Why was the British media silent for so long about Lula’s predicament under Operation Car Wash?
During the presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s international reputation was positive, based on combatting hunger and lifting people out of poverty. Brazil was seen as a culturally rich, joyful ‘country of tomorrow’. Under Lula its foreign policy aimed to make the world a more egalitarian and peaceful place and he left office with record levels of popularity at home and abroad.
However, during Dilma Rousseff’s mandate, news from Brazil began to be focused almost entirely on governmental corruption. President Rousseff was impeached in a soft coup for alleged ‘creative accounting’, as the anti-graft Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato) that put former President Lula in jail dominated coverage of the country.
Overnight, a low-level judge, Sérgio Moro, from a provincial capital in the south of Brazil, became a world celebrity. He was praised and awarded prizes for daring to go against the ‘mighty and powerful’. He made the covers of international magazines, whilst Lula languished in prison.
After almost five years of smears, Lula is back in the news. So, what happened to the celebrated Car Wash that put him in jail? The British press decided to focus solely on the ‘downfall’ of Brazil’s charismatic former leader, portrayed as the leftist mastermind behind the largest corruption scandal in Brazil.
But Lula is back in the news. Back because his legal processes were quashed by the Supreme Court and because he is still the most likely presidential candidate to take on Bolsonaro and steer Brazil out of the mire.
So why did Lula go from hero to pariah to riding high again? Don’t look towards the British media for an explanation. There is hardly ever any context of what goes on in countries in the global south. Politics shapes things in the UK, the US, sometimes in Europe, but if you follow the media, elsewhere things just happen. The Amazon is destroyed, the indigenous peoples are massacred, criminal gangs run favelas, regardless of politics. Weird and horrific figures like Bolsonaro and the extreme-right just pop-up like mushrooms out of nowhere.
But politics does matter. It matters at home and it matters abroad. The context to what happened to Operation Car Wash, described by Supreme Justice Mendes as the ‘biggest legal scandal in history’, and why Lula is back is a lesson not just for Brazil, but for the world.
Right from the beginning of the corruption task force, the Brazilian media was co-opted. It received first-hand information they never checked or investigated. For years, people were named and shamed and tried by public opinion, even before they got to court.
However, though the media ignored it, academics and legal experts were warning about the illegal and unorthodox practices of the Operation which, this Tuesday, led the Supreme Court to declare former Judge Moro biased.
At the time, an atmosphere of terror against dissenting opinion ruled over Brazil: if you questioned Car Wash in anyway or defended the rights of its victims, you were against