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Brazil's Lula holds funeral for late wife as public politicizes her death

As former Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva held a vigil for his late wife, the Brazilian public took to the internet to fiercely debate her image and legacy. Marisa Leticia died on Friday at the age of 66.

Like her husband, Leticia began her political career was a veteran labor activist. She went on to help Lula found the Worker's Party and became one of Latin America's most popular leftist leaders.

As president from 2003 to 2011, Lula oversaw and widely took credit for Brazil's rapid economic expansion, thanks namely to a worldwide commodities boom. Although Lula left office with sky-high approval ratings, his legacy has since been tarnished.

The country fell into economic recession under his handpicked successor, Dilma Rouseff. Then, the Petrobas scandal, an embezzlement scheme involving Brazil's state oil company, rocked the country's political system, ensnaring Lula and his wife. 

Leticia died on Friday in Sao Paulo at the age of 66. She had been hospitalized since January 24 after suffering a stroke. 

Lula held the vigil at the headquarters of the Metalworkers' Union headquarters in a Sao Paulo suburb where the two met some 40 years ago. Leftist party staff and hundreds of supporters came to pay their final respects.

Brazil's current president, Michel Temer, personally expressed his condolences to the family on Friday and declared three days of mourning for the former first lady.

A country deeply polarized

While Leticia's passing prompted an outpouring of grief, her involvement in the scandal led her death to become politicized. On the left, there have been several suggestions that the scandal and prosecution had been so fierce, they ultimately took their toll on the former first lady's health.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that [federal prosecutors led by judge Sergio Moro] killed Dona Marisa," leftist senator Lindbergh Farias said. "She was the victim of enormous persecution and couldn't take it."

People have been quick to defend Moro and decry those blaming the judge for Leticia's death. 

However, detractors have hit back at the Left's accusations that prosecution was responsible for Leticia's death. One user took to Twitter, writing: "Don't know who is worse, those who celebrate Dona Marisa's death or those who blame Moro for it."

Others have accused Lula of capitalizing on his wife's death in a bid to run again for president. One detractor wrote: "To politicize a personal tragedy, like the death of your wife, we see it around here, in the world of people that think themselves above good and evil."

Lula has expressed an interest in running for the presidency again in 2018 and opinion polls have made him a leader in the race, despite facing corruption charges. 

dm/sms (AFP, AP)