In a Democracy Now! exclusive, we spend the hour with Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is now running for president again. We begin our discussion with the assassination of 38-year-old Rio city councilmember and human rights activist Marielle Franco, who was killed last week. Franco, who was a black lesbian, was known for her fierce criticism of police killings in Brazil’s impoverished favela neighborhoods. Her death comes at a pivotal moment for Brazil and the future of democracy in South America’s largest country. Just last month, President Michel Temer ordered Brazil’s military to assume control of police duties in Rio. “The only thing that she did was to work against the assassination of black people in the peripheral areas in the defense of human rights,” says Lula da Silva.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Brazilians continue to mourn the loss of 38-year-old Rio de Janeiro city councilmember and human rights activist Marielle Franco. Franco was assassinated, along with her driver, last Wednesday night, after a pair of gunmen riddled her car with bullets as she returned from an event on the topic of empowering black women. Franco, who was a black lesbian, was known for her fierce criticism of police killings in Brazil’s impoverished favela neighborhoods. The night before her death, Franco wrote on Twitter, “How many more must die for this war to end?” In January alone, government figures show police killed 154 people in Rio state.
Franco’s death comes at a pivotal moment for Brazil and the future of democracy in South America’s largest country. Just last month, President Michel Temer ordered Brazil’s military to assume control of police duties in Rio. Two years ago, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party was impeached by the Brazilian Senate, in a move she denounced as a coup. Brazil is holding elections later this year. The front-runner is Rousseff’s ally, former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, commonly known as Lula. While he’s leading all opinion polls, he’s facing a possible prison sentence, after being convicted on what many believe to be trumped-up charges of corruption and money laundering.
Last year, President Rousseff said, quote, “The first chapter of the coup was my impeachment. But there’s a second chapter, and that is stopping President Lula from becoming a candidate for next year’s elections,” Rousseff said. British human rights attorney Geoffrey Robertson told the New Internationalist that, quote, “extraordinarily aggressive measures” are being taken to put Lula in jail, quote, “by the judiciary, by the media, by the great sinews of wealth and power in Brazil,” unquote.
Lula is a former union leader who served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. During that time, he helped lift tens of millions of Brazilians out of the poverty. President Barack Obama once called him the most popular politician on Earth.
Well, late Friday, I had a chance to speak with Lula. He was in São Paulo, Brazil. I began by asking him about the assassination of Rio City Councilwoman Marielle Franco.
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Amy, we have two problems in Brazil. The first is that her assassination is unacceptable, the assassination of Marielle, a young woman. The only thing that she did was to work against the assassinations of black persons in the peripheral areas, in the defense of human rights, in the defense of the lives of people.
It’s clear that her death was a premeditated killing. Now, I don’t know if it was a militia or a police, but what is clear is that it is unacceptable and that all of us Brazilians should come together in a single voice and shout out loud to immediately demand punishment of those responsible for that killing.
And President Temer should have learned a great lesson with this killing, which is that the problem of violence in the peripheral areas of our Brazil is not going to be resolved by turning to the armed forces. It is necessary that the state have a presence in the peripheral neighborhoods of Brazil — with jobs, education, healthcare, cultural activities, employment and salaries, so that people can survive and live with dignity. The armed forces were not trained to deal with common crime in the favelas in Brazil. They were trained to defend our country from outside enemies. In other words, when people understand that violence in Brazil is associated with the very poor quality of life that people are subjected to and the lack of proper living conditions for people living in peripheral areas, then there will be less violence in the peripheral areas, especially against children, young people and black people in our country.
The case of Marielle is an emblematic case, because it requires all democratic-minded persons in the world, all those who love life, all those who love freedom, and all of those who struggle for human rights — all should protest loudly so that the assassins of Marielle are put in prison and are given exemplary punishment. That’s what we all want.
AMY GOODMAN: Cecília Olliveira of The Intercept, on Twitter, tweeted, “The lot of 9mm ammo used in the execution of #MarielleFranco & Anderson Pedro — UZZ-18 — was purchased by the Federal Police & matches casings found at the scene of the Osasco massacre, that killed 19 in São Paulo in 2015. 2 cops & 1 municipal guard were convicted.”
Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept then tweeted, “To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the preliminary evidence is establishing links between the police and the assassins who killed Marielle Franco. Nothing is conclusive yet at all in this regard, but the preliminary evidence is pointing straight in that direction.”
Do you agree with this, President Lula? And what do you think needs to be done immediately right now, as thousands of people have taken to the streets?
LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] Look, the first thing is, if it is true that the weapon that killed Marielle was a weapon purchased by the federal police and that was already used in another massacre here in São Paulo two years ago, then we would have a very strong indication. We must know whether at some point in time during that period between the massacre in São Paulo and the killing of Marielle, whether the federal police denounced that any weapons had been or munitions had been stolen from the federal police. Or, if there was a robbery and the munitions or weapons were purchased by the federal police, it’s necessary that the federal police explain to Brazilian society why is it that those weapons were in the hands of the assassins.
So, there needs to be clarification with this evidence, if the weapons were stolen and they did not denounce it, because they were ashamed that weapons had been stolen from the federal police. Well, in this case, Amy, it’s very important that people be careful to make sure they’re not making untrue accusations or accusations looking for a headline. Now, what is true is that for the police, for the armed forces, for the government, for the police intelligence, should be able to — in the shortest time possible, they should figure out who the assassins were, and then punish those assassins.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He’s now running again for president and is the current front-runner, but may soon be heading to jail. We’ll continue our interview with Lula in a minute and ask him about the charges against him, which his supporters say are politically motivated, and also talk with him about US intervention in Latin America, about this 15th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and much more. Stay with us.