Brazil’s sprawling fraud and corruption scandal reached the doorstep of the country’s most prominent political figure this morning, when police raided the Sao Paolo home of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and took the former president in for questioning. Lula has been implicated, including by a senator from his own Workers’s Party, in a massive graft and vote-buying ring involving the state-owned oil company, Petrobas, and construction giants OAS and Odebrecht—as his hand-picked successor, President Dilma Rousseff.
A grassroots union organizer who became perhaps the most popular political leader in Brazilian history, Lula is a giant, not just within his country, but to Latin America’s New Left. Now, as he stares down the prospect of criminal charges, the rapid, socially minded economic growth he ushered in has given way to recession and, maybe soon, depression. Chavismo lost control over parliament in Venezuela’s most recent elections, and Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, tainted by a familial corruption scandal of her own, has seen her approval ratings tank. Just last week, Bolivian President Evo Morales was prevented from once again extending the constitutional term limit. And in Argentina, the new pro-business government has made cozying up to Wall Street and the International Monetary Fund its first order of business. These are perilous times for Lula, and for the movement he helped start.