With Brazil Ex-President’s Fate in Balance, Army Chief Weighs In
BOA VISTA, Brazil — On the eve of a fateful court ruling that could determine whether a former president of Brazil continues a comeback bid or goes to prison, the army chief made a rare incursion into politics Tuesday night, saying that the armed forces “repudiated impunity.”
The former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is considered the front-runner in Brazil’s presidential election later this year, despite his conviction on corruption charges. The country’s highest court is expected to decide on Wednesday whether a lower court can send him to prison while he appeals the conviction, which would end his campaign.
In two posts on Twitter on Tuesday night, Gen. Eduardo Villas Bôas declared that the army was “heedful of its institutional missions,” and that the military “repudiates impunity, respects the Constitution, social peace and democracy.” The messages were retweeted more than 10,000 times and liked by more than 20,000 in just three hours.
The remarks heightened tensions and sparked accusations that Brazil’s military, which has been largely silent on political debates since democracy was restored in 1985, was signaling how it wanted the country’s top court to rule on an enormously polarizing issue.
Critics viewed the comments as undue pressure, or even a veiled threat of military intervention if the Supreme Federal Tribunal were to allow Mr. da Silva to avoid imprisonment, even temporarily, and continue his bid for a third term in office.
He has a significant lead in polls ahead of the October election.
Rodrigo Janot, the former attorney general, responded on Twitter: “This definitely isn’t good. If it is what it seems, another 1964 would be unacceptable,” he said, referring to the coup that ushered in a two-decade military dictatorship in Brazil.
But many, including other military leaders, tweeted their support. “We’re in the trenches together!!! We think alike!!! Brazil above all!!!” wrote Gen. Antonio Miotto.
President Michel Temer did not react to the controversial comments.
Passions have flared as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the fate of Mr. da Silva, a towering political figure who was once the most popular leader in Brazil but now bitterly divides opinions. If the court rules against him, the federal judge who presided over his trial is expected to issue an arrest warrant for Mr. da Silva as early as Thursday.
Mr. da Silva was found guilty last year of taking bribes, in the form of improvements to an oceanfront apartment, in return for steering contracts to a construction company. An appeals court upheld the verdict in January.
His supporters say the case against him is nothing more than political persecution, and have vowed to take to the streets if the court rules he can be sent to jail while he fights to overturn his conviction.
But thousands of Mr. da Silva’s critics demonstrated Tuesday night in favor of sending him to prison, demanding that justices uphold their 2016 ruling that allows trial judges to jail defendants after a first appeal has been rejected. More than 5,000 prosecutors and judges have signed a petition supporting that position.
For many, there is more at stake than Mr. da Silva’s legal and political future. The court’s decision will have broad implications for Brazil’s justice system and the scores of politicians and businessmen engulfed in the massive corruption investigation known as Carwash.
In an editorial published in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper Wednesday morning, Prosecutor General Raquel Dodge said allowing defendants to remain free after repeated appeals were rejected was an “exaggeration that annihilates the justice system because then justice is delayed, and for this, it fails.”
Ernesto Londoño reported from Boa Vista, and Shasta Darlington from São Paulo.