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Hear what Brazil's Lula da Silva has to say about Bolsonaro
03:19 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

He’s 74, fresh out of jail and spending his time in quarantine due to the coronavirus – but former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva remains a political force in the country he led for two terms.

A hero to the left, the former President has watched as Covid-19 cut a trail of death across Brazil, decimating an already struggling economy. And he lays the blame squarely at the feet of the current office holder, President Jair Bolsonaro.

Speaking to CNN via webcam from his home outside São Paolo, Lula as he’s known to all, said Bolsonaro deserves to be impeached for what he considers an “irresponsible” and “negligent” handling of not just the coronavirus crisis, but also the country’s economic collapse.

“[Bolsonaro] has committed many crimes of irresponsibility and I think he already deserves to be punished for that,” Lula said, describing the right-wing firebrand leader as the worst in Brazil’s history.

Bolsonaro’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Lula was released from jail in November after serving 18 months of a reduced sentence of eight years and 10 months for corruption and money laundering, charges which he has denied and is appealing.

During the 2018 presidential election, he led polls – until the electoral court blocked his candidacy because of his conviction, clearing the path for Bolsonaro.

‘Crisis of irresponsibility’

Lula’s fiery discourse echoes his years as President from 2003 to 2010, when the populist politician could mobilize massive crowds.

He led the country through an economic boom, helping to grow Brazil from 15th in 2003, into the world’s sixth-largest economy by 2012, after he left office. He also implemented social policies that significantly reduced inequality and lifted more than 29 million people out of poverty, according to the World Bank.

Over the past five years, the pace of improvement has “stagnated,” according to the World Bank, and Brazil is now ranked 9th in terms of the size of the economy.

Lula lamented the economic deterioration, and said coronavirus has made things even worse. “Brazil is living through a deep health crisis, a deep economic crisis and is living through a crisis of irresponsibility on the part of the President of the Republic,” he said.

According to Johns Hopkins University, Brazil has reported more than 500,000 cases of the coronavirus, second only to the US, and the death toll is close to 30,000, ranking it fourth in the world. For the former President, a large part of the problem was Brazil’s late response to the pandemic.

“Neither the President nor the Ministry of Health, initially, saw the coronavirus as being serious,” he said. “Brazil could’ve gone into lockdown sooner, Brazil could’ve prepared masks earlier, Brazil could’ve passed laws beforehand.”

Despite the rising toll, Bolsonaro has downplayed the risk of the virus, joined anti-lockdown rallies and clashed with governors over reopening the economy.

“The governors became enemies, the mayors became enemies, all of those that defend that Brazil treat this pandemic responsibly, are considered enemies of the President,” Lula said, praising local leaders of all parties for their work.

The crisis has eroded support for Bolsonaro, according to recent Datafolha opinion polls, with as many as 46 percent of Brazilians supporting his impeachment.

The country’s political opposition is not yet unified enough to put impeachment in motion, Lula says, but he believes it’s only a matter of time. “Today there are 35 impeachment requests in the national congress,” he said. “[At some point] the speaker will have to choose one project to put to a vote.”

Speaking from his home in São Bernardo, Lula hinted that his political career was over, even if he won the appeal against his conviction – though he did not rule out the possibility of running again. Asked if he would launch a campaign in 2022, he said that he would be 77 by then.

“I will be content with supporting a candidate,” he said.