Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva remains such a towering figure in Brazilian politics that even his absence casts a shadow.
When President Michel Temer last week inaugurated a long-awaited irrigation project in Monteiro, a dusty town in Brazil’s arid northeast, much of the praise from locals and visiting dignitaries went to Lula for launching the much-needed infrastructure over a decade ago.
“I thank God for the works,” said Joao Bezerra, a grizzled 51-year old farmer. “But I also thank the man who started it: Lula.”
The 71-year old former metal worker, trade union leader and two-time president retains the devotion of many Brazilians, particularly in the northeast. Despite a devastating corruption scandal, much of which originated on his watch, and the catastrophic unraveling of the economy under his hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, Lula is considering a comeback. Facing no fewer than five separate criminal charges against him – three linked to Operation Carwash – the left-wing leader is still the most popular in opinion polls only 18 months ahead of the next presidential race.
“Lula is a phenomenon and always will be,” said Andre Cesar, an independent political analyst. “But the ongoing accusations and investigations weigh on him a lot.”
Brazil’s political establishment is not counting him out quite yet. Aloysio Nunes, the foreign minister and leading member of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party – the PT’s traditional opponent, told Bloomberg that the former president clearly had a chance of returning to power.
“Lula is an idol,” he said. “He’s strong, popular.”
Tens of millions of Brazilians rose out of poverty on Lula’s watch and former U.S. President Barack Obama once called him the most popular politician on Earth. Not since the nationalist leader Getulio Vargas has a politician dominated Brazilian public life as has…