politics

Lula Hunkers Down in Union Office After Arrest Deadline Passes

Updated on
  • Lula was given until 5pm Friday to hand himself into police
  • Judge’s order follows top court ruling rejecting freedom plea
A Brazilian judge ordered the arrest of former president Lula da Silva on Thursday #tictocnews

Uncertainty surrounded the fate of Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva late on Friday, as he hunkered down for another night at his former union headquarters in a working class suburb of Sao Paulo after a deadline to turn himself in to police expired.

Hours later, Lula’s lawyers filed a new appeal to the Supreme Court to delay or reverse the arrest warrant. An earlier request had been turned down that afternoon. Throughout the day thousands of supporters gathered outside the metalworkers union in Sao Bernardo do Campo, where Lula launched his political career in the late 1970s.

As the hours passed, the mood shifted from defiant to resigned, and the crowd started to thin. Demonstrators who waited hours for Lula saw only a glimpse of the man, when he waved from a window. The ex-president was expected to speak, but allies who where with him inside the building say he was advised by a doctor not to as he was too emotional. There was also concern among union leaders he could be arrested if he stepped outside the door.

Supporters of Lula da Silva wave flags during a protest in Sao Bernardo do Campo on April 6.

Photographer: Rodrigo Capote/Bloomberg

On Thursday Federal Judge Sergio Moro issued a warrant for Lula to turn himself in by 5 p.m. on Friday in the southern city of Curitiba to begin serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption and money-laundering. Lula’s lawyers said they will try to reverse the order. In it, Moro specifically vetoed the use of handcuffs by the arresting officers and wrote that a special detention area had been set aside for the former president.

Lula said he wouldn’t travel to Curitiba to turn himself in, and vowed to spend the day at the metalworkers’ union headquarters, newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo reported on Friday citing a phone interview.

"He was given the option by the judge to go to Curitiba and he didn’t take this option," said Gleisi Hoffmann, the national president of Lula’s Workers’ Party, in comments to local media. "The world knows where he is. And this is where he will stay along with his supporters."

Many of the followers gathered around the building are the ones who have been with him through his political career -- not the upper-middle class and economic elite that helped elect him more than 15 years ago. On a sound truck set up outside the building, Lula’s allies gave speech after speech, late into the night, in an attempt to keep up the spirits of the crowd. Rumors that Lula was repeatedly on the verge of surrendering to the police failed to materialize.

"It is not unlikely that Lula opts for forcing the federal police to ’come and get him’ as opposed to bowing out passively," Teneo Intelligence managing director Mario Marconini wrote in an e-mailed note.

The arrest of one of the most iconic leaders in Brazilian history, though widely anticipated, is rocking Latin America’s largest nation. After leaving office in 2010 with sky-high approval ratings, the former trade unionist became a deeply divisive figure, beloved by the left for his social policies, and reviled by many on the right who blame him for the corruption that flourished under 13 years of Workers’ Party rule. While his hopes of a return to power are almost certainly shattered, the key question now is to what extent his imprisonment will influence October’s elections.

"What we are seeing is absurd," said Carlos Zarattini, a senior lawmaker from Lula’s party. "It is an obsessive attempt by Judge Sergio Moro to stop Lula from competing in elections."

Fireworks and car-honking broke out in downtown Sao Paulo and Curitiba, the seat of Moro, after the arrest order became known, as some Brazilians celebrated his imminent imprisonment. With investors wary of Lula’s pledge to roll-back market-friendly reforms if elected president, there was a brief asset rally on Thursday after the Supreme Court paved the way for his arrest. But it fizzled quickly and on Friday the Ibovespa stock index fell half a percentage point and the real ended at its weakest level since May 18, 2017.

The former factory worker was convicted of receiving benefits from a construction company -- including the upgrade of a beach-front apartment -- as a reward for government favors. He has denied wrongdoing and said the ruling is part of a strategy to stop him from becoming president again. He also faces a handful of other corruption charges.

Lula symbolically launched his presidential bid one day after an appeals court unanimously upheld his conviction in January, and his jailing does not completely rule him out of the running. Yet it now seems far-fetched to imagine his return to power.

How Even a Convicted Lula Might Sway Brazil Politics: QuickTake

While remaining hugely popular among the millions of Brazilians he helped lift from poverty during the commodities boom that characterized his years in office, Lula has alarmed investors by promising to undo the market-friendly measures implemented by President Michel Temer.

Yet his absence in the elections isn’t enough to ensure a market-friendly candidate will win, cautioned Christopher Garman, Eurasia Group’s director for the Americas. “There’s no clear pro-reform candidate who’s also aligned with the public opinion,” he told Bloomberg in a recent interview.

— With assistance by Vinicius Andrade, David Biller, and Raymond Colitt

(Updates with new lede, new color in paragraph 3, and new comments in paragraph 5.)
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