From Cambodia to Brazil and Argentina and back to Bangkok gave Pepe Escobar insights into the disastrous course his native land is taking.
We were just beginning to hit cruising speed in our wide-ranging, 2 hour and 10 minute world exclusive interview with former President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in his prison at the Federal Police building in Curitiba, in southern Brazil.
And then it hit us hard when he told us: “The US was very much afraid when I discussed a new currency and Obama called me, telling me, ‘Are you trying to create a new currency, a new euro?’ I said, ‘No, I’m just trying to get rid of the U.S. dollar. I’m just trying not to be dependent.’”
It was the foundation stone of what would build into a complex, rolling Hybrid War coup, from NSA spying on the Brazilian government and leading national companies, to the Car Wash corruption investigation (now demolished as a monster racket) to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, the imprisonment of Lula, and the emergence of the Purveyor of Chaos, Jair Bolsonaro.
My journey started in Cambodia. I had spent hours wandering around Beng Mealea, the jungle squeezing the stony repose of the Angkorian ruins, meditating on the rise and fall of empires. The message popped up on my phone in the dead of night: the request for an interview with Lula, placed five months ago, had been approved. How soon could I get to Sao Paulo?
From Southeast Asia to South America, via Qatar, to Sao Paulo late the following afternoon. As we landed in the city the sky was literally black. Later I found out why: the mini-Apocalypse Now was a direct consequence of the wild fires in the lower Amazon.
The author greets Lula in prison. (Felipe L. Gonçalves/Brasil247)
Surveying the World From a Tiny Cell
The next day the three of us (two other journalists) flew to operation Car Wash’s HQ, mockingly referred to by Brazilians as the Curitiba Republic. Our first Uber driver in Curitiba, a city of 1.8 million people, was a Muay Thai specialist cum underground homicide detective. Yes, he had killed people on the job.
Early in the evening, the day before the interview was scheduled, the Brazilian Feds suddenly started deploying stalling tactics. One of Lula’s lawyers, Manuel Caetano, engineered a silky counterpunch, with a twist: the interviews’ approval could go back to the Supreme Court again, and they would reconfirm the green light. The Feds relented.
That evening, we visited the Free Lula Vigil outside the Federal Police building. It has been going on uninterrupted for over 500 days, since April 7, 2018, the day Lula arrived in the prison. The vigil, impeccably managed, has everything from a library to a soup kitchen to an education center. Everyday, hundreds, sometimes thousands of militants and wanderers from all over the nation gather to sing “Good Morning, President Lula”, “Good Afternoon, President Lula”, and “Good Evening, President Lula”. And he listens through the tiny window in his cell that is barely open.
The extra day in this improbable, austere place impersonating an American Midwest city, proud of its green credentials and peopled with Polish and Ukrainian offspring, allowed us to devise a careful division of labor. We were representing the website/You Tube, channel Brasil 247, and in my case Asia Times and Consortium News. Mauro Lopes of Brasil 247 would concentrate on Lula, the man, and how the prison experience had changed him. Paulo Moreira Leite would focus on Brazilian politics. And I would hit on geopolitics and international relations.