PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil — A day before a panel of judges could decide his political survival, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva railed against his adversaries Tuesday night and proclaimed to tens of thousands of supporters that he would stay in Brazilian politics to the end of his life.
On Wednesday, three judges in the southern city of Porto Alegre are to decide whether last year’s corruption and money laundering conviction should stand against the embattled left-leaning politician who is leading in the polls for the October presidential election. A ruling against da Silva could bar him from running.
The former union leader who governed Brazil in 2003-2010 flew to Porto Alegre just to address the gathering of supporters.
“Only one thing will take me out of the streets of this country, and that will be the day that I die,” da Silva told the crowd. “Until then I will be fighting for a fairer society. Whatever is the result of this trial, I will keep fighting for the dignity of the people of this country.”
After the rally, da Silva returned to his hometown of Sao Bernardo do Campo, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo.
Elsewhere in Brazil, including major cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, activists both in favor and against da Silva took to the streets, though in moderate numbers. Bigger crowds were expected for Wednesday, with the court hearing being televised on cable TV.
Da Silva did not talk about prosecutors’ accusation that he was the secret owner of a beachfront apartment in the city of Guaruja, in Sao Paulo state, in exchange for favors to construction company OAS. His defense says he never owned the apartment, had a key to it or slept there.
Earlier Tuesday his lawyers asked the court not to arrest da Silva until his case is heard by higher courts. Judge Sergio Moro convicted the former president and sentenced him to 9½ years in prison, but the chairman of the Porto Alegre court already said da Silva will not go to jail Wednesday regardless of the result of the hearing.
The most aggressive speech at the rally was delivered by Joao Pedro Stedile, leader of Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement.
“We will not allow them to arrest Lula whatever is the result,” Stedile said, using the name Brazilians commonly call da Silva. “Do not worry with what will happen tomorrow. It is them (the judges) that will be on trial. Our activists and the left-wing parties will not allow Lula to be arrested. Lula, keep cool: Before they arrest you they will have to arrest all of us.”
Politicians of other left-leaning parties also took the stage to defend da Silva and said he should be allowed to run for president.
The final day to register candidates in Brazil’s electoral court is Aug. 15, and a legal battle is expected if da Silva should be barred from the race.
Earlier in an interview with The Associated Press at her home in Porto Alegre, former President Dilma Rousseff said she believes support for the candidacy of her mentor will grow regardless of how the judges rule.
“This is not a mere trial. It is part of the process that started with my illegal impeachment in 2016. Our adversaries could use Congress to show me out. But they couldn’t use it on Lula because he was not holding office. So they are using the judiciary,” Rousseff said. “What they didn’t expect was to see that the more people know about the case, the more Lula’s approval grows and his rejection rate falls.”
Speaking to journalists at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Brazilian President Michel Temer said da Silva’s case shows that “institutions are functioning” in Brazil. The conservative Temer’s popularity is in the single digits and many analysts believe da Silva’s popularity picked up due to corruption allegations against the current president.