at least a plurality of Brazilians, wanted him to be president. And there was always a lot of suspicions that Judge Moro was collaborating with the prosecutors, that he was acting with political motives, despite his vehement denials. And the archive that my source gave to me — that we then have been reporting with The Intercept Brazil and the team of reporters, Brazilian reporters, we have there  proves that essentially all of the concerns and I guess you can call them conspiracy theories that the left and even some of the center-left began to harbor about Sergio Moro, especially once he took a high level political office in the Bolsonaro government that he single handedly enabled by finding Bolsonaro’s primary adversary guilty of corruption charges — it just provided proof that all of those concerns were true, that he was collaborating the entire time with the prosecutors while pretending to neutrally adjudicate Lula’s case, that he was giving them advice, that he was mocking Lula, his defense that they were mocking Lula, even the death of his wife and his grandson, that that’s how much they had dehumanized and hated him. Essentially Moro, Judge Moro was not a judge. He was secretly commanding the prosecutorial task force, not just in Lula’s case, but in many, many others. The prosecutors were constantly violating their ethical constraints — trying to profit off of the fame that they got from winning — just continuous exposes showing that there was massive corruption inside this anti-corruption probe that has really changed Brazilian politics in a fundamental way over the last five years. And the fact that Moro is definitely the second most powerful person in Brazil and arguably the most powerful even more than Bolsonaro, obviously made the reporting extremely polarizing and dominated headlines for months and to this very day, a lot of people think we ought to be imprisoned or worse for the reporting we did.

JS: What has happened in the months since you started this reporting project, regarding your security and threats against you?

GG: Right when we began the reporting several things happened. We started getting extremely detailed threats with very personal private information about the equivalent of our social security number, sometimes our address, mentioning our children’s names — very detailed, disturbing threats in a country where political violence has become the norm. I mean, last year, our best friend Marielle Franco, the LGBT Congresswoman from David’s party, also from the favela was murdered with four bullets in her head. The Bolsonaro family has been found to have multiple links to the militia that killed her.

So, these kinds of threats you take very seriously, which means we haven’t left our house in six months without armed guards and armored vehicles. We had to massively, we had to turn our house into a kind of gated prison with electric barbed wire and tons of cameras and guards guarding the house all the time. We had the fake news machine of the Bolsonaro movement which is very organized and well-financed investigating our personal lives, publishing constant lies, offering money to people in our personal lives to say things about us whether they’re true or not. Bolsonaro himself on three consecutive days invoked my name and said that I should be in prison. He called our marriage and my adoption of two children a fraud designed to evade deportation law.

[Bolsonaro speaking.]

GG: It’s been a constant onslaught of threats of violence, threats of prison, fake news attacks, smears against both myself and David. They’ve launched a formal investigation of me and my finances that the Supreme Court intervened and stopped but they also launched one against David and then leaked it to Globo that they were doing it. So it’s been a multi-prong attack. It’s been very difficult, on the one hand, obviously dealing with that. It just radically transforms your life. But on the other, you go into journalism in order to do these kinds of stories and it’s been incredibly gratifying at the same time.

JS: Last week on a radio show you were debating a right-wing columnist for Veja magazine. And you were debating him and he got so frustrated in his attacks against you and your responses that he repeatedly tried to hit you in the face.

[Audio from confrontation.]

For people that don’t speak Portuguese, what happened there? And what was the context of what was being debated and what occurred?

GG: So the name of that journalist is Augusto Nunes and for a long time, he was a giant figure in Brazilian journalism. He used to be the editor in chief of Brazil’s largest news magazine, like Time or Newsweek, which is Veja and held very high positions and multiple other mainstream media outlets. And he’s become in the last five to seven years a far-right extremist and is now a Bolsonaro supporter. And about six to eight weeks ago, Bolsonaro himself as I had mentioned, said that the adoption, my adoption of two Brazilian children, my marriage to my husband David was a fraud.

