Political prisoner

Exclusive | Lula: “We have to recover the Brazilian people’s rebellious spirit”

Ex-president spoke with Brasil de Fato about his political imprisonment and the country’s situation

Leia em português | Brasil de Fato | Curitiba

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Brasil de Fato interviewed the former president and Workers' Party leader at the Federal Police headquarters in Curitiba / Ricardo Stuckert

Wednesday, October 23rd. A sign in the Free Lula Vigil, a few feet from the Federal Police headquarters in Curitiba, reads: 564 days of resistance. That’s the number of days Brazil’s ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been deprived of his freedom, as a result of a prosecution he constantly calls “a lie,” a case spearheaded by the then judge Sergio Moro and the state prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol.

The Brasil de Fato team filed a request to interview the ex-president more than six months ago. After a decision by Carolina Lebbos, the deputy judge overseeing Lula’s case after Moro stepped down, Lula decides to whom he grants interviews.

In order to access the Federal Police building – which was ironically built and inaugurated during Lula’s Workers’ Party government –, registration, equipment search, and punctuality are required. Lula is being held in an individual cell, where he has a routine of physical exercise and reading.

Our meeting with the ex-president lasted two hours and took place on the same day the country’s Supreme Court started a debate about whether it is constitutional to arrest individuals who have a criminal conviction upheld in an appeals court, but before exhausting all remedies. The country’s top court was expected to issue a ruling by the end of the same day, but the justices adjourned the session and resumed discussions on the next day. Now, the final ruling may be adjourned until November.

The Supreme Court ruling can define the future of Lula and 5,000 other prisoners around Brazil.

For the ex-president, the Supreme Court justices’ task is to guarantee that the Constitution is respected. “This is why I am calm about the Supreme Court ruling. They are not debating about me, but about following the Brazilian Constitution,” Lula said as soon as he met with our team.

Even before the interview started, the ex-president mentioned the Supreme Court’s potential ruling. During the interview, he also talked about land reform, attacks against public policies, pension reform, sovereignty, the challenges for the left, his own life, books, and culture.

Brasil de Fato published excerpts from the interview translated into English on that same day. Read more highlights of the interview below.

Brasil de Fato: You have mentioned a number of times that you will not trade your dignity for your freedom, and that you want to prove your innocence. This is a decision you make every day, in every action. We can only imagine how much pressure there is in this sense, when it comes to your freedom. What is at stake? Lula is a politician, a man, someone in Brazilian politics, but you have to weigh everything and make this decision every day. What are the sacrifices you have to make as you make this decision every day?

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva: I was raised by an illiterate mother. My mom died without knowing how to draw an “o”. My dad died illiterate. But one thing I learned from them is honor. Honor, character, self-esteem, these are things we carry in our blood. It’s something we learn from a young age. And I was not born to lower my head. I am aware of the lie that was told, I am aware of the disservice that [Car Wash chief prosecutor Deltan] Dallagnol did to the country with that PowerPoint presentation, I am aware of the lies [former judge and current Minister of Justice Sergio] Moro told when he wrote the sentence. This judge presided over a case against a citizen for an undetermined crime, which means he didn't know what I did wrong, but he had to find me guilty, because the political moment required my conviction.

I am aware that they have lied to Brazilian society, and that lie was agreed upon in collusion between Moro and the Brazilian media. There is an article [Sergio Moro] published in 2004, called Mani Pulite, about Operation Clean Hands in Italy. It explains that the media played a central role in getting people convicted. That means that, if a citizen is a suspect and the media decides that they are guilty even before the trial, when the time comes to issue the sentence, they are going to be convicted.

And I decided to stand up to that. I decided to stand up to it because of the name that I had, and my relationship with Brazilian society. I could not allow more than 200 hours of [prime time news show] Jornal Nacional against me, more than 150 magazine covers against me, thousands of front pages of newspapers against me – I could not allow that to end my political life and end my relationship with society, by being called a thief by the thieves.

I decided to fight back. I’ve said this before: I could have left Brazil, I could have gone to an embassy, but I decided to come here, because I would not be able to prove my innocence if I were not here, fighting, with my head held high. Look, I’m here talking to you, and look at Moro’s face when he gives interviews. He knows he is a liar. He doesn’t even have the courage to look people in the face. Look at Dallagnol, who actually started a gang with that [Car Wash] task force. He wanted to get rich. He wanted to get money from Petrobras [Brazil’s state-run oil company] to create an institute, and to do what?

