Hope is in short supply in Brazil. The country is struggling to recover from the worst recession in its history and more than 12 million Brazilians are unemployed. Violent crime is on the rise. A slew of scandals is sending an endless parade of politicians to prison for corruption. The latest major figure to fall in the ongoing anti-corruption purge is Brazil’s beloved former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, an economic populist who helped lift millions of Brazilians out of poverty. Today, three judges at one of Brazil’s Federal Regional Tribunals in the city of Porto Alegre, ruled on whether Lula is guilty of crimes of corruption and money laundering, after he received a beachfront apartment plus $1.1 million-worth of improvements from a construction company in exchange for helping the company obtain contracts from the state-owned oil company Petrobras. Lula’s lawyers tried to convince the judges that there wasn't enough evidence to send him to prison for 12 years. But that wasn’t enough, and the court unanimously upheld the conviction. Lula’s conviction signals that no one, not even Brazil’s most popular president, is above the law.
Today’s news is also likely to further erode whatever remaining trust Brazilians feel for their country’s political elite. In a recent survey by Ipsos, 94 percent of Brazilians said they don’t feel represented by their politicians. José Maria de Souza Junior, an international relations professor at Rio Branco University in Sao Paulo, said Brazilians are facing a moral crisis. “When the economy is doing badly, when there are no jobs, we respond to that … We are very sensitive,” he said.