Charges, threat of jail cast Brazil's Lula in familiar role: martyr

viernes 11 de marzo de 2016 17:41 GYT

By Paulo Prada

RIO DE JANEIRO, March 11 (Reuters) - Criminal charges and a request by prosecutors to jail Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva are putting the former Brazilian president and leftist icon back in a role he has long relished: that of the martyr.

The 70-year-old former metalworker, still a hero to blue-collar Brazilians because of an economic boom that created millions of jobs during his two terms as president, has known since his days as a union leader how to cast himself as the victim of an oppressive elite, galvanizing the working class behind him.

Last week, after federal police took him into custody briefly for questions about a far-reaching graft probe around Brazil's state-run oil company, Lula said he "felt like a prisoner" and urged leftist organizations, from landless peasants to labor unions, to rally.

"Summon me," he said, asking them to show support. "I am going to travel this country."

For the beleaguered government of President Dilma Rousseff, Lula's successor and protégée, any traction Lula gets could provide relief at a time when it is crippled by impeachment proceedings, an economy that shrunk by 3.8 percent last year and a corruption scandal that is drawing ever closer to her inner circle.

"This is a paralyzed government that needs any help it can get," says Carlos Melo, a political scientist at Insper, a São Paulo business school. "Even if Lula himself has lost some support, he still knows how to mobilize the party militants. The government will hitch a ride on that."

Of course, Lula's circumstances are far different from four decades ago, when he mobilized hundreds of thousands of workers against a military dictatorship and played a role in restoring democracy to Latin America's biggest country.

Federal prosecutors say they believe Lula accepted illicit payments and favors connected to the giant kickback scandal around Petroleo Brasileiro SA, the oil company. In a separate, but related investigation, state prosecutors in São Paulo, Brazil's industrial capital and the cradle of Lula's Workers' Party, have charged him with crimes including fraud and money laundering.   Continuación...