RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Waving a traditional rattle, Brazil’s incoming chief of indigenous affairs recently roamed the nooks and crannies of the agency’s headquarters, calling on ancestors for help during ritual cleansing. So is the coffee room.
The ceremony held special significance for Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous woman in Brazil to lead the agency protecting the Amazon rainforest and its people. When she takes office next month under newly inaugurated President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, Huapichana has allowed the country to exploit the Amazon’s resources at the expense of the environment, the agency said, critics say. I promise to clean your house.
As Wapichana conducts the ceremony, indigenous peoples and government officials enthusiastically shout “Yoohoo! Funai is ours!” — a reference to the agency she leads.
Environmentalists, indigenous peoples, and voters sympathetic to their cause were important to Lula’s narrow victory over former president Jair Bolsonaro. Now Lula is trying to deliver on campaign promises on a wide range of issues, from expanding indigenous territories to stopping the surge in illegal deforestation.
To carry out these goals, Lula appoints well-known environmentalists and indigenous peoples to key positions in Funai and other agencies that Bolsonaro filled with agribusiness and military officer allies. .
In Lula’s previous two terms as president, he had a mixed record on environmental and indigenous issues. And it is certain to face obstruction from the pro-Bolsonaro governor, who still controls the Amazon swath. But experts say Lula is taking the right steps.
George Porto Ferreira, an analyst at Brazil’s environmental law Ibama, said the senior federal official Lula had already nominated for a key post was “a domestic effort to reverse all the environmental destruction suffered in the last four years of the Bolsonaro regime.” and has international prestige.” – Enforcement bodies.
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro supporters say Lula’s promise of stronger environmental protection hurts the economy by reducing the amount of land open for development and punishes people for previously permitted activities. Some supporters with ties to agribusiness have been accused of providing financial and material aid to mobs that stormed Brazil’s presidential palace, parliament and Supreme Court earlier this month.
When Bolsonaro was president, he blamed Funai and other agencies in charge of environmental monitoring. It soared to its highest level since 2010.
The Climate Observatory, a network of environmental nonprofits, analyzed data from the Brazilian government and found that between 2019 and 2022, the number of fines imposed for illegal activities in the Amazon was more than the previous four years. 38% less compared to
One of the strongest signs yet of Lula’s intentions to reverse these trends was his decision to bring back Marina Silva to head the country’s environment ministry. Silva previously had this job from 2003, when he saw deforestation decrease by 53% to 2008. A former rubber cutter from Acre County, Silva resigned after clashing with government and agribusiness leaders over environmental policies she deemed too liberal.
Silva stands in stark contrast to Bolsonaro’s first environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who had never set foot in the Amazon when he took office in 2019 and was illegally logged. He resigned two years after receiving allegations that he had facilitated the export of timber.
Other steps Lula has taken to help Amazon and its people include:
— Sign legislation to activate the Amazon Fund, the most important international effort to protect the rainforest. The Bolsonaro-destroyed fund has received more than $1.2 billion, mostly from Norway, to support sustainable development in the Amazon.
— Repeals Bolsonaro’s decree permitting mining in indigenous and ecologically protected areas.
— Create a Ministry of Indigenous Peoples to oversee everything from land boundaries to education. The ministry will be headed by Sonia Guajajara, the country’s first indigenous woman to hold such a senior post.
“It’s not easy to cross 504 years in just four years. But we hope to use this moment to promote the recovery of Brazil’s mental strength,” Guajajara said at the inauguration.
The Amazon rainforest, twice the size of India, acts as a buffer against climate change by absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide. But Bolsonaro sees control of the Amazon as an internal affair, which has taken a toll on Brazil’s global reputation. Lula is trying to undo the damage.
At the UN climate summit in Egypt in November, Lula pledged to end all deforestation by 2030 and announced his intention to host the COP30 climate conference in 2025. Brazil had planned to host the event in 2019, but Bolsonaro canceled it in 2018. after he was elected.
Lula has ambitious environmental goals, but her fight to protect the Amazon faces complex hurdles. For example, it is not easy to obtain the cooperation of local governments.
Six of the Amazon’s nine states are run by Bolsonaro’