Brazil's Former President Lula Da Silva Under Investigation
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. Scott Simon is away. Police officers in Brazil yesterday raided the house of former President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. He's under investigation for allegedly benefiting from a major fraud scheme involving the national oil company, Petrobras. Prosecutors say hundreds of millions of dollars from Petrobras were channeled to political campaigns and bribes. President Lula da Silva, or Lula, as he's known, was taken into police custody and released after three hours of questioning. This corruption scandal has touched the highest levels of Brazil's political establishment. Brian Winter is editor in chief of Americas Quarterly, and he's here with us to talk about it. Welcome to the program.
BRIAN WINTER: Hi.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What happened? How serious is this? You know, Lula was someone who was an icon of the left, a man credited for lifting millions out of abject poverty. How could this have happened?
WINTER: This is a historic moment for Brazil. For a lot of Brazilians, this would be like seeing Teddy Roosevelt get hauled off to jail for questioning. He's more than just a former president. He's a symbol. He was the first member of the working class to become president in a history where inequality is still really the central fact of life.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Exactly. We saw clashes yesterday in front of President Lula's house, people calling him a thief, others calling him a liar, others saying that he was a hero. The political climate in Brazil seems toxic.
WINTER: That's right. I mean, it's a country where, for the last two years, we've seen this amazing corruption investigation. And meanwhile, Lula, you know, he oversaw Brazil during their historic boom last decade back when times were good. So lots of people still remember him as a very positive figure who oversaw a really prosperous period. And now they saw him being, you know, led away by the police yesterday.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does this show that the culture of impunity in Brazil is ending? This is a country that has a big problem with corruption. Does this show that no one's untouchable?
WINTER: It shows that no one is above the law. Lula - again, this is a guy who left office in 2010 with an approval rating of 90 percent.
WINTER: And here he is, you know - I mean, he was not arrested, right? He was not charged with anything. But he was forced by the police to testify in an operation that looked, you know, military in nature. There were police with rifles and other things. And for a lot of people, this was a moment that they thought would never come.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I mean, as someone who normally covers Brazil as well, it's an extraordinary scene right now. And this also comes at a time, it can't be forgotten, when the economy is suffering the worst recession in generations. What does this mean for Brazil and the wider region? This is the largest economy in the region, the largest country in the region and it's just going through something incredible right now.
WINTER: In the short term, I think things are going to get nasty in Brazil. I think that you're going to see, you know, these confrontations in the street. I think you're going to see further damage to the economy, which is, like you said, already going through its worst recession in at least 100 years, maybe ever. In the medium term, though, the hope is that this end to impunity and this tremendous symbolism of punishing very important people and taking them to jail, that this will result in a cleaner, less corrupt, more democratic Brazil. But I'd say the waters are going to be awfully choppy until we get there.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brian Winter is editor in chief of Americas Quarterly. Thank you so much.
WINTER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.