The candidacy of the new president to protect the Amazon will face obstacles

RIO DE JANEIRO – In a victory speech on Sunday, Brazil’s President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva promised to reverse the trend of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

“We will again monitor and do monitoring in the Amazon. We will fight all illegal activities,” leftist da Silva said in his speech at a hotel in downtown Sao Paulo. “At the same time, we will promote the sustainable development of communities in the Amazon.”

To achieve this in his third term, he will have to strengthen environmental law enforcement, deal with a hostile Congress and deal with state governors who have close ties to defeated far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

If he is serious, the work will be immense. The area deforested in the Brazilian Amazon reached a 15-year high from August 2020 to July 2021, according to official figures. Satellite monitoring shows that the trend in 2022 is on track to surpass the previous year.

On the ground, the main challenge will be to rebuild the environmental agencies and the indigenous office of Brazil. Da Silva also promised to create an indigenous-led Ministry of Indigenous Affairs.

Under Bolsonaro, these have been led by people close to the agribusiness sector, who have long pushed for the legalization of land plunder and oppose the creation of protected areas such as indigenous territories.

In 2023, the agribusiness sector, which backed Bolsonaro’s failed re-election bid, will control about half of Congress. In recent years, the caucus has introduced bills to loosen environmental legislation.

At the state level, six out of nine Amazon governors are allies of Bolsonaro, most with close ties to agribusiness. One of them, Marcos Rocha, from the state of Rondonia, was re-elected two days after making a high-profile bid to boost his anti-environmental credentials by removing protection from a protected land about twice the size of two New York cities.

Da Silva must use his support at the polls to promote his environmental agenda, according to Caetano Scannavino, coordinator of Health & Happiness, an Amazon nonprofit that supports sustainable projects in the Tapajos Basin.

“Most Brazilians have expressed their opposition to deforestation and the violation of indigenous rights,” Scannavino told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “Da Silva needs to seize on this clamor and bring together academics, non-profit organizations and the more responsible sector of agribusiness. What is at stake is to make the environment a state policy, independent of the left or from the right.

On the international front, da Silva’s promises to preserve the world’s largest rainforest have already found supporters. The Norwegian government has indicated that it will resume multimillion-dollar performance-based donations to fund anti-deforestation policies.

“Norway looks forward to revitalizing its extensive climate and forestry partnership with Brazil,” Climate and Environment Minister Espen Barth Eide wrote on his Twitter account.

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