Editor’s Note: Tune in Thursday at 3 p.m. ET to watch Christiane Amanpour’s full exclusive interview with former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is calling on US President Joe Biden to ensure vaccine equity, in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
Speaking from Sao Paulo, Brazil, da Silva said the US has a surplus of vaccines and suggested the excess could be donated to countries in need.
“One suggestion that I would like to make to President Biden through your program is: it’s very important to call a G20 meeting urgently,” da Silva told Amanpour. “It’s important to call the main leaders of the world and put around the table just one thing, one issue. Vaccine, vaccine and vaccine!”
He added, “The responsibility to international leaders is tremendous so I’m asking President Biden to do that because I can’t … I don’t believe in my government. And so, I couldn’t ask for that for Trump, but Biden is a breath for democracy in the world.”
In da Silva’s first interview since a Supreme Court justice annulled his 2017 convictions of corruption and money laundering last week, the former leader also said he would not decline an invitation to run in the country’s presidential election next year.
“When it comes the moment to run for the elections, and if my party and the other allied parties understand that I could be the candidate, and if I’m well and my health with the energy and power that I have today, I can reassure you that I will not deny that invitation, but I don’t want to talk about that. That’s not my main priority. My main priority now is to save this country,” da Silva said.
The South American nation has been setting record daily virus deaths repeatedly in recent days as another brutal wave of Covid-19 sweeps the country. The resurgence has overwhelmed medics fighting on the pandemic’s frontline with an increasing number of hospitals across the country reaching capacity.
On Tuesday, Brazilian Health Ministry research institution Oswaldo Cruz Foundation called the current emergency in the country “the greatest health and hospital collapse in the history of Brazil.”
Da Silva, 75, was convicted on corruption and money laundering charges three years ago stemming from a wide-ranging investigation into the state-run oil company Petrobras, dubbed “Operation Car Wash.”
But in a surprise move last Monday, a Brazilian Supreme Court judge annulled his convictions and ordered that the cases be processed again at the Federal Court of Brasilia. If the ruling is upheld – and if Lula is not re-convicted before the candidacy filing deadline – he would technically be able to stand for office again and challenge current President Jair Bolsonaro in 2022 .
Political clash on the horizon?
Da Silva, who helped found the left-wing Workers Party, has largely refused to be drawn on running for office, saying last Wednesday that he “doesn’t have time to think about candidacy in 2022.”
However, the former President – better known as Lula – has launched a scathing attack on Bolsonaro, telling Brazilians last week not to “follow any stupid decision by the President and the Minister of Health” and urging people to get vaccinated. He also condemned the current administration’s handling of the pandemic, saying many deaths from the virus “could have been avoided.”
“If we had a president who respected the population, he would have created a crisis committee to guide the Brazilian society on what to do every week,” the ex-president added.
Bolsonaro defended his handling of the healthcare crisis in the face of da Silva’s remarks, telling CNN Brasil last week that his government empowered local officials and arguing that imposing lockdown measures – which he has refused to do – would only “lead the citizen to a situation of poverty.”
Bolsonaro has previously said he hoped Brazil’s Supreme Court would restore da Silva’s convictions, and accused his predecessor of 2022 ambitions. “Former President Lula is now starting his campaign. Because he has nothing good to show and this is the [Workers Party] rule, their campaign is based on criticizing, lying and misinforming,” he said.
While the elections are still 18 months away, Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak will likely play into voter’s sentiments. Bolsonaro’s disapproval ratings reached their highest level to date at 54%, according to the Datafolha polling institute’s latest survey results issued on Wednesday.
Brazil has the second-highest numbers of Covid-19 in the world with 11,603,535 cases and 282,127 coronavirus-related deaths as of Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Hospitals are swamped with cases across the country. The latest analysis from CNN shows that ICU occupancy rates in 25 out of Brazil’s 26 states plus its federal district are at or above 80%. Of those, 14 states have ICU occupancy rates at or above 90% which puts them at imminent risk of collapse.
On Tuesday, the governor of Brazil’s second most populous state, Minas Gerais, said the health system simply could not support new patients.
“I don’t want Minas Gerais to become a horror movie,” Romeu Zema said in a press conference to announce the implementation of the “purple phase” across the state, the most restrictive of the Minas Gerais plan to handle the pandemic.
“Any new infected (person) can mean one more death because the state does not have the capacity to take in new patients,” said Zema.
Bolsonaro’s crisis management under fire
Since the beginning of Brazil’s vaccination campaign on January 17, the country has administered more than 12.5 million vaccine doses across its population of over 211 million. More than 9 million people have received at least one dose while just over 3 million people have been given a second dose, according to the latest data from the country’s health ministry.
As the country’s coronavirus spread outpaces its vaccination rollout, criticism is mounting. According to the same Datafolha institute’s poll, which interviewed 2,023 people by telephone on March 15 and 16, 54% of Brazilians found Bolsonaro´s performance bad or awful – up from 48% in late January.
The poll report also said 43% of Brazilians blame Bolsonaro while 20% blame their state governors for the current state of the pandemic in Brazil.
Regarding Bolsonaro´s presidency, 44% of those polled think it is bad or awful, four points higher than in the last poll, and the highest since he took office in January of 2019. Thirty percent of the respondents judge Bolsonaro´s rule as good or great and another 26% see it as regular.
Bolsonaro this week appointed a new health minister – the fourth in a year – as ICU and mortality rates skyrocketed. The new minister, cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga, replaces army general Eduardo Pazuello, but there is little sign of any change in the administration’s approach to the crisis.
On Tuesday, Queiroga in an interview with CNN Brasil echoed the President in saying that lockdowns only apply in “extreme situations” and would not be imposed by the federal government.
Journalists Rodrigo Pedroso and Marcia Reverdosa contributed to this report from Sao Paulo, Brazil. CNN’s Caitlin Hu also contributed from New York, Matt Rivers from Rio De Janeiro and Vasco Cotovio from London. CNN’s Lauren Said-Moorhouse wrote from London.