Tensions Rise as Brazil Awaits Ruling on Former President’s Fate

Tensions are rising across Brazil as it waits for the nation’s top court to decide whether former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva can remain free while he appeals a corruption conviction. 

Da Silva is considered the front-runner in the presidential elections set for October, despite his conviction. If the court decides da Silva should start his 12-year prison sentence, it would end his presidential bid and upend the campaign.

Da Silva was found guilty last year of taking bribes, in the form of major renovations on an oceanfront apartment, in return for steering contracts to a construction company. An appeals court upheld the verdict in January.

An army commander’s tweet Tuesday heightened the tension when he appeared to subtly support da Silva’s incarceration.

“In Brazil’s current situation, it’s worth asking our institutions and the people, ‘Who is really thinking about what is best for the country and future generations, and who is only worried about their personal interests?’ ” General Eduardo Villas Boas tweeted. Many interpreted the comment as a form of pressure on the 11 justices on the Supreme Federal Tribunal and a veiled threat of intervention.

But in a statement to O Globo, one of the country’s leading dailies, General Joaquim Silva e Luna, the defense minister, said that Boas’ intention was to assure people that force would not be used. 

If the high court rules against da Silva, the federal judge who presided over his trial is expected to issue an arrest warrant as early as Thursday.

Authorities in several cities are bracing for demonstrations for and against the ex-president.