Under this heading, two men are top stories these days, The Donald (Trump) in the USA and Lula (also known as Luis Inácio Lula da Silva) in Brazil. They share some personal attributes, both are rabble rousers and enjoy a tacky lifestyle. The first one is a right wing populist who lives off his personal fortune while the second is a left wing former president who lives off his rich friends’ kindness.
Next year, the USA may swear in its first populist president; on the other hand, Latin America has perfected the formula. In 2016, the majority of its leaders are dye in-the-wool leftwing populists. Among them, Lula who was president for eight years has reached mythical status, primus inter pares. Like his clone, the late president Chávez of Venezuela, Lula is a very divisive figure: he is the most loved and the most hated man in Brazil. Now, he is certainly first among equals in matters of political trickeries and obstruction of justice. Although an early admirer, this blogger is no longer a total fan. His fall from grace was faster than his spectacular rise in national politics.
In 2016, Lula stands accused of money laundering in the context of the Petrobras mega- embezzlement scandal investigated by operation Car Wash, influence peddling with construction companies, illicit self-enrichment, concealing property ownership and possibly obstruction of justice. His wealth is estimated at US$ 8 million, and one of his sons is amongst the richest man of Brazil. To add insult to injury, the current president Dilma Rousseff named him Chief-of-staff, a job which shields him from possible prosecution.
Lula comes from an under-privileged background from the poverty-stricken North East of Brazil. He worked as a metal worker in São Paulo, and has been a political fixture since the 1970s when as a trade unionist, he stood up to the military regime. After two attempts, he was finally elected president in 2003, and left the office after two terms at the end of 2010. As president, he put aside his left-wing rhetoric. Benefitting from the commodity boom, Lula led Brazil through years of mega investments. He was a successful president albeit a lucky one. He used the windfall to pull millions of people out of poverty through steady economic growth and money transfers to the most marginalized ones in his native Northeast. However, he failed to reform Brazil’s outdated institutions which would have allowed the country to weather leaner years like now.
When Lula left the presidency, he was legitimately a man with a high middle class standard of living; he had substantial savings and enjoyed many generous retirement pensions. When in office, a president hardly spends anything; Lula had no lawyers to pay like Bill Clinton, another rags-to-rich president, nor gave 90 percent of his salary to charity like José Mujica, the former president of Uruguay who qualifies as the world’s “humblest” of president.
However upon leaving Brasilia, Lula told his adoring supporters that “I am leaving government to live life on the streets where I always was, I will be more of the people than ever before”. Instead of enjoying his new status of a respected self-made man, Lula was longing for his previous life of hardship. He wanted people to believe that in spite of eight years in the presidential palace and a successful career, he had not changed and remained true to his poor man’s values. He even bragged that he had never opened a book in his life. On the other hand, the millions of people who had benefitted from the economic growth where unabashedly busy improving their lots and sending their kids to better schools. For this blogger, through the above statement, Lula planted the seeds of trouble to come.
Emulating many of his peers, the former president started a lucrative career of international lecturer. Charging speaking fees in the order of US$ 100,000.00, Lula delivered hundreds of lectures, mostly in Latin America and Africa. Nothing illegal at this stage. However, these lectures were overwhelmingly paid by business corporations, and many are implicated in the Car Wash Operation. Construction companies not only funded Lula’s conference trips and lectures but also made hefty donation to his foundation in São Paulo (Instituto Lula). Interestingly, the Lula Institute does not post these lectures on line; recently a famous judge wondered whether they actually existed. For a period, Lula was under contract with the New York Times to write opinion columns. During his international trips, Lula has been portrayed as a lobbyist or middle man for Brazilian construction firms. According to the Brazilian media, in 2015 these companies had about US$ 5 billion worth of contracts with the Federal Government. Lula’s close ties with these firms have tarnished his former statesman aura.
With so much money coming his way, Lula faced an existential dilemma. True to his word as a poor man, he could not exhibit a flashy lifestyle. Even the Car Wash sleuths have a hard time following Lula’s money trail; they nonetheless claim that there is evidence that the former president received real estate and money gifts from firms implicated in Petrobras bribery scheme. Lula is linked to a beach front three-story penthouse and to a sprawling country estate with swimming pool and lake. The police believes they were given to him in a “scratch-my-back” type of scheme because Lula’s personal items were found in these places.
Country estate in a shitty location..
The ex-president claims that he owns nothing, and that, he and his family only visited these residences as guests. One knows that Lula lives with his wife in his former apartment in suburban São Paulo, where he owes three apartments. The apartment next to his is empty and someone pays the rent, but who? Facts remain fuzzy regarding Lula’s investments.
Lula: A poor man’s soul.
By Brazilian standards, these are far from being prime location real estates. It is hilarious to hear a released taped phone call whereby the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, an otherwise devoted fan of Lula tells him that “his farm house and penthouse are in shitty places, that Lula’s has never lost his poor man’s soul, and that it is the biggest fucking disgrace”. Lula seems to agree.
Lula and Dilma: Team Work.
Lula’s chief of staff nomination has been suspended by a Supreme Court judge. It is ironical to remember that in 1988, Lula allegedly said that when a poor man steals he goes to jail; but when a rich guy does the same, he get a ministerial job! At this stage of the game, the political crisis has reached such an unparalleled level of pandemonium and crassness that apparently the writers of the political series House of Cards are keenly following the plot’s twists and turns.