LATIN AMERICA

Thousands protest in Brazil over phone call between Rousseff and Lula

Judge in charge of the Petrobras corruption probe releases audio involving discussion of a ministerial post for the embattled former leader

Marchers demonstratiing in Brasilia.
Marchers demonstratiing in Brasilia.Fernando Bizerra Jr. / EFE

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Impeachment now.” A giant green and yellow sign bearing these words returned to São Paulo’s central thoroughfare, Avenida Paulista, where thousands marched against the government on Wednesday.

That is just three days after Brazil witnessed the largest demonstrations in the country’s democratic history to demand an end to corruption, the resignation of President Dilma Rousseff, and prison for former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Lula da Silva’s defense is accusing investigators of causing “a social upheaval” in Brazil

Late on Wednesday, thousands of Brazilians went back to the streets to protest Lula da Silva’s appointment as minister of the Civil House, similar to a chief of staff.

This move, which grants the former leader of the Workers’ Party immunity from the lower courts, is widely believed to be motivated by criminal charges filed against Lula da Silva in connection with Lava Jato (Car Wash), a major probe into corruption at the state oil company Petrobras.

The phone call

Raquel Seco

The conversation between Dilma Rousseff and Lula da Silva took place at 1.30pm on Wednesday, local time, Afonso Benites reports. Just 20 minutes later, the executive officially announced that Lula would become the cabinet’s new chief of staff.

The Brazilian program Globonews provided a transcript of the conversation:

Dilma Rousseff. Hi

Lula da Silva. Hi

D. R. Lula, let me tell you something.

L. S. Tell me, my dear.

D. R. The following. I am sending Bessias along with the piece of paper so we'll have it. Use it only in case of need. It's the [ministerial] appointment, OK?

L. S. Ah. Fine, fine.

D. R. That's all. You just wait, it's on its way.

L. S. Fine, I'm here, I'm waiting.

D. R. All right?

L. S. That's fine.

D. R. Ciao.

L. S. Ciao, my dear.

Demonstrators, who were already angry at the country’s prolonged political and economic crisis, were further incensed by revelations of a tapped telephone conversation between President Rousseff and Lula da Silva, in which the former tells her political mentor that he will soon be receiving a copy of his appointment for him to sign “in case of need.”

Investigators see this as evidence that the president was trying to help out her party colleague in the event that Judge Sérgio Moro, who is overseeing the massive Petrobras investigation, should order prison for Lula da Silva. Under Brazilian laws, Cabinet members can only be tried by the Federal Supreme Court.

But the government says that the document was sent just in case Lula da Silva could not be present at the swearing-in ceremony for the new ministers, scheduled for Thursday morning in Brasilia.

The decision to air the conversation represents a major offensive against the government by investigators in the Lava Jato case, most particularly by Judge Sérgio Moro, who has become a national symbol of the fight against corruption.

It is also a sign that the political war in Brazil has just gone up a notch.

Now, Lula da Silva’s defense is accusing investigators of causing “a social upheaval” in Brazil by releasing the tapped conversations.

English version by Susana Urra.