Manifesto of Academics and Public Intellectual to Free Lula

James N. Green

Dear H-PAD friends and associates:  We are forwarding this message from James N. Green, Professor of Latin American History at Brown University, so that you may take action on a human rights issue he is spearheading.  He is gathering signatures on a petition demanding the release from prison of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: Green, James <> Date: Sat, May 5, 2018 at 5:06 PM Subject: Manifesto of Academics and Public Intellectual to Free Lula

Dear Colleagues:

I´m gathering supporters for a manifesto/petition denouncing former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s imprisonment and demanding his release.  The text aims primarily at describing the arbitrary nature of the trial. On the whole, much of the coverage by the mainstream media worldwide has been one-sided.  Together, we can try to level the playing field a bit.  If you would like you to sign the statement, please send you name and university affiliation to:

Once we have a significant number of scholars and public intellectuals supporting the effort, we will be circulating it publicly for others to sign. ​ ​In addition to the Manifesto, which follows, I have attached:
(a) a book in which some of the best ​Brazilian jurists discuss and criticize Lula’s trial
(b) an op-ed by Immanuel Wallerstein about Lula’s imprisonment
(c) an op-ed at NYT by Mark Weisbrot (co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy)
(d) the transcript of his interview with Amy Goodman on DemocracyNow!

The show by DemocracyNow! can be found at this link.   A video by Noam Chomsky about Lula’s imprisonment can be found here.  [See other supporting documents.]

I hope you can join us.  Best,
​James​ N. Green


Lula da Silva is a Political Prisoner. Free Lula!

We hereby manifest our deep concern about the circumstances under which the former Brazilian president Lula da Silva was tried and imprisoned. There is abundant evidence that Lula da Silva was a victim of lawfare, that is, the abuse of judicial power for political purposes. Hence, the international community should consider and treat him as a political prisoner.

Lula’s trial was conducted as part of the so-called Operation Car Wash, an investigation of payment of procurement kickbacks to Petrobras officials and politicians, some of which took place while Lula was president. While critics claim that “Lula should have known” or “Lula must have gained something,” there is no evidence of his participation in the kickbacks. According to Brazilian laws and legal doctrines, corruption is a quid pro quo transaction. To convict Lula for corruption, the prosecution must prove that he participated in the procurement frauds and that he was compensated for such illicit acts.

In 2016, Lula was accused of receiving a rather modest apartment from OAS, one of the Petrobras contractors involved in the corruption scheme. However, no wiretapped conversations, bank transactions, transfer of funds or title deeds have ever substantiated the case against Lula. He never used or profited from the apartment. Worse still, it later emerged that the sameapartment had already been used as collateral by OAS in a long-term loan transaction when the accusation was made that Lula was the owner.

The lack of incriminating evidence was disregarded by the judge responsible for the case, Sergio Moro, who ruled against Lula. Moro based his decision on the “informal collaboration” (not even a formal plea bargain) that offered a substantial reduction of jail time if Lula’s codefendant pleaded guilty and produced incriminating evidence against Lula. The co-defendant was Mr. Leo Pinheiro, OAS’s owner. Pinheiro had already been sentenced to 26 years when he decided to “collaborate” and implicate Lula. He stated that the apartment was “meant to be given” to Lula, an accusation which contradicted 73 other depositions. But his statement was considered enough for Justice Moro to convict Lula da Silva. Pinheiro’s sentence, in turn, was reduced to three years, and he was released from prison during the day.

Besides failing to prove Lula’s ownership of the apartment, the Prosecution could not point to any specific action or omission that Lula would have undertaken to benefit OAS. Lula had been accused of benefiting the co-defendant with three procurement contracts with Petrobras. After months of investigations, no material proof was found. Moro then convicted Lula for performing “indeterminable acts of corruption” that benefited OAS. This categorization shifts the burden of proof and the presumption of innocence and does not exist in the Brazilian legal system.

Inadvertently, Judge Moro himself admitted that he lacked jurisdiction over Lula’s case. When deciding a motion filed by the defense, he declared that he had “never affirmed, not would be required to prove, that the money used to build the apartment allegedly given to Lula originated from contracts between OAS and Petrobras.” If the case has no relationship with the Petrobras corruption, it should not be reviewed by Moro.

Simply put, Lula’s trial is one where a judge arbitrarily chooses his defendant and, acting as a prosecutor himself, accuses him of having committed “indeterminable acts of corruption,” which by definition are impossible to defend against.

