Brazil’s highest court tears up constitution

The author is a Brazilian activist. 

Dias Toffoli, the President of Brazil’s highest court, along with his colleague Luiz Fux, have dispensed with any pretense of legality and trampled constitutional guarantees by barring interviews with former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ahead of the country’s Oct. 7 presidential election. The surreal battle played out among ministers of Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF), whose office is analogous to those of U.S. Supreme Court justices, reflects the dominant view within the Brazilian state and ruling class that an electoral victory for the Workers Party must be prevented at all cost. The same court voted to dismiss UN demands that Lula’s political rights be respected and that he be allowed to run in the elections.

Ricardo Lewandowski, one of the Supreme Federal Tribunal ministers, granted the media the right to interview Lula in prison the morning of Friday, Sept. 28. What should have been a non-controversial application of the law was rebutted within hours by Fux with an order not only prohibiting interviews with Lula, but censoring the publication of any such interview had they already occurred. When Lewandowski reasserted his original decision on Monday, Toffoli sided with Fux and said no interview will be conducted until the matter is heard before the plenary of the Tribunal — a matter Toffoli already said he will not schedule for a plenary hearing before the elections.

Lula, Brazil’s most popular politician who was nearly assured to win in October, is in jail and excluded from the elections following a political trial riddled with illegalities. A Workers Party victory would be a resounding rejection of the coup government that replaced Dilma Rousseff and of Brazil’s sharp turn to the right.

Brazilian jurists immediately condemned the censorship imposed by the STF. For one, Fux’s had no authority to overturn Lewandowski’s decision in the first place. Blocking the publication of the interview had it already occurred amounts to “prior censorship” which is strictly forbidden by law. Much more importantly, Fux and Toffoli rulings violate fundamental constitutional principles of freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

How could these ministers of the highest court, then, knowingly and confidently ignore such basic legal principles?

It’s simple. They are acting in lockstep with the rest of Brazil’s elites — stopping at all cost the return of the Workers Party to the presidency. They know that powerful sectors of Brazil’s corporate media and the political establishment are thankful for their services, and will not only turn a blind eye to these indiscretions but do whatever they can to grant legitimacy to their actions.

A whitewash of history

Adding insult to injury, on the same day he ruled for media censorship, Toffoli declared that he preferred to call Brazil’s 1964 military coup the “1964 movement.”

His remarks came at an event at the University of São Paulo commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Brazilian Constitution enacted after the end of military rule. Forty-seven people linked to the university were murdered by the dictatorship.

Toffoli’s remarks, abhorrent in any context, carry special weight ahead of the upcoming presidential elections. They normalize the fascist political current represented by presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro is an unapologetic admirer of the military coup and dictatorship, which he and his supporters fondly call the “Revolution of 1964.” He praised Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, who carried out the torture of political prisoners, including former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, on the floor of Brazil’s lower house of Congress as the political coup against Rousseff unfolded. Bolsonaro himself is a former army captain, and his vice-presidential candidate a hardline general.

Despite leading in first-round polls, Bolsonaro has by far the highest rejection rate of any candidate going into the runoffs. Throngs of Brazilians, led primarily by women, took to the streets in all 26 states and the capital on Sept. 29 against the misogyny, racism and bigotry of Bolsonaro’s campaign. The slogans and hashtags #EleNão (#NotHim) and #EleNunca (#NeverHim) have become emblematic of the opposition to his candidacy.

Fearing that Bolsonaro might not be able to secure a win in the runoffs, forces opposed to the Workers Party have been using every weapon at their disposal to prevent Fernando Haddad, who replaced Lula as presidential candidate, from making it past the first round on Oct. 7. Sham corruption charges without any corroborating evidence were brought against Haddad just one month before the elections.

Haddad’s support has grown dramatically, however, and all sides are preparing for a likely runoff between Bolsonaro and Haddad. In that scenario, Brazil’s ruling class and their corporate media will wholeheartedly throw their weight behind Bolsonaro without skipping a beat.

For progressive Brazilians, the elections will be a referendum against the anti-democratic camp that overthrew Rousseff and imprisoned Lula. It will be a referendum on “entreguismo” — the policies of turning over the country’s vast wealth to foreign investors, diligently executed by coup president Michel Temer. And it will be a chance to reassert the popular will over the machinations of a political, judicial, and media apparatus that has usurped the people from the right to choose their own leaders and their own path.

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