The dismantling of Brazil’s democracy, which culminated in the jailing of former president Lula Da Silva as he looked certain to be reelected, is the subject of a new English-language investigative podcast.
Cícero Ezequiel Filho lay beneath the sweltering sun of Brazil’s capital, Brasilia. He wore khaki shorts, John Lennon glasses and a long white beard, which stretched far below his chin and over a red long-sleeved shirt with the face of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on the front.
When I met him in August 2018, Cícero had been outside Brazil’s Supreme Court for two weeks. He refused to eat until former president Lula was free.
Lula had been jailed four months earlier, after he was convicted by a biased judge on suspect corruption charges, with no material evidence.
Now, union members and urban and rural social movements had descended on Brasilia to march to the country’s electoral court to register Lula’s candidacy for the 2018 presidential elections, despite his imprisonment.
The crowds had carried Cícero with them through the streets of Brasilia in a make-shift hammock, because he was too weak to walk.
Now, back on the hard concrete in front of the Supreme Court, a small red umbrella covered his face from the sun. Signs in red, black and white were strapped to the chair beside him, reading ‘Free Lula’ or ‘Political Prisoner.’ A security guard watched from behind a long metal fence, beside an oversized granite statue of a woman, seated, blindfolded, holding a sword.
‘I’m strong,’ he said in a voice so soft that it was hard to hear him over the din of constant traffic and occasional tourists who spoke loudly and stared at him curiously from a distance. ‘When you fight for justice. When you fight for a country, to rescue the country’s democracy, that’s what carries us on.’
In 2016, a conservative congress had impeached then-president Dilma Rousseff, in what was clearly a congressional coup. Lula represented hope for the country’s return to democratic order.
Cícero was 61. He had worked for more than three decades as a banker. Now, he had pushed that life aside. He was one of seven people on a hunger strike to demand Lula’s freedom.
‘We understand that Lula is a leader who could unite the country.’
Lula likely could have, but he was not given the chance. He was blocked from running in the 2018 presidential race due to the corruption conviction. It opened the door to far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who won the presidency on 28 October 2018, in a race marred by violence, hate crimes, fake news and an illegal direct messaging campaign over WhatsApp.
Two years later, Lula is now free, but Bolsonaro has set the country ablaze. He has stacked his government with military officials. He’s gutted environmental and indigenous agencies, rolled back labour rights, pushed privatisations and development in the Amazon, empowering large landowners and illegal land-grabbers to force their way into conservation areas and indigenous territories. Deforestation and fires have spiked to their worst rates in a decade. Like Trump,