Opinion: Brazil Must Choose Lula


Ricardo Stuckert

A rally in Sao Paulo for Lula, September 2022.

Luca D'Agruma, Editor-in-Chief

When many Americans woke up on October 3rd and wondered how millions of Brazilians voted for an incompetent, hate-spewing president who waged war on minorities, the environment, democracy, and the rule of law; one who repressed civil liberties, backed police death squads and political paramilitaries, attempted to jail political opponents, and openly planned to supplant the election results, they don’t have to look far for an answer.
Like Trump, Jair Bolsonaro appeals to a distinct mass of the citizenry, those who see uncouth, blusterous authoritarianism as a “get stuff done” virtue. Like Trump, Bolsonaro delivers results for a small segment of Brazil’s population: the executives of the logging companies decimating the Amazon, the ultra-wealthy financiers that privatized Brazil’s economy at the expense of the poor, and the ultra-conservative evangelicals that fight to protect Brazil’s racial caste system.
But for Brazil, the diverse, rich, and beautiful nation that inspires the world, Bolsonaro represents an existential threat. As South America’s largest democracy, Brazil is a leader, regionally and globally. Though Bolsonaro is but one autocrat in the global rise of the far-right, his stranglehold on Brazil must be broken.
What has Bolsonaro done? His leadership led Brazil towards complete disaster during the pandemic: over 600,000 Brazilians died while Bolsonaro said the COVID vaccine would give people AIDS and turn patients into crocodiles. During this period, their economy collapsed, doubling poverty.
He promised to take on corruption, but instead, his government has led politicized investigations into the left while he cozied up to the corrupt “Centrão” bloc of parties. He promised to take on crime. Instead, he turned Brazil’s cities into a war zone after loosening gun regulations and giving free rein to the reactionary paramilitary gangs within the police force.
Brazil has another choice come October 30th. Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (nicknamed ‘Lula’) can bring the country away from Bolsonaro’s authoritarianism. As President, Lula united the country, transforming Brazil into an economic powerhouse with industrial policy while leading enormously successful anti-poverty programs. A former trade union leader with high school education, Lula fought for workers and organized against Brazil’s dictatorship. After its fall, he helped found the Workers’ Party (PT). As a socialist, Lula ran for President three times and lost before he assembled a broad coalition of the center, center-left, and left in his successful 2002 campaign.
As President, Lula governed as a reformer and consensus builder, strengthening alliances across the political spectrum and ensuring that Brazil’s economy grew while assisting the poor. Like his presidency, his 2022 campaign has assembled a broad coalition of 10 different parties across the political spectrum: from the center-right “Act” to the left-wing “PSOL.”
Lula’s been attacked throughout his career because he fought for the most vulnerable. The Brazil Supreme Court overturned his 2018 conviction and imprisonment after it was revealed the prosecutors lied and used government corruption investigations as a political tool: the judge in the trial, who ruled against Lula, later was awarded a position as Minister in Bolsonaro’s government. Investigative journalists later found that the judge was secretly colluding with the prosecution, aiming to prevent Lula from running for President during the 2018 elections.
It’s impossible to state the difference between Lula and Bolsonaro. One candidate represents the oppressed: the workers, the queer community, and the indigenous Brazilians who have been overlooked for centuries. Lula represents the future that Brazil desperately needs; where the poor have dignity and safety, where the country’s natural wealth isn’t ripped apart for profit, and where Brazil’s democracy can work for the many, not the few.
Bolsonaro is everything but that. His Brazil is a country of scarcity, hate, and violence. Bolsonaro’s vision is a Brazil where difference and diversity have no place. Bolsonaro’s Brazil is a country with no progress, only decline.

In the first round, Lula garnered 48% of the vote after Bolsonaro’s opposition coalesced behind his candidacy. Bolsonaro won 43%, outperforming polls. Another minor left-wing candidate received 3% and a center-right candidate secured 4%. Though both are expected to throw their support behind Lula, Brazil must take the runoff as seriously as they did the first round. There is much too much at stake to fail. Between now and election day, violence will escalate. Bolsonaro will incite his supporters, just like Trump did. But if Brazil is able to reject his authoritarianism soundly a second time, there will be no appetite for a coup. Democracy will be safe.

On October 30th, Brazil must choose Lula.