Lula faces the court: a political strategy

Lula arrives at the courthouse in Curitiba for his deposition (Paulo Whitaker/Reuters)

Never in the history of Brazil a deposition of an indicted person got such attention. Last Wednesday, May 10, the ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva went to a courthouse to give his deposition over accusations of passive corruption and money laundering. The event got full coverage from all main Brazilian media companies, before, during and after Lula’s statement, as people were relentlessly following and posting on social media, from fiery opinions to frivolous memes.

The deposition was considered so special by all Brazilians because of its main characters: Lula and Federal Judge Sérgio Moro, responsible for judging the Lava Jato cases. Since the beginning of the court actions, Moro became a celebrity, supported by many for his supposed strictness and leadership to finally put corrupt politicians in jail. And Lula is, for many people aligned with right wing ideals, the great white whale.

But instead of going into a full combat mode against Judge Moro, Lula did what he knows best: politics. One could — correctly — assume that the context wasn’t the least favorable to Lula, as he was an ex-President accused of corruption going to a courthouse. It was the most appraised politician facing an environment where politics has no influence over the outcome — or at least shouldn’t –. So Lula changed the scenario. He turned the judiciary context into a political event.

When Lula arrived to the courthouse, he went straight to the thousands of people who were there to support him. He hugged and kissed them, took pictures with them. There were also union members with flags and signs of support. Lula’s tie had the colors of the Brazilian flag. An unbeknownst passenger could easily assume he was arriving for a tribute instead of a trial.

Assembled stage

The deposition lasted five hours and by watching it is possible to see that Lula would constantly answer Sérgio Moro’s questions using analogies and popular metaphors that every other person could easily understand, even relate to it. In his closing statement, even though Lula was looking at Sérgio Moro, the words were aiming at the camera and the people who would watch it later. He talks about media persecution, the humble past, struggles, his love for Brazil, what he did as President and what he intends to do to help the country get back on its feet.

It worth to mention that Lula’s defense team asked to broadcast the deposition in real time, which was denied by Sérgio Moro. This could be considered very risky for any other indicted, exposing himself in such tricky moment, but for Lula would be an advantage: His oratory skills are praised even by sworn rivals, and everyone would watch live Lula turning the deposition into a political speech.

When the deposition was over, Lula went to a real stage assembled close to the courthouse and made — another — speech, where he thanked his supporters and again reassured his intention to run for President in 2018, as complained about the persecution from media and a few members of the justice system. It was the last move of a strategy that meant to build the image of an obstinate candidate over the one of a corrupt politician. To turn presumption of guilt into promise of campaign.

But by politicizing his trial, Lula aimed at something more than just subverting the judiciary scenario of his deposition. Even though Sérgio Moro has made clear politics won’t have influence in any decision, the political contours of the whole process were perceptible. What Lula did was shed light and evidence that aspect.

Sérgio Moro may promise and insist that only the law will have a saying in court. Be that true or not, for all purposes, any of his decisions about Lula now will be, more than never, political. In the current situation, that favors more the President than the Judge.