With Brazil’s Lula, fall some of our dreams about men of great principle

with president lula jpeg

With the then President Lula in London

with president lulawith president lulaIt was hard not to feel sad reading Michael Reid’s Bello column on Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in The Economist. I have worked with Michael – when he was looking after the Americas desk in London – and always admired his writing and perspective.

The inaugural Bello column, a couple of years ago, was a thing of beauty.

This one on Lula was enough to make one weep. For one’s dreams. Having interviewed Lula in London at a time he could do no wrong, it is painful to think of this great progressive pragmatist laid low by something so ephemeral as “the good things of life”.

As Bello points out, “Lula is far from the first working-class hero to enjoy the good things in life.” Namely, alleged gifts from construction companies involved in the Petrobras bribery scandal. As also concealing ownership of a beachside apartment. All of these are rejected by Lula. He swears he is an honest man.

But (and I say this with no joy), just days ago, I was chatting to a Brazilian ambassador in a place I don’t think it’s fair to name and he quietly agreed that it didn’t look good for Lula to be so desperate to take the position of chief of staff in the government of his embattled successor Dilma Rousseff.

Remember, Braziian law says that cabinet members can only be tried by the Supreme Court. Lula’s appointment appeared to suggest an unseemly scramble to stay out of reach of the law.

Who knows?

Lula, it’s fair to say, was long my hero. As Bello reminds us, he was the reason for big increases in the minimum wage and in social programmes. Coupled with a commodity boom, 30 million people were lifted out of poverty in the eight years that Lula was in office.

“He’s my man,” President Barack Obama once said. He’s my man, most Brazilians said. Now, the shattering of the dream.