This is what I rose up against. And that is why I made the decision to come to Curitiba. That’s where I have to be to prove [my innocence]. If they keep me locked up in here one year, two years, no problem. I have patience. But what I want is this: I’ve learned to walk with my head held high, and I will not lower it. I am equal to any Brazilian. If I make a mistake, I have to pay for it. Everyone who makes a mistake has to pay.

This is why I am calm about the Supreme Court ruling. [The country’s top court started on Wednesday, the same day of the interview, to debate over the constitutionality of arresting people convicted of crimes before exhausting all remedies, a decision that could lead to Lula’s release]. They are not debating about me, but simply about how to follow the Brazilian Constitution. It’s written there that a person can only be sent to prison after exhausting all remedies. But because it was Lula who was facing a trial, because there were presidential elections, because Lula could win the elections, they decided, let’s make something exceptional about this Lula case: let’s speed up this process. Because it wasn’t just Moro and Dallagnol, it wasn’t just the chief of police who conducted the investigation. The appellate judges in Porto Alegre also lied. They didn’t even read the process and voted anyway. They voted to uphold the conviction.

Do you think I could accept someone who says, “Well, the president has served a year and a half in prison, so he will move to semi-open prison conditions”? No. This is a right for criminals. This is a right for those who are guilty. I want my innocence. I want to have the merits of my case judged. That’s the game and that’s how I am going to play.

I don’t know what is going to happen, but these people have to know that there are still people of character in Brazil. These people have to know that none of them are better than me. These people have to now that none of them is more honest than me. These people have to know that I started in politics in 1969, when I was 24, so I have 50 years of political life experience. There were never charges filed against me. I cannot allow a bunch of messianic boys with electoral, political, ideological interests to drag my name through the mud.

About the Supreme Court, we know that the bourgeois media has this debate around your case, but we know how the judicial system operates. Discussing the incarceration of defendants after exhausting all remedies could impact 5,000 prisoners today, and could change the judicial system. Do you believe that the Supreme Court justices are debating about this thinking about your case, or are they really thinking about the impact for the Brazilian population and the way the justice system operates?

The only thing I hope is that they cast their vote following their conscience and the Constitution. Actually, their only commitment should be to the truth, to the Constitution.

I obviously keep up with the news every day, I know how much pressure Globo [Brazil’s biggest media conglomerate] exerts. I know that they have actually said that the Supreme Court ruling would lead to the release of hundreds of thousands of prisoners. “There will be criminals having dinner at restaurants!” Trying to intimidate the justices.

I think the Supreme Court cannot let this pressure get to them, or the idea of what the public opinion wants or doesn’t want. If people want to work according to the public opinion, they have to run for office. So let’s hold elections for the Supreme Court. Let’s hold elections for judges. We don’t do that.

They [Supreme Court justices] have a majestic task. They hold their position for life, and it comes with great responsibility. After the Supreme Court cast their vote, we have nowhere to appeal to. So they effectively have to serenely follow the Constitution.

But I will not leave here angry, hateful. I can’t live like that. I want to leave here mentally healthy, but I want to restore truth in this country.

You are constantly underscoring how important it is for the people to believe in justice, because it is important for our democracy. How is it possible to believe in this system of justice and expect you to be released and prove your innocence, when this is the same system that put you in prison, as a political prisoner? Obviously a sector of this system, which is personified by Moro and Dallagnol. So how is it possible to expect that this same system will free you?

It wasn’t the justice system that put me in here. Justice is a very broad thing. Those who put me in here were Moro and three appellate judges, who didn’t even read my case. If they had read the process, they would have noticed that Moro lied. They would have noticed that Dallagnol lied.

So I believe that the justice system is very heterogeneous, it’s a lot of people, and I believe that people will read the Constitution and follow the Constitution. If they don’t, I will keep fighting from here. This is the thing: I don’t give up on the truth. I just don’t.