And so Augusto Nunez went on his TV program and said that David works in Brasilia as a congressman. I am working with the stolen material, as he called it in Rio. He said what I want to know is who takes care of these two adopted children? I think a family judge should investigate whether or not they’re being cared for. So he essentially took my two children, my two minor children 12 and 10, and put them into the middle of this political debate and essentially called for a judge to investigate whether our children ought to be removed. So, when I arrived at this radio station — which is actually more of a YouTube station, it’s probably the biggest YouTube program in Brazil, or one of them — I didn’t know that he was going to be there. He works on that program or on that channel and they said, do you mind if he participates on this? No, I don’t mind at all. I want to have an opportunity to ask him how he could say something so repulsive about my family and my children.

So when we sat down, before I was willing to talk about any of the issues they wanted to talk about, I wanted to resolve that with him. I actually thought that he might apologize. And I brought it up and I said, Look, I mean, you said that because we both work, a family court judge should maybe take away our children. Why don’t you say that about your own bosses and your own colleagues, or the hundreds of millions of people in Brazil who also have children and work outside the house because of financial necessity or because of desire? You only said that about us. That seems so cowardly. You’re a coward that you’re not willing to say it about your colleagues and your bosses only about us. And we started discussing it and he pretended that he only meant it ironically which made me call him a coward even more because he clearly didn’t mean it ironically. And then he started trying to punch me and hit me in the face as a result.

JS: This pales in comparison to the magnitude of the threats being meted out against you and David and your family, but there was reaction from fairly powerful people including Eduardo Bolsonaro and others to this incident, talk about the reaction from established power in Brazil to this incident.

GG: Right, so the dynamic is kind of similar to in the U.S. with Trump, which is that mainstream media institutions generally are wary of, if not openly, just like the Bolsonaro movement, and even the majority of global journalist and other mainstream journalists who typically don’t love The Intercept, to put it mildly, were horrified by what he did and were very much in support as were most politicians. The Bolsonaro movement itself, though, like kind of extremist wing of it, which is the most powerful and dominant wing all not only came out and defended Augusto Nunez, they applauded it. They cheered it. They said that the next time he should use a closed fist or that it should have been even worse. Two of Bolsonaro’s political children said that they regard Augusto Nunez as a national hero. They want to bring violence and civic disorder to Brazil. They want to substitute politics with violence because they want to reinstitute the military dictatorship that Bolsonaro was a part of, that he’s been praising for decades, people were really horrified more by the reaction than by his attempt to slap me.

JS: Finally, Glenn, I just want to get your thoughts on the ongoing coup that is taking place in Bolivia.


JS: We’re seeing some horrifying images of violence being committed against predominantly indigenous supporters of Evo Morales, and it definitely seems clear that this was the military going and telling Evo Morales, you are finished, which is the classic definition of a coup d’etat. But just your thoughts as we wrap up here.

Yeah, I mean, obviously Morales has been a really important figure in Bolivian politics, the central figure and he’s done extraordinary things from Bolivia and you can think he’s made mistakes. But as you said, what the military is doing is a classic coup. Not just forcing him to leave but then the violence that ensued and I think it’s amazing that U.S. media outlets just explicitly refuse to call it a coup and are going out of their way to say everything but that — that he stepped down after a disputed election was the headline in the New York Times. And it just shows how in U.S. discourse, democracy means putting a leader in place who serves U.S. interest, and tyranny or dictatorship means a leader — even if they’re democratically elected — who refuses to. That’s the framework through which all mainstream U.S. discourse is filtered when it comes to talking about other countries.

JS: All right, Glenn, thank you very much. Stay safe.

GG: All right, Jeremy. Thank you, bye.

JS: Glenn Greenwald is co-founder of The Intercept and has spearheaded The Intercept Brazil’s major investigation into Operation Car Wash and Justice Minister Sergio Moro.

And that does it for this week’s show. You can follow us on Twitter @intercepted. We are also on Instagram @interceptedpodcast. If you like what we do on this program, you can support our show by going to to become a sustaining member.  Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro, our producer is Laura Flynn. Elise Swain is our associate producer and graphic designer. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. Special thanks to Daniela Crespo. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription for this program is done by Nuria Marquez Martinez. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.



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