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Lula’s Dance with Dictators

Brazil's president has enjoyed much international goodwill since returning to the presidency, but only because his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, was so thuggish and anti-democratic. Sadly, now Lula is consorting with tyrants who make even the awful Bolsonaro look good.

LONDON – When a right-wing politician with authoritarian leanings (think Donald Trump) courts a genocidal dictator like Vladimir Putin, we recoil in distaste but are not surprised. But when a former human-rights advocate and working-class hero backs dictators guilty of abominable butchery, shock is followed by abhorrence. That is how I feel watching Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, embrace Putin and Venezuelan tyrant Nicolás Maduro. Lula’s is a moral failure of appalling proportions.

Start with his love-in with Maduro, which is less well-known globally. At a regional summit in late May, progressive activists gasped when Lula claimed that human-rights violations and anti-democratic practices in Venezuela are just a “narrative construction.” This in a country where, according to Human Rights Watch, “police and military units have killed and tortured with impunity in low-income communities,” and “authorities harass and persecute journalists, human-rights defenders, and civil society organizations.”

When other Latin American leaders protested, Lula moved from the political to the personal. Recall that Lula was tried and convicted for corruption, and went to jail under a 12-year sentence until his conviction was annulled by the Supreme Court in a decision that, according to the Financial Times, “remains controversial.” The accusations against Maduro, Lula blurted out, were “like the lies against me, which no one managed to prove.”

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