I know what I have been through in my life to get where I am. And I will continue to fight, always respecting everyone. It’s a tough fight, but I will do it. The only thing I am sure of is that I will not lose my spirit. Don’t ask me to lose my spirit, because I won’t. And I keep saying that I believe in justice, because, see, imagine if I, a former president of Brazil, suddenly start saying “I don’t believe in justice.”

If I say I don’t believe in justice, I have to say another thing too. I have to tell the people: “let’s solve this with our own hands.” That’s not how things work. I believe that the judicial branch plays a very important role in this country, it just has to follow the law correctly. They just have to judge based on the truth, based on evidence, on investigation, and not based on political criteria with class bias. I know that we still don’t have a Supreme Court justice who is a Prouni alumnus [Prouni is an affirmative action policy implemented by the Lula administration to provide scholarships to low-income students so they could attend private higher education institutions]. But one day we will. So I believe in that, and I will fight.

You argue that, since the coup against Dilma Rousseff, there were already efforts to bar you from running in the elections. That plan was implemented by the people who pushed for your incarceration. Still, that is a lot of effort to keep you in prison. In your opinion, why is that? Are they afraid to you see you outside? To rally against Globo, Brazil’s biggest media conglomerate?

I don’t know what that is about. I think that, actually, the lie will keep fading away. If I’m out on the streets and able to speak more freely to the people… Couldn’t Globo ask for an interview with me in here and broadcast it live? I don’t trust Globo to do a recorded interview, it would have to be live. Couldn’t Bandeirantes [media group] ask for a live interview in here? I am willing to talk to them. Record [media group]… Just schedule a live show and come here.

Send their fiercest, most anti-Lula person they may have to interview me here, live. It would be my biggest pleasure. And with this face of peace-and-love-little-Lula, I will talk to them. It’s ok. I have been challenging them, because I think that the only thing that can explain their fear of me is that [if I were elected president] they know that the poor would have three meals a day again. They know that we would buy food from small farmers. They know that we would make sure small farmers could sell part of their produce to public schools around the country. They know that poor people would continue to get into university and technical school. Is that what they are afraid of? Well, then they better let me die in here, otherwise that is what I am going to do [if I get out].

You always talk about how Globo played a major role in the coup and your imprisonment. You talk about the issue of fake news, while we also see how Record has been increasingly aligning itself politically with the Jair Bolsonaro government. So they have yet another big media conglomerate with them.

What the SBT [TV network] is doing is shameful.

Exactly. To top it off, they have a lot of money. How can the left fight the bourgeois media, the fake news phenomenon, also critically examining its own performance as it did not push to regulate the media?

I critically examine myself, because self-critique is necessary, but in fact, to regulate the media, you have to take into consideration the correlation of forces in Congress. And if you consider that, you will realize that the current Congress is very negative for Brazilian society.

They have just passed a pension reform policy that goes against the people, and it was the people who voted for these representatives. You look at the comrades of the landless movement, how strong they are in this country and the amazing work they do, but they only have two federal representatives, while the farm caucus has more than 200. You see that there are only two representatives who are metal workers, but you have 300 or 400 members who represent businesses.

You wonder, how can you pass things for the benefit of the Brazilian society if those who are there [in Congress] are working against them?

I don’t know if you know this: in 1978, when I first thought about creating the PT [Workers’ Party], that was because I went to Congress and found out that there were no workers there. And I thought to myself: “I’m so stupid. I keep thinking that they will pass laws to favor me, and there are no workers here.”

Either we convince ourselves of that and start to work to make society understand this, or citizens who are big farmers will continue winning votes. They don’t campaign saying that they are large landowners but say they are doctors, lawyers, accountants… They are always liberal professionals, but never “large landowners,” because they are afraid the people wouldn’t vote for them [if they knew that]. We have to understand that, in order to do the things we dream about, we not only need a committed government, but also a favorable correlation of forces in Congress.

When I was elected [president] in 2002, of 513 members of the lower house, I had 91 [with me]. I needed 257 to win a simple vote. In the Senate, I think I had 14 with me out of 81 back then. So you can’t do the things you want, or wish to do, if you are not strong in Congress.

It’s important for the movement to start to think that we need to carry out struggles that are less economy-driven and more political. We either politicize society so that they know who to vote for in the elections, or people will always put a fox to guard the hen house, thinking that it will yield results, and it won’t.