The lawfare against Lula also included tactics to keep his case under Moro’s purview at all costs. In March 2016, Moro leaked illegally obtained wiretaps of the sitting president, Dilma Rousseff, regarding Lula’s appointment as Chief of Staff in her administration. He claimed, again without proof, that this appointment was meant to “obstruct justice,” since once appointed to the administration Lula would be judged by the Supreme Court and not by Moro himself. Moro’s impartiality was questioned, but the Court of Appeals ruled that the Operation Car Wash was “exceptional” and that “ordinary rules don’t apply.”

The Kafkian nature of Lula’s trial was reinforced when, in August 2017, the president of the same Court of Appeals declared that Moro’s sentence against Lula was “technically irreproachable” while admitting that he hadn’t even read the case. Meanwhile, his chief of staff posted a petition requesting Lula da Silva’s imprisonment on her Facebook page.

The Court of Appeals rushed Lula’s case to trial. His appeal was put ahead of some 257 other cases that were pending judgment. The Judge reviewing the report took only six days in a case docket with thousands of pages and hours of depositions. The panel needed 196 days to decide the appeal, while, on average, it takes 473 days for similar cases. It also ordered Lula’s immediate arrest. Only 3 of the other 20 Car Wash defendants whose appeals were denied were sent to jail, and this happened only months after the denials.

Lula petitioned the Supreme Court, requesting a habeas corpus against his immediate imprisonment because he still had the right to file appeals. According to the Brazilian Constitution, “no one can be deemed guilty until his or her last appeal has been decided.”

In a tie-breaker vote denying the habeas corpus, a Justice declared that she would vote otherwise if the Court were to discuss the rule in general, instead of as applied to Lula’s case. The day before the vote, the Army’s Chief Commander tweeted out a message to the court, saying that “the army will not tolerate impunity.” For this thinly veiled threat, he got not a reprimand, but a “like” from the Twitter account of the very same Court of Appeals that had confirmed Lula’s conviction.

The following morning, the Judge presiding over the Court of Appeals predicted that Lula’s detention could not occur in less than a month’s time, given all the legal proceedings still pending before his Court. In the afternoon, however, the Court of Appeals requested Moro to order the arrest. It took Moro nineteen minutes to issue a decision that acknowledged that Lula still had the legal right to have a motion heard by the Court of Appeals, while declaring that this right to appeal was a “procrastinating pathology” that should be “wiped out from Brazilian laws.”

It should come as no surprise that a recent poll showed that 55% of the Brazilian respondents agree that “Lula is being persecuted by the Judiciary,” and 73% agree with the statement that “the powerful want him out of the elections,” in which he still is the favorite candidate by far.

The abuses of judicial power over Lula da Silva are thinly disguised political persecution under a legal cover. Lula da Silva is a political prisoner. His detention tarnishes the Brazilian democracy. The supporters of democracy and social justice in East and West, in the North and the Global South, should join in a worldwide movement to demand Lula da Silva’s release.

We demand Free Lula, Lula Libre, Liberté por Lula, Kostenlos Lula, Lula Libero, لولا الحرة, 释放卢拉, 룰라 석방하라!, חינם לולה, 無料のルーラ, Свободу Луле, Lula Livre!

Initial signators:

  • Fred Block, University of California, Davis
  • Robert Brenner, Center for Social Theory and Comparative History, University of California Los Angeles
  • Michael Burawoy, University of California, Berkeley
  • Sidney Chalhoub, Professor of History and African and African American Studies, Harvard University
  • Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • Angela Davis, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Peter Evans, University of California, Berkeley and Brown University
  • Stanley A. Gacek, Senior Advisor for Global Strategies, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) – Washington, D.C. USA
  • James N. Green, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Professor of Latin American History, Brown University
  • Karl Klare, George J. & Kathleen Waters Matthews Distinguished University Professor, School of Law, Northeastern University
  • Mara Loveman, Director of the Sociology Department, University of California, Berkeley
  • Marjorie Mayo, Emeritus Professor, Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Pedro Meira Monteiro, Professor and Chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, Princeton University
  • Keisha-Khan Perry, Associate Professor of Africana Studies, Brown University
  • Paul O’Connell, Associate Dean for Research (Law and Social Sciences), SOAS, University of London
  • Frances Fox Piven, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology Emeriti, Graduate School of the City University of New York.
  • Ananya Roy, Professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Geography and inaugural Director of The Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin
  • Barbara Weinstein, Silver Professor of History and chair of the Department of History at New York University, former president of the American Historical Association
  • Suzi Weissman, Saint Mary’s College
  • Howard Winant, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Tukufu Zuberi, Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, University of Pennsylvania

If you wish to sign this manifesto, please send your name and university affiliation to: