Anazir Maria de Oliveira has a simple message for the man they call Lula.
“Comrade, I want you to come back,” the 88-year-old union veteran and black activist said as she celebrated the return of her “guru” to the political fray in Brazil.
A few months ago, Lula – by her full name Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – seemed to have reached the melancholy twilight of a mythical political career. The former factory worker became one of the world’s most popular leaders before, in a dramatic fall from grace, he was jailed and kicked out of office.
But the overturning of bribery convictions against Brazil’s first working-class president has muddied the South American country’s politics and gave believers like Oliveira the tantalizing hope that the 70-year-old politician could make a comeback.
Five months after Lula’s political rights were restored, polls suggest that in next year’s election he would crush Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who faces growing anger over his response to a Covid epidemic that has killed more than half a million Brazilians.
“Seeing him again in the presidency is all we want… I am Lula’s heart and soul,” enthuses Oliveira, or Dona Zica as she is called in Vila Aliança, the favela where she lives on the border. west of Rio.
Lula, president of two terms from 2003 to 2010, has yet to officially announce what will be his sixth presidential campaign since he first sought to become the leader of Brazil in 1989 at the age of 44. . In a recent interview, the 75-year-old stopped short of confirming his plans, but said he was inspired by the election of Joe Biden at 78. “I’m a boy compared to Biden,” Lula joked.
John D French, the author of a new biography tracing Lula’s rise from unionist to president, said he had no doubt Lula would run – and he was well placed to win.
“This is the Pelé of international presidential electoral politics – no one has a record like it has nowhere in the world,” French said, recalling how Lula or Lula’s anointed candidate came first or second in six successive elections dating back to 1998.
Lula lost that year’s contest to centrist intellectual Fernando Henrique Cardoso, but won a historic landslide four years later, in 2002, telling voters “hope conquered fear.” . Members of Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) are now sending an equally optimistic message, as Brazil reels in a health and economic disaster caused by the coronavirus that has killed more than 550,000 people and plunged the country in a deep funk.
” The fact is [Lula] represents a time when things were going well, when Brazil felt it was moving forward, when things were happening, when the minimum wage was going up, when your children could go to school, when 10 million houses were built ”, French said. Bolsonaro, on the other hand, was widely associated with today’s “suffering, crisis and despair”.
“Everyone is feeling in their daily lives what is going on right now,” French said. “I’m not just talking about unemployment… People are losing a lot of their family members. It is very real.
Many conservatives are horrified at the prospect of Lula’s return and some on the left are also suspicious, although they admit that his political dominance may mean he is in the best position to defeat Bolsonaro.
Ciro Gomes, a former Lula minister who is now his main left-wing rival, called a third Lula presidency a “horrible” prospect. “What does Lula want to do at 78? [sic], which he did not do during the four terms he managed to win for himself or for the representative he proposed? Gomes asked, referring to Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, who won elections in 2010 and 2014.
Gomes claimed that voters’ fury over the “economic and moral debacle” of previous PT governments – when key associates of Lula, including his chief of staff and the finance minister were jailed for corruption – paved the way in the election of Bolsonaro. He argued that Lula’s involvement in the 2022 vote threatened to put Bolsonaro back in power by creating an election “in which Bolsonaro calls Lula a crook and Lula calls Bolsonaro a murderer”.
There is much greater excitement among the PT faithful, who have started to witness the anti-Bolsonaro protests in bright red T-shirts bearing the slogan: “Lula 2022”. A helium-filled cartoon of Lula has dominated recent opposition rallies in Rio while in the northeastern city of Fortaleza a Lula hung a banner at his window depicting the leftist’s resurrection in biblical terms. “Thy will be done: Lula 2022 presidente,” he said, alongside the image of the bearded leftist.
Dona Zica, a retired housekeeper and activist who keeps a stash of PT paraphernalia in her spotlessly clean home, said she also wants a politician to return whose life story and the Crusade social mirror his own. Like Lula, she was born in rural poverty in the small town of Manhumirim and, after a childhood harvesting peanuts and corn, she moved to Rio in 1948, four years before Lula’s impoverished family left for São Paulo on an open-back truck.
During the 1970s and 1980s, when Lula defended the rights of steelworkers and Zica those of domestic workers, their paths crossed at union events. In 1994, during his second presidential campaign, he visited Vila Aliança. And in 2002, after Lula was finally elected on her fourth attempt, an elated Dona Zica traveled to Brasilia to attend her inauguration. “I felt fulfilled. It was my dream come true, ”she said of that day, when the former tourist swore that one of the most unequal countries in the world“ will take a new path ”of growth and of social change.
Almost two decades later, Dona Zica hoped history would repeat itself, but warned Bolsonaro’s defeat was not assured. She believed that many residents of Vila Aliança regretted having voted in Bolsonaro in 2018, having lost their jobs or loved ones due to a pandemic that their president has trivialized on several occasions. A neighbor recently apologized to Dona Zica, whose son spent 25 days in hospital battling Covid, for supporting Bolsonaro – but other residents have remained loyal.
“If Lula runs in 2022, it won’t be an easy election. Today he is ahead – but the policy is constantly changing, ”said Dona Zica.
“I’ll tell you one thing though,” added the 34-year-old great-grandmother. “Things cannot stay the way they are. The poor Brazilians have been completely abandoned by the federal government… So many people have died.