While many in the West lamented Jair Bolsonaro’s stunning ascension to the presidency of the world’s fifth most populous country in 2018, the election outcome was sealed roughly a year earlier. That was when Brazil’s two-term center-left president, Lula da Silva, who had been legally barred from a third consecutive term in 2010 despite an 86 percent approval rating—and who was leading in all the polls for a comeback in the 2018 presidential race—was convicted on dubious corruption charges and then declared ineligible to run. With his primary obstacle out of the way, Bolsonaro cruised to victory.
The stench of those events intensified greatly when Bolsonaro appointed the judge who’d found Lula guilty, Sergio Moro, to the newly enhanced position of minister of justice and public security. Even Moro’s closest allies in the sprawling anti-corruption probe known as Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato in Portuguese) were outraged by this blatant quid pro quo, which they realized would forever tarnish their legacy.