Brazil has been struggling to combat COVID-19, with an official death toll now only surpassed by the U.S. Many say a crisis of leadership by right-wing populist President Jair Bolsonaro led to this moment. Former president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, or "Lula" — once convicted of corruption but now cleared to run for office again — spoke to Amna Nawaz about the country's COVID response.
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Brazil is one of the countries hardest-hit by COVID-19. Its official death toll is only surpassed by the U.S.
A crisis of leadership by the right-wing populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, many say, led to this moment, hospitals overrun, the dead unable to be buried in cemeteries overflowing.
Now a former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, or Lula, once convicted of corruption, and now cleared to run again for office, is back.
He spoke earlier today with our Amna Nawaz.
President Lula, welcome back to the "NewsHour." And thank you for making the time.
President Lula, since last we spoke almost exactly a year ago, of course, as you know, the pandemic has gotten much worse in Brazil, more than 425,000 people killed so far from the virus.
My understanding is, so far, about 47 million vaccine doses have already been distributed. We know, just this week, President Bolsonaro said a billion dollars of additional funds will go to the inoculation effort.
Given where you are right now, what would you be doing if you were in charge? What more would you be doing right now to address the pandemic in Brazil?
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (through translator): Amna, the problem of the pandemic in Brazil and in the U.S. when Trump was president of the United States, the pandemic was dealt with a lack of responsibility and a lot of contempt, as Trump, as Bolsonaro didn't have respect for the life of the people.
We did not discuss science. We did not create a protocol. We did not gather the experts. The scientists in Brazil were sinking with a president that lacked responsibility. And now he's trying to catch up to the losses and damage.
Given where the country is right now, what specific steps do you think should also be taking place right now? What more could be done to address the pandemic right now?
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (through translator): We have to guarantee all the facts that are necessary to vaccinate all the people in Brazil, to continue with the policy of social distancing, and to avoid big crowds as much as we can.
We have to create proper conditions for emergency aid to people, so those that are unemployed can still eat. And we have to guarantee a special credit, so that people could continue to work in their small and medium-sized businesses.
That is to say, we have to do what Biden did already in the U.S. in his last statement about the economy. We have to enhance our monetary base, so that we can give the proper conditions for survival to the Brazilian people.
President Lula, on the vaccine front, what more do you want to see from other world leaders like President Biden?
You gave a recent interview and said that everyone in the world is thinking for themselves right now. What other specific actions do you want to see from President Biden and other leaders when it comes to helping countries like Brazil?
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (through translator): All the world leaders should gather and meet in extraordinary session, either the G20, the G8, or at the U.N., to make a decision that they will break the patents of the vaccine, so that seven billion inhabitants of this world will have the right to take their vaccine.
And this is the first thing that I would urge world leaders. The second is that we need to start to discuss a new world governance. That is to say, it has already proved that, with the pandemic crisis as it came, the countries were not ready, and each tried to find an individual solution.
There's no individual way out of this crisis. We have to make decisions that will reach all the countries in the world.
There has been some comparison between the way President Biden, the U.S., other world leaders rushed to help India, which is also struggling mightily with the virus, and the way that there's been a much more muted response to helping Brazil.
Do you think that Brazil has been treated differently because Bolsonaro is in charge?
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (through translator): Well, why should I believe that the president was not incriminated himself? There's no other president criminalizing Brazil or discriminating against Brazil.
No, actually, what happened is that our president made the decision to become a rogue leader. He doesn't talk to anybody. No one wants to talk to him. We became a rogue country. So, Brazil isolated itself. No president ignored Brazil. I believe that the rich countries, those that participate in the G20, which Brazil is part of, the countries that participate in the G8, they have to take responsibility.
The richest countries in the world have to help the poorest countries in the world to get the vaccine.
President Lula, let me ask you about Bolsonaro and his time in office.
He will be up for reelection in the fall of 2022. A recent poll showing you and him in a head-to-head match had you ahead by well into double digits. You have not yet confirmed if you're running or not. And I wonder why you won't just confirm that you do plan to challenge him, when you're clearly looking to unseat him.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (through translator): Amna, last night, a public opinion poll came out that showed me winning. I get 20 percent more votes than he does at the public opinion poll.
But I can't be concerned with those polls now, because, in the moment, the pandemic is still a security issue in Brazil. And now we're coming to wintertime. And maybe we will get another wave. I hope we won't. I ask God that it won't come back again as strong.
But we have to take care of the people, not of elections. And when it comes time to discuss elections, we will discuss elections. And so that's why the pandemic is our main priority now.
But let me ask you this. What would keep you from running against him? What could happen between now and next fall? Do you think that there's a better candidate to challenge Bolsonaro?
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (through translator): What I can say to you, Amna, is that I was not the candidate in 2018 because they created a judicial farce.
There's no judicial case against me now. And so now I can run for the presidency. Now, if, in this moment, I make the decision that I will run, if my party, my allies agree that I would have 100 percent health, if I'm healthy 100 percent, then I could run, I could be a candidate.
But when October comes of next year, 2022, I will be one year younger than Joe Biden when he won the elections in the U.S. So I'm ready to be a candidate next year.
Let me ask you about that polarization, then, because this is how one analyst put your challenge ahead.
He said — quote — "Lula's current strategy appears not entirely unlike that of U.S. President Joe Biden, who projected himself as a centrist elder statesman to unite the country after a period of destructive polarization."
Do you see yourself in that role?
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (through translator): I was very humbled when I saw Joe Biden's statement about the economic plan that he has, that the amount of money he's going to invest for health care to help the poor people in the U.S.
And so I was very happy with Biden's speech, I was very happy with his announcement. I was very happy to know that his representatives for the Amazon rain forest came to discuss with the Brazilian people here.
And so, sincerely, I believe that Biden is doing a good job for the U.S. I believe that he has to open a little bit more, though, towards Latin America and South America, because U.S. presidents, they forget about Latin America. And in the past, they were much more concerned with Russia. And then they were much more concerned with the terrorists.
And now they're much more concerned with China. It's necessary to remind and record there are more people than China and Russia in the world, and that there's a lot of people that are not terrorists.
The U.S. has to learn that the good international policy is built on the basis of partnership. The U.S. has to be a partner of their allies to help. Oh, poor countries could grow. Economically speaking, the more the poor countries grow economically, the better they will be for the U.S., because the U.S. will grow, China will grow, Germany will grow.
It's necessary to share the wealth.
President Lula, as you mentioned, you are 75 years old. If you were to run for office next year, you would be 76. You have had several years in office already.
What would be your message to Brazilians who say that Brazil is now in need of a fresh start?
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (through translator): Amna, I was president already. And I have the awareness that, when I was in the presidency, we may have had the largest social inclusion policy that Brazil has ever had.
We lifted 36 million people from poverty. And we lifted another 40 million into the middle class. And we created 21 million jobs. We put millions of youth in public universities.
So, what can I say to the Brazilian people? That we're going to do more than we did in the past? We're going to do more, because, if I go back to rural Brazil, I cannot do less. And for that reason, we would like to go back to the presidency, so that we can re-democratize our country.
This is a little bit of what Biden will have to deal with in the U.S. He will have to destroy the hatreds that Trump developed, to destroy the hatreds that Bolsonaro created here in Brazil, and to build a new society based on love, humanity and based on peace.
That is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil.
President Lula, thank you very much for your time.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (through translator): Thank you, Amna, very much.
And let's hope to see you again in some other opportunity.