The result is that poverty is returning, unemployment is returning, hunger is returning. The result is that Brazil’s demoralization in the world is huge. Huge. Brazil became the laughing stock abroad. I see Bolsonaro saying his nonsense, and [Economy minister Paulo] Guedes selling off Brazil. And we are carrying out this endless economy-driven struggle. But I think the struggle now is eminently political. They don’t have the right to sell Brazil off. They don’t have the right to sell [Brazil’s state-run oil company] Petrobras, [state-run electricity utility company] Eletrobras, the things they are selling for pennies on the dollar.

That oil we discovered in the pre-salt layer was supposed to be the future of this country. They are handing it over for pennies. This must be our struggle. Our struggle must be to fight the dismantling of Brazil. After Mr. Guedes is done selling off everything, he will move to New York or Paris, and the Brazilian people will stay here, going through hell, because that’s always the case in Brazil’s history. We must be against this. This is why a lot is being said about national sovereignty. National sovereignty is not about standing up for Petrobras or [the country’s biggest state-run bank] Banco do Brasil. National sovereignty is about standing up for the Brazilian people.

A nation only exists because of its people. And what determines the quality of a nation is the people’s quality of life, the quality of education, the quality of food, of production, it’s the scientific and technological knowledge of that nation. That’s what sovereignty means. That’s what I think we must take to the streets to fight for. It’s funny, I see people saying, “let’s take to the streets,” but no one does. We have a lot of those types that say they will and then just don’t do it.

Why do you think that is?

I don’t know. I see so many people saying “we have to take to the streets,” and even though they say it, they don’t always do that.

The people won’t be banging their heads against a brick wall. People have been so beaten up for so many years with such a huge number of lies. I know how hard it is to turn that around. It’s not simple. You need a lot of rhetoric, a lot of clarity, you need a serious narrative from our people, we have to forge a narrative to fight against their narrative. For them, everything is about communism, everything traces back to the Dilma [Rousseff] government, everything is about Lula. So what’s our narrative?

I think that, sometimes, we have too many different rhetorics, everyone is defending something different and we don’t have one narrative for the people, for them to realize what is going on in Brazil.

Claiming that Brazil is in crisis because of Dilma is a downright lie. I see [ex-president Michel] Temer [who took over when President Rousseff was ousted] granting interviews now as if nothing happened in this country, even recognizing that there was a coup. So I believe that our left-wing comrades, our comrades from social movements, have to forge a narrative.

We have something now that we didn’t have ten years ago, which is social media, which has a lot of negative things, but it is a tool that we didn’t have in the past. So, what we have to do is, we have to build our social media, bring everyone who thinks somehow alike together, and build a unified narrative about some topics. So that everyone can know the same things at the same time. But if everyone keeps saying different things, we will only be building a Tower of Babel, and we won’t be able to unify our struggle.

We have been seeing setbacks promoted by the Bolsonaro administration in several areas. Every day we see something new about this. Do you think it is possible to turn this scenario around? It took so long to make sure the people had rights. Can this bulldozer be stopped? And how is it possible to rebuild from this? Do you see this on the horizon?

Let’s consider this: every now and then, you have to make adjustments to the social pension system to keep up with society’s own changes. You don’t have to keep the same pension system for a century, you can make adjustments to it. 

I remember that, when I first started to work, people often couldn’t retire because they would die before they had the chance. I remember that, back then, a 60-year-old was an old person. Now people are living until 75. Depending on their line of work, even more. You can make adjustments, but you can’t make adjustments because of the public deficit, and try to blame the retirement plans and the retirees for the economy.

If you want to solve the social pension problem, you have to create jobs. When you create jobs, you create a taxpayer. When you create a taxpayer, you increase the revenue. That’s what happened in our government, when we created more than 20 million formal jobs.

If you want to adjust the pension system, you have to debate it with society. I created a group with all labor union centers, the government, and businesses. You have to have talks, see what you can improve, and then do it. What you cannot do is try to push a reform to solve a budget deficit, that is not a pension deficit, to solve the government’s tax revenue problem.

I honestly don’t know… It’s not easy to pass a constitutional amendment in this country. The Congress is much more conservative today than it used to be some other moment. I think that we are going to have to see what we want for this country. I honestly think that it’s almost rebuilding it, because they are tearing everything apart. Everything that was created. You don’t have a committee anymore, you don’t have anything that we created working properly anymore. They’re destroying it, it’s almost as if it were a hurricane. You know those things you see on TV, that destroy parts of California, Miami, Cuba, Jamaica? There is a hurricane blowing and destroying everything that was built, in the name of fighting communism. They don’t even know that the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989. They don’t even know that. They are talking about things that they don’t know.

For example, Brazil is the only country that has an astronaut as a Sciences and Technology minister [Marcos Pontes]. So, he [Pontes] rode a rocket and left the atmosphere, so he knows that the planet is round. But, the president believes that the Earth is flat. He [Pontes] has to tell the president: “Look, I went up there. I took pictures, here they are. The world is round. Bolsonaro, the Earth is round. Tell your guru [Olavo de Carvalho] that there’s no such thing as a flat Earth.” So, we are living this right now.

Yesterday I saw the Environment minister [Ricardo Salles] say that the oil [from the massive spill on Northeast Brazil] is from Venezuela. Who wants to know where the oil comes from, for the love of God? We want to know that the oil is polluting Brazilian beaches. Would it be good if it came from the United States? From Israel? No. The problem [for them] is that the oil comes from Venezuela. That is so cretin. And we are witnessing that, you know?

All this effort to dismantle things makes the Brazilian people…

We have to recover the Brazilian people’s rebellious spirit. That’s what we need.

Lula, you once said that time goes by fast when you’re in power. What we see in Brazilian democracy and our parties is that they operate almost exclusively based on the electoral agenda, often disconnected from the everyday struggles of the Brazilian people. Also in this scenario, today, there is a strong narrative of denial of politics, of criminalizing politics, especially by the media. Do you think the PT [Workers’ Party, of which Lula is a member] is giving answers to that, within the party and to society? Is there an attempt or any debate about reinventing the party in light of this new scenario?

The thing about the elections is that you have a schedule. And the schedule keeps moving, regardless of whether you want it. You have elections every two years in this country. We just had a presidential election, now we have elections for mayor coming soon [in 2020] in nearly 6,000 cities, and the parties have to worry about this. You start to worry about the election one year beforehand, not on election day.

That doesn’t stop the social movement from carrying out their specific struggles, their political struggles every day. The struggle for housing, for wages, for land, the struggle for education happens every day. And the political party has to get ready when election time comes.

I have been advocating for some things…and I just want to say I am sorry that sometimes I say things in here, and I’m not out there to hear the yeas and nays agreeing or disagreeing with me. But anyway, you see, some people say, “The PT is not doing what people thought it should do.” Let me tell you something, very honestly and humbly. The PT is the most important left-wing political party in the world today. I can’t talk about China or Cuba, but in the democratic world, there is no party like the PT. There is no party with such grassroots support as the PT. Don’t judge the PT for a PT board meeting. If you want to really know the PT, go to the remote areas in this country, to the backlands, to the Amazon, to really get to know the real PT.

If the PT thinks that the world can be solved through parliamentary views, well, it can’t. Or based solely on the views of those who are running a city or a state, it can’t. The PT cannot act without listening to its grassroots.

What do you think got in the way of putting an agrarian reform in place, like your government planned to do? What forces are in the way, stopping Brazil from implementing its agrarian reform like so many other countries that have solved this issue, even in the 19th century? Is it the farm lobby, is it the correlation of forces in Congress? What is stopping that?

The correlations of forces in Congress stops you from doing a lot of things. In Brazil, you have to pay for the land you expropriate, and sometimes that costs a lot of money. I had serious problems with land expropriations in Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul [southern Brazil] towards the end of my government. It was too expensive to appropriate there for few people. I argued a lot about that with my comrades, because people want to settle in places where the land is becoming more and more expensive.

Now, the truth is that we did so many things. We definitely didn’t do a lot of things, but around 570,000 families [of small farmers] were settled. You may find different numbers in the government and the records of the landless movement, the Contag [National Confederation of Agriculture Workers], the CUT [Unified Workers’ Central], but this is the official data, the data I worked with.

And it’s not just about the land issue, but the issue of being able to work on the land, the conditions people have to work under, access to technology, access to funding, to resources. Because it’s one thing to produce and not sell your products, and it’s another thing to produce and sell them. Another thing is to have markets to sell to. And we created so many possibilities.

I am aware that we didn’t do everything our comrades wanted, but we did more than any other government in this country’s history.

And I maintain a relationship of loyalty and camaraderie with everyone, because I think the [MST, the Landless Workers’ Movement] is the most serious movement we have in Brazil. I am proud of their production capacity. Today, we hear about the quality of their products, we hear that the landless workers are the biggest producers of some organic products in Brazil. The government should be proud of that, it should buy, create good conditions, the world should buy from them. So I am proud of that, and I think that we learned that we can do more, we can always do more. Both for the landless workers and the homeless workers, the quilombolas, the LGBT people.

I will leave here with a much more open mind than I once had, with an even greater will to talk, understanding a lot of things I didn’t understand, feeling much more serene. This is how I want to leave here, to see if I can contribute and help people.

I am not in favor of this antagonism that there can only be family agriculture if we end large land holdings. I think that Brazil, as big as it is, needs both. Those people who say a lot of absurdities are not big landowners, they’re criminals. A citizen who owns a productive plot of land, the citizen who thinks about this country, they know that they are not the ones who grow food for people to eat. What they produce is only for exports. They either produce sugarcane or soybeans, or cotton, all for exports. The people who raise the free range-chicken they like to eat are the small farmers.

Human beings can have emotional reactions, but the State can’t. The State takes care of people. That is what we tried to show to the Brazilian society. This is the role of the State, to take care of people, to care for them.

This is why I always mentioned this idea of “a mother’s heart.” I say that a lot. If you want to learn how to be democratic, you have to get married and have children, because there is nothing more democratic than having five children sitting at the table fighting over a steak, the rice, pulling each other’s dishes around, and you having to coordinate that and finish that meal without having anyone stabbing anyone else. 

And then, there is the politics of compromise, because you have to make compromises all the time. You have to make compromises with your wife all the time, or you won’t live well. She also does that for you, and you do that for your children. I like that so much that I am going to get married again, you know? To be able to continue to be democratic, to make compromises.

To continue to exercise democracy.

I think you may be finding it weird. I have every right to be very angry. But all my work in here is to try to conduct analysis with myself, alone, so that I don’t get consumed by hatred. And I will not let hatred get the best of me. I will leave here more prepared, I hope I can talk to you when I leave. You will see that I am more mature, more conscious.

And don’t you think that I am an old man. I feel much more like fighting than when I was 50. I am much more mature now to fight. So those who may think I will be taken down by old age may forget it. Nor age, nor hatred will do that. I am a mellow guy, and I think love always wins, you have to put love first, in everything you do.

We know that creating expectations could be a double-edged sword, but the hot topic today is the Supreme Court [as it is debating over the constitutionality of incarcerating people convicted of crimes before exhausting all remedies]. How do you feel? Do you feel this could be your last interview from prison?

Let me tell you something. I don’t even let my lawyers talk to me about this. I don’t like to work based on expectations, especially now that I am locked up. Because if you keep creating expectations and you get frustrated, you don’t survive. So I don’t let myself get consumed by expectations. You know why? Because I know that I am in here, I am aware of that. I am aware that the rats who put me in here know that I am more innocent than them.

I am aware that the Marinho family [who owns the Globo media conglomerate] knows that all of them combined are not as honest as I am.

If these are the trials and tribulations I have to go through, I will. This is why I don’t let myself get consumed by expectations. Because I know what’s ahead of me. I will have to travel across this country, I will have to shout, give speeches, I will have to visit the landless, the quilombolas, the unemployed, the crab gatherers, the LGBT, the factories, the small businesses. I will have to meet with a lot of businesspeople, because I think they have become spineless. I mean, people not knowing how important Petrobras is for the development of this country, people not putting state-run banks for the development of this country, is just spinelessness, pure and simple.

So rest assured that I will fight a lot. You have no idea how much drive I have to fight.

You are talking about this drive to fight, but we know that, in society today, hate speech, due to this situation of economic and social crisis in our country, has been on the rise. Everyone knows someone who is struggling with depression, who is feeling dispirited. Society is getting ill, in terms of mental health. Meanwhile, we see that you are here in prison, alone, dealing with your own loneliness. We know that you lost family members while you were here, but you are healthy, you jog 10 kilometers [6 miles] a day, you seem well. How do you do it?

Look, I am fine. I am healthy. It’s been a year and a half since I had those exams where the machine takes pictures of your inside. I don’t want to know, because I expect that when I leave, I will do my medical exams. But I have been having blood tests, a lot of exams, and I am perfectly well in every sense. Even my glycemic index is good. Outside, sometimes it would be 120, 110, 115. In here, I’m in a good phase, it’s 97, 98, 95. It’s good. My cholesterol levels are good too, my vitamin levels are good. What do I feel? See, I am a citizen who has never been motivated by hatred. If someone wants to fight with me, they can fight on their own. I am not into fighting. I fight for serious things, and my hatred lasts just a few seconds. I can be angry at someone, but I quickly forget about it.

What do I think is happening in Brazilian society? I think that the Brazilian society is being pulled towards a market of lies like it has never seen before, obviously impacted by how things are easier now with technological advances, the internet, social media. In the past, to call you names, someone would have to say that to your face, fearing they could get punched, or say things behind your back. Now, some jerk is in their room bad-mouthing you, your mother, your father, his mother, his father. They will say any nonsense with no criteria. That’s what we see now. How can a president want to run a country through Twitter? How is it possible to get up in the morning and tweet, with no responsibility about being accountable for what one says?

Does the president have something to say? Ok. Call the press and make an official announcement to the country: “I am doing this.” So technological advances are making human beings lose control of these advances. They are being controlled. From what I see people doing, it’s like a disease.

Meanwhile, we do have examples of love in society. There are fortresses to hang on to. We would like to take this opportunity to talk about what is the role of those people who have been camping outside for so long, who are doing this not only as an act of protest but also out of admiration for you. What’s the impact of this for you?

I hear those comrades every day that I am here. Every single day. They shout “good morning, Lula,” “good afternoon, Lula,” “good evening, Lula.” The songs they play, sometimes there is a bugle player. I honestly have no words for that. I think that there are no words to express my gratitude for this gesture. I don’t know if there ever was, in the history of humanity, a prisoner who received such a warm treatment from people. If I could, I would get everyone and turn them into a little key chain and hang them on my body, because I don’t know how I will split apart from them [once I am released]. I don’t even know them. Once in a while, they send something to me, but once I get out of here, I want to do this: give each of them a big hug and a big kiss on the cheek.

I will get their address, their cell phone numbers, because they are part of my life now. It’s unusual for human beings to have such greatness as these people. I actually told Gleisi [Hoffmann, PT chair] to tell them to go back home. I think it’s too big a sacrifice for them. But they don’t want to hear about this. So I honestly don’t know what I will do with them, because it’s about gratitude.

I have nothing but gratitude towards them. A lot of gratitude, and every once in a while, they send me a candy, a cake. They have been pampering me like I’ve never been pampered before. So I am very grateful, and to Brazilian society actually, for the solidarity that I have been receiving from all over the world. Yesterday I received a letter from several jurists from all over the world who sent a letter to the Supreme Court, from prime ministers, former prime ministers, union leaders.

That is my world. 

Next Sunday, these people will be joined by thousands all across the country for a major birthday party in several areas of the country [Lula will be 74 on Sunday]. Are you aware that there will be cake?

I am aware. I’ll even tell the warden here, Luciano: that he can come here at the time of my birthday party, to escort me there to blow out the candles – there are 74 candles, I won’t be able to blow them all out! So I’ll go there, check out the party, eat a piece of cake and come back here. It will be alright.

I don’t know if it will be possible. But what’s the matter? They won’t have to work here tomorrow, Friday, and Monday. On Friday, they will fumigate the place, and Monday is a holiday so I think many people will have the day off, so I won’t even be able to receive the cake. They will have to keep a piece for me to eat on Tuesday.

And you’ll hear them sing “Happy Birthday” to you.

I will. That I will hear pretty clearly. I am sad that I am in here, but I am happy for having so many friends on the outside, so many people in solidarity. And the only thing I wish is that people wouldn’t let the country be destroyed. No president can be elected to destroy the country. None.

We have one last question, as your words definitely inspire all the people out there, and also those who are organizing your birthday party on Sunday. What inspires you? A book, a movie, a song… 

When I first got here, some people advised me to write a journal. I honestly didn’t find it would be helpful. Writing all alone, living alone every day, what would I write about? Today I went to the bathroom, I woke up early.

I read Mandela’s journal in prison. I read a lot of people’s biographies. I read important biographies while in here. I read Getúlio [Vargas, Brazilian ex-president]’s, [guerrilla fighter Carlos] Marighella’s, Father Cícero’s, Gandhi’s, Roosevelt’s… I’ve just read Fidel Castro’s Biography of Two Voices.

I have been reading a lot about slavery. I’m very interested in reading about slavery, I’m learning why Brazil is the way it is, why there is still discrimination.

I’ve always been a fan of music, so they send me a flash drive with a lot of songs. I really like samba. I listen to Chico [Buarque], Caetano [Veloso], [Gilberto] Gil. I listen to a lot of those – what are they called? – Gregorian chants. Sometimes I go to bed listening to Gregorian chants. That’s it. I receive a lot of things here.

Because there is not much to do, I either sit to read a book or I sit and watch people talk. I argue alone with people, I disagree with them. Sometimes I get mad at people who say nonsensical things about me, and I am not there to say, “that’s not how that is,” you know?

That’s how I have been getting by. I go to bed at around midnight, one in the morning. I wake up every day at six-thirty, I make myself coffee – Quality coffee, really, really good. I don’t think anyone makes better coffee than I make.

And just so you know, this story of me getting married is true. I actually found my better half and she is helping me overcome this obstacle here.

I want you to know that I have learned, and I won’t let loneliness beat me. I will not let hatred beat me, I will not get dispirited, I will not get depressed. I don’t know the word depression. If I ever had it, I don’t know.

I’m a Corinthians fan [soccer team] and we went 23 years without winning a title. We lost to Santos [rival team] 15 years in a row. Pelé humiliated Corinthians. I went to watch the matches, and it was 3-0, 4-0.

So I don’t think I will fall into a state of depression. I am sure about it. You can tell everyone on the outside that I will leave here more mature, more sure of what I want to do, a better fighter than I have ever been. I am physically well. Obviously I know that nature is unrelenting, but I’ve decided that I will live until 120, so “Caetana” can’t come knocking on my door, because there is no room for her to come in [Caetana is a Great Reaper-like female character created by playwright and author Ariano Suassuna]. I still have a lot to do.

So this is who I am, this is the moment I’m living right now. So obviously, if you say that I dream about getting out, yes, I do. I think about where I’ll live. When I left office, I wanted to move back to the Northeast, I wanted to move back to my [home state] Pernambuco. I didn’t want to live by the beach, but somewhere where I could go to the beach.

I thought about moving to Bahia, Rio Grande do Norte [northeastern states], but Marisa [Lula’s deceased wife] didn’t want to go, because she was born in São Bernardo [southeastern Brazil], and her world was São Bernardo. Now I have nothing left to do in São Bernardo.

When I leave here, I want to do many things…I don’t know where I’ll go, but I want to move somewhere else. I want to live. I hope that the PT makes use of me, I hope I can work and be useful with the CUT, the landless workers, the LGBT people, all the quilombolas, women, I hope I can work with all sectors of Brazilian society so that I can make my life on Earth useful.

So, that’s it. I will leave here at peace. I am not going to say that I fulfilled my mission, but I will leave here at peace, as a citizen who is conscious about his role in History.

That is what you will take from here. I want you to tell everyone that I am well, and I’m willing to fight. I am aware that Moro can’t sleep with a clear conscience like I can. I am aware that Dallagnol needs to take sleeping pills, maybe controlled drugs, because he knows that he is a liar, he knows that he was a scumbag with my case. So here I am, as angry as they may be. I think they are angrier when they realize I am well. So, thank you. I want you to send my love to everyone. When I leave here, I hope we’ll have a good interview, and a barbecue.

My love to everyone out there.

Edition: Camila Maciel, Daniel Giovanaz, and Vivian Fernandes | Translated by Aline Scátola | English version reviewed by Zoe PC