Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva walked out of jail on Friday, less than a day after the Supreme Court ruled that a person can be imprisoned only after all the appeals have been exhausted.
Hundreds of red-shirted supporters gathered outside the federal police building in southern city of Curitiba, cheered the popular, 74-year-old politician, whose release could rally a demoralised opposition.
Lula, who is appealing his conviction of corruption and money-laundering in connection with the purchase of a beachfront apartment in São Paulo state, embraced his daughter, raised his fist to the sky, then made his way onto a stage where he was surrounded by allies and supporters.
“You have no idea the dimension of the significance of me being here with you,” Lula told jubilant supporters, thanking individual union leaders and members of his leftist Workers’ Party (PT). “They didn’t arrest a man. They tried to detain an idea. An idea doesn’t disappear.”
Lula’s Latin American allies in Argentina rushed to celebrate the news.
President-elect Alberto Fernández hailed “the strength of Lula to face this persecution,” saying that was the “only definition that fits the arbitrary judicial process to which he was submitted,” in a post on social networks.
His running-mate and vice-presidentelect, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, echoed those sentiments in a post on Twitter.
“Today one of the largest aberrations of lawfare in Latin America ceases: the illegitimate deprivation of liberty of the former president of the Federative Republic of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. #LulaLivre,” she posted.
The former president, wearing a black T-shirt and suit jacket, pumped his fist in the air as he exited the federal police headquarters where he had been held.
In an impassioned address, Lula vowed to “continue fighting” for ordinary Brazilians and expose the “lying side of the Federal Police.” His voice was at times drowned out by the cheers of the crowd and by fireworks.
“I didn’t think that today I could be here talking to men and women that during 580 days shouted good morning, good afternoon or goodnight, no matter if it was raining or 40 degrees [Celsius],” he said, flanked by his girlfriend Rosangela da Silva, whom he kissed on stage.
Lula’s highly anticipated exit from the facility where he had been held since April 2018 came hours after his lawyers requested the immediate release of the 74-year-old, who has been serving a nearly nine-year sentence for corruption and money-laundering.
Late Thursday, the Supreme Court overturned a rule requiring convicted criminals to go to jail after losing their first appeal. Lula is one of several thousand convicts who could benefit from the decision. Those convicts would remain free until they had exhausted their rights to appeal– a process critics say could take years in cases involving people able to afford expensive lawyers.
Lula, who led Brazil through a historic boom from 2003 to 2010, earning him the gratitude of millions of Brazilians for redistributing wealth to haul them out of poverty, was serving eight years and 10 months for corruption. He was sentenced to almost 13 years in jail in February in a separate corruption case and still faces another halfdozen corruption trials.
Lula has denied all the charges, arguing they were politically motivated to keep him out of the 2018 presidential election that was won by Jair Bolsonaro.
BUENOS AIRES TRIP?
Among Lula’s next acts may be to try and travel to Buenos Aires, in order to attend the inauguration of Alberto Fernández as president on December 10.
Speaking to state news agency Télam yesterday, the head of the Workers’ Party (PT) lower house caucus in Congress, Paulo Pimenta, said the former president could request permission to travel to Buenos Aires, despite the outstanding legal problems.
“He can ask permission like other politicians with legal cases to leave the country, meet the requirements for that procedure,” Pimenta said.
“Lula surely wants to be in Buenos Aires
on December 10 to be next to Alberto and
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner,” said Pimenta, speaking from city of Curitiba.
Fernández visited Lula on July 4 earlier
this year in jail.