Brazil’s new president is working to reverse deforestation in the Amazon

Written by Fabiano Mesonaff and Diane Giantet

January 22, 2023 GMT

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rocking a traditional rattlesnake, Brazil’s new chief of indigenous affairs recently walked every corner of the agency’s headquarters — even the coffee room — as she sought help from her ancestors during purification rituals.

The ritual had additional meaning for Guinia Wapishana, the first Brazilian indigenous woman to lead the agency charged with protecting the Amazon rainforest and its people. Once she is sworn in next month under new President Luis Inácio da Silva, Wabichana promises to clean house at an agency that critics say has allowed the exploitation of Amazon resources. at the expense of the environment.

As the Wapishana ritual was performed, the natives and government officials excitedly chanted “Yohoo! Funai is ours!”—a reference to the agency she would lead.

Environmentalists, indigenous people and voters sympathetic to their causes were important to Lula’s narrow victory over former President Jair Bolsonaro. Now Lula seeks to fulfill his electoral pledges He presented them with a wide range of issues, from expanding Aboriginal lands to stopping the illegal upsurge in deforestation.

To achieve these goals, Lula is appointing well-known environmentalists and indigenous people to key positions at Funai and other agencies that Bolsonaro has filled with allies in agribusiness and military officers.

In Lula’s two previous terms as president, he had a mixed record on environmental and indigenous issues. He is sure to face hurdles from state governors loyal to Bolsonaro who still control swathes of the Amazon. But experts say Lula is taking the right first steps.

Federal officials Lula has already appointed to key positions “have the national and international prestige to reverse all the environmental devastation we have suffered during these four years of the Bolsonaro government,” said Jorge Porto Ferreira, an analyst at Ibama, Brazil’s environmental law. Enforcement agency.

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro’s supporters fear that Lula’s promise of stronger environmental protection could hurt the economy by reducing the amount of land open for development, penalizing people for activities that were previously permitted. Some supporters linked to the agribusiness have been accused of providing financial and logistical assistance to the rioters who earlier this month stormed the presidential palace in Brazil.Congress and the Supreme Court.

When Bolsonaro was president, he displaced Funay and the other agencies responsible for environmental stewardship. This has increased deforestation to the highest level since 2006as the developers and miners who took the land from the indigenous people faced few consequences.

Between 2019 and 2022, the number of fines for illegal activities in the Amazon decreased by 38% compared to the previous four years, according to an analysis of Brazilian government data by the Climate Observatory, a network of nonprofit environmental groups.

The decision to bring back Marina Silva was one of the strongest signs yet of Lula’s intentions to reverse these trends To lead the country’s Ministry of Environment. Silva previously held the position between 2003 and 2008, a period when deforestation fell by 53%. Silva, a former rubber collector from Acre State, resigned after clashing with government and agribusiness leaders over environmental policies it deemed too lenient.

Silva contrasts sharply with Bolsonaro’s first environment minister, Ricardo Sales, who never set foot in the Amazon when he took office in 2019 and resigned two years later after allegations he facilitated the export of illegally harvested timber.

Other actions Lula has taken to support the Amazon and its people include:

– Signing a decree that will renew the most important international rainforest conservation effort – the Amazon Fund. The fund, which has decimated Bolsonaro, has received more than $1.2 billion, mostly from Norway, to help pay for sustainable development of the Amazon.

– Repeal of Bolsonaro’s decree that allowed mining in indigenous areas and environmental protection.

Create a Ministry of Indigenous Peoples that will oversee everything from land borders to education. This ministry will be led by Sonia Guajarathe country’s first indigenous woman in such a high government position.

“It will not be easy to overcome 504 years in just four years. It will not be easy to overcome 504 years,” Guajara said during the induction ceremony, which was delayed due to damage to the presidential palace by pro-Bolsonaro rioters.

The Amazon rainforest, which covers an area twice the size of India, acts as a buffer against climate change by absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide. But Bolsonaro viewed the management of the Amazon as a domestic affair, causing damage to Brazil’s global reputation. Lola attempts to undo this damage.

During the United Nations Climate Summit in Egypt in November, Lula pledged to end all deforestation by 2030 and announced his country’s intention to host the COP30 climate conference in 2025. Brazil was scheduled to host the event in 2019, but Bolsonaro canceled it in 2018 correctly. After being elected.

While Lula has ambitious environmental goals, the fight to protect the Amazon faces complex obstacles. For example, getting cooperation from local officials will not be easy.

Six out of the nine Amazon states are run by Bolsonaro allies. These include Rondonia, where settlers of European descent control local power and dismantle environmental legislation through the State Council; and Acre, where a lack of economic opportunity is driving rubber collectors who have long struggled to conserve the rainforest to graze cattle instead.

The Amazon region has also suffered from decades of illegal gold mining, which employs tens of thousands of people in Brazil and other countries, such as Peru and Venezuela. Illegal mining contaminates rivers with mercury, which indigenous people depend on for fishing and drinking.

“The main reason for it is the absence of the state,” says Gustavo Geyser, a federal police forensic expert who has worked in the Amazon for more than 15 years.

One area where Lula has more control is the designation of indigenous territories, which are the best preserved regions of the Amazon.

Lula is under pressure to create 13 new indigenous territories — a process that has stalled under Bolsonaro, who made good on his promise not to give “one more inch” of land to indigenous peoples.

The main step will be to expand the size of Uneiuxi, part of one of the most remote and culturally diverse regions in the world that is home to 23 people. The process of expanding Uneiuxi’s borders began four decades ago, and the only remaining step is the presidential signature, which will increase its size by 37% to 551,000 hectares (2,100 sq mi).

“Lola has already indicated that he would have no problem doing it,” said Kleber Karipona, a close aide to Guajajara.

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