On April 7, former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva stood before thousands of supporters in the São Paulo suburb of São Bernardo do Campo and, in an emotional, hourlong speech, announced that he would be turning himself in to begin a 12-year prison sentence for corruption.
Tears flowed. The crowed called for him to resist. Nineteen hours before, Lula had defied an order to turn himself in. Many of the thousands there had spent the past two days at the ABC Metalworkers Union building, where Lula was staying, ready to defend him.
Lula’s words marked the end of an era. From his time as the head of the union movement in the 1970s, through the birth of the Workers’ Party in 1980, the fall of the dictatorship, and Lula’s rise to the presidency, he had been the defining leader of the Brazilian left. Now he was going to jail.
He told his supports that though he could be locked up, his ideas would live on and grow with them. That he would be transformed into millions.
“There is no point in thinking that I can be stopped,” he told the crowd. “I will not stop, because I’m not a human being, I’m an idea, an idea that is mixed with all of your ideas.”
He closed his speech with a nod to the next generation: 36-year-olds Manuela d’Ávila and Guilherme Boulos, the pre-presidential candidates for, respectively, the Brazilian Communist Party and the Socialism and Liberty Party, a group that was formed when it broke with the PT in 2004.
“I am Lula,” chanted the crowd in spontaneous eruptions that ignited throughout the day.
Nine hours later, Lula was on a helicopter, spinning toward the federal police headquarters in Curitiba.
Fireworks crackled. Cars honked. His opponents celebrated, while the police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets into a pro-Lula demonstration just outside the prison gates, in a not-so-subtle metaphor for the state of the country.
For the Brazilian right, Lula’s jailing was checkmate. Game over.
Or was it?
The day after Lula’s imprisonment, one bus arrived to within a few blocks of the prison where Lula was being held, then another, then 10 more. They came from across Paraná and the neighboring states, carrying hundreds of supporters. People filed off, bags and bedding in hand, guitars slung over shoulders. Red shirts. Chants on their lips. Fire in their eyes.
By the early afternoon, dozens of tents lined the grass along the roadsides there, in the middle-class residential neighborhood of Santa Candida. Residents kept their gates closed and their curtains drawn, trying to ignore the growing mass of people just outside, and the round-the-clock chants, cheers, music, and speeches.