Former Brazilian President Lula’s release from prison boosts Left morale in Latin America

Many countries in the continent are in a churn right now due to continuing confrontations between Leftists and Right wing parties

Former Brazilian President Lula’s release from prison boosts Left morale in Latin America

Nitya Chakraborty/IPA

The sudden and unexpected release of former Brazilian President Lula by the country’s Supreme Court on November 8 has imparted a fresh dimension to the current Left-Right battle in Latin America which is undergoing a severe political turmoil in the recent months. The verdict gave a big boost to the opposition Workers Party (PT) in Brazil in stepping up its fight against the Rightist President Jair Bolsonaro who won the presidency in 2018 elections only because Lula was in prison.

Moreover, Left forces in other countries of the region like Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and Peru have got a big morale boost following the release of the most favourite Left leader in Latin America.

With the exception of Argentina, the entire Latin America region has been turned into a battle zone as Right wing forces are trying to get back to power in countries where they are not ruling, even as the Left is mobilising all its forces to retain power in countries like Bolivia and Venezuela and is fighting to remove the Right from power in Chile, Peru and Brazil. In Argentina, after the elections last month, the centre Left is in power and the outgoing Rightist president Macri has assured cooperation to the elected regime of the Peronists and that way, there is right now a stable situation, though the economic situation is very gloomy and the new Left government has a tough task in implementing a pro-people programme.

As regards Brazil, the ex-president and Workers Party leader was imprisoned for 579 days after being convicted of corruption charges which his supporters decry as fabricated. The claim that he was gifted a beachfront flat by construction company Grupo OAS in return for contracts rests on testimony from its former president, Leo Pinheiro, who received a reduction in his own corruption sentence for the testimony. Lula never owned the flat nor did he spend a single night there.

But the conviction ruled him out of running in last year’s election, which he was the favourite to win, allowing far-right strongman Jair Bolsonaro to snatch the presidency. Workers Party leader Gleisi Hoffman said the ruling was “a very important step to strengthen democracy.” The former president’s lawyers said he must now be freed immediately. “Lula has committed no crime and is a victim of the strategic use of the law for political persecution,” they stated.

Later this month, the Supreme Court is due to consider whether the judge who jailed him, Sergio Moro, was unbiased. Having barred Lula from the presidential contest, Moro was rewarded by President Bolsonaro with the post of justice minister when the latter was elected.

In Bolivia, political developments have moved along very fast in the last few days, leading to the announcement by President Morales to resign following the request of the army chief on television to the President to step down. Earlier on Sunday itself, he announced the holding of new elections, but the opposition wanted him to resign and he agreed after his own military chief asked for it to ensure stability and reconciliation in Bolivia.

In what his allies called an “attempted coup,” protesters forced police to retreat to their barracks in at least three cities, while some officers abandoned their posts and joined Opposition crowds. In parts of the capital La Paz, pro and anti-Morales marchers clashed with police, leaving about 30 people injured.

Morales called on officers to “preserve security” and invited the four Opposition parties with the most votes to sit down together and arrive at “an open agenda to pacify Bolivia.”

Former president and opposition leader Carlos Mesa retorted that he had “nothing to negotiate” with the president, who was re-elected in the first round last month with 47.08 per cent of the vote, more than the required 10-point lead over Mesa, his closest rival, who got 36.5 per cent.

While observers did not report any specific violations, the US-dominated Organisation of American States has demanded a new vote, questioning Morales’s 10-point lead rather than his victory. It now says it is conducting an audit of the vote, though the Opposition has said it will not accept the results whatever is found.

Opposition supporters say a sharp increase in Morales’s lead toward the end of counting is suspicious, though the rural districts, which take longest to count the vote, have always disproportionately backed him as South America’s first indigenous national president.

Morales’s government has lifted two million people out of poverty and is the only one worldwide to have conferred legal rights on nature with its Mother Earth law, which makes access to clean air and water a legal right and mandates environmentally sustainable development.

In Chile, on October 18, Chile’s government was caught unawares by violent protests, looting of shops and vandalising of public property. The immediate spark was the government’s hiking of local metro fares by 3 percent, later rolled back by Congress in a move seen as ‘too little too late’. The death toll rose to 19, with hundreds injured in police firing and riots, with the army called out and emergency measures invoked.

On October 25, the capital Santiago saw the largest protest in Chile since 1988 under dictator Augusto Pinochet. More than 1 million people gathered to denounce the Right-wing government’s austerity policies. President Sebastian Pinera, who initially condemned the protests, had to acknowledge the underlying rage, and sacked his Cabinet. Piñera pledged a 20 per cent rise in government-subsidized base pensions, a guaranteed minimum wage, and reversal of a planned increase in electricity prices besides plans for pay cuts and term limits for members of the National Congress.

As the protests continued, President Pinera announced on October 29 the cancellation of the APEC and COP25 climate summits. The former was to be held from November 16-17, and the latter in early December in Chile. But the protestors continue to demand the President’s resignation.

In Peru, on September 30, after a political standoff, Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra dissolved the Congress (Parliament) and called for fresh elections after it appointed a new member to the constitutional court without debating the government’s objection. The opposition – mainly from the Right-wing Popular Force party led by jailed former presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, retaliated by voting to temporarily suspend him for 12 months, naming Vice President Mercedes Araoz as the country’s acting chief executive. This prompted Prime Minister Salvador del Solar to step down.

These developments led to massive public demonstrations in the streets as the military stepped in to restore order in support of Vizcarra. Araoz declined the presidency soon after in the light of the political mood in favour of Vizcarra. He enjoys massive public support for his fight against corruption and transparency. Political developments over the next months, leading up to the elections to Congress in January 2020, will indicate the shape of future Chile.

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