As Brazil descends into fascism, UK MPs call for the ‘world’s most prominent political prisoner’ to be freed

Image of Mike Pompeo and Jair Bolsonaro, January 2019
John McEvoy

Former presidential frontrunner Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – known as Lula – was jailed in April 2018. One year later, his prosecutors are still no closer to producing evidence justifying his arrest and detention. In Noam Chomsky’s words, Lula is the “world’s most prominent political prisoner”.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, meanwhile, appointed the very judge that sentenced Lula to 12 years in prison on trumped-up charges. Since then, Bolsonaro has set out on a fascistic mission of emboldening the military and oppressing Brazil’s minority groups.

Progressive UK MPs speak up

Lula is – in no uncertain terms – a political prisoner. And global solidarity for his release is growing.

On 10 April, the Guardian published a letter signed by 28 high-profile British figures. These included parliamentarians such as shadow home secretary Diane Abbott. It also included trade unionists, journalists, and campaigners. They all condemned Lula’s continued detention.

The letter read:

We condemn the continued persecution of former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was jailed a year ago.

Lula is a political prisoner. We call for his freedom and stand in solidarity with those struggling for democracy in Brazil.

With the left persecuted, the right thrives

When Lula was briefly allowed out of prison to attend his nephew’s funeral, he was surrounded by Brazilian police donning Miami SWAT badges. Indeed, Washington’s role in Brazil’s descent into fascism should not be overlooked.

Lula’s imprisonment emboldened Brazil’s extreme right, which found in Bolsonaro “the most extremist leader in the democratic world”. Many in the Western commentariat have argued that the rise of Bolsonaro shows that the masses cannot be left to their own devices to vote rationally (as has been argued about the election of Donald Trump). But as award-winning journalist Jonathan Cook convincingly argued:

Bolsonaro, like Trump, is not a disruption of the current neoliberal order; he is an intensification or escalation of its worst impulses. He is its logical conclusion.

Cook continued:

Despite their professed concern, the plutocrats and their media spokespeople much prefer a far-right populist like Trump or Bolsonaro to a populist leader of the genuine left. They prefer the social divisions fuelled by neo-fascists like Bolsonaro, divisions that protect their wealth and privilege, over the unifying message of a socialist who wants to curtail class privilege, the real basis of the elite’s power.

In other words, the political and economic elite generally prefer fascism to socialism, because fascism protects their power and capital.

Official violence

Brazil, meanwhile, is edging closer towards chaos and officially sanctioned violence.

On 8 April, Brazilian army officers indiscriminately fired 80 bullets into a family car in the west of Rio de Janeiro. Inside the car was popular Brazilian musician Evaldo Rosa dos Santos, as well as his wife, seven-year-old son, father-in-law, and a family friend. The officers killed dos Santos and, according to the family friend, “kept shooting even after the passengers in the back seat tried to dodge the bullets carrying the child in their arms”.

Award-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote of the event:


In a similar case that shook Brazilian communities, Marielle Franco – a Rio community organiser – was murdered alongside her driver in March 2018. Bolsonaro, who has been indirectly connected to the murder, was the only presidential candidate to not publicly condemn the killings. Franco’s last tweet read:

How many others will have to die for this war to end?

As official violence in Brazil intensifies, the answer to her question may well be: some time yet.

A warning

Events in Brazil should be a warning to anti-fascist movements everywhere. They have shown that global elites fear socialism more than fascism and, consequently, deem the lives of indigenous, LGBTQI+, and poor people expendable if they can keep their capital. In other words, they are not – and never have been – allies of progressive movements.

Featured image via U.S. Department of State / Flickr

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