In a remarkable comeback, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has just won Brazil’s presidential election, ending the rule of far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro whose rule has proven devastating for the Amazon rainforest, changing climate change and the indigenous peoples of the country.
Known as Lula, the left-wing politician and trade unionist previously served as president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010 and, following the results of this weekend’s election, will return to the post in 2023.
The victory was widely celebrated by environmentalists who are happy to see Bolsonaro’s back. During his controversial presidency, the far-right populist rolled back protections for the Amazon rainforest, opening it up to big business for mining, logging and infrastructure development. As a result, deforestation exploded under his administration.
Brazil’s promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions have not been kept under Bolsonaro and he has even threatened to pull the country out of the Paris Climate Accord.
In contrast, Lula ran on a platform to fight deforestation, subsidize sustainable agriculture and reform Brazil’s tax code as part of a green new deal. Analysis by Carbon Brief predicts that Lula’s presidency could lead to an 89% drop in deforestation in the Amazon over the next decade compared to a scenario where Bolsonaro retains power.
Lula also has the track record to back up his promises; his previous presidency saw significant reductions in deforestation rates.
“Greenpeace Brazil comes to the public to welcome the results of the polls,” the environmental NGO said in a statement. Tweeter.
“The challenges facing the elected government will require a deep reconstruction of everything that has been weakened in recent years by the current government,” added Greenpeace Brazil.
Bolsonaro’s tenure has also been marked by hostility towards the indigenous peoples of Brazil. The relaxation of protections on indigenous lands has seen communities increasingly come into conflict with loggers and illegal miners.
He has a long history of racially slurring Indigenous peoples, describing Indigenous reservations as “a hindrance to agribusiness” and calling for the forced “integration” of uncontacted tribes. He even boasted once that he would gladly eat the flesh of a native.
Lula has pledged to follow a completely different path from Bolsonaro when it comes to the rights of indigenous peoples and the protection of their lands.
“Lula’s victory in the Brazilian presidential election is a crucial moment for indigenous peoples and their lands,” said Sarah Shenker, head of human rights organization Survival Brazil, in a statement sent to IFLScience.
“We hope this will bring about a desperately needed change from the devastating and criminal onslaught of the past four years. It is a matter of life and death for Indigenous peoples across the country, and for the uncontacted tribes of ‘Amazon, this could be the difference between survival and complete destruction,’ she said.
“For the past four years, the indigenous peoples of Brazil have endured the most anti-indigenous government since the military dictatorship. Lula promised a change of direction. He is committed to defending indigenous rights, delimiting and protecting indigenous territories and ending the war waged against indigenous peoples by the Bolsonaro government.
It’s hard not to overstate the importance of the Amazon. The rainforest is sometimes called the “lungs of the planet” because of its ability to take in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. Acting as a colossal carbon sink, its health is an important indicator of the Earth’s broader environmental well-being.
However, in recent years the rainforest has moved closer to a grim tipping point, with significant parts of the world’s largest rainforest now emitting more carbon than it absorbs. Now that Bolsonaro is leaving government, there is hope that this vital ecosystem can get back on its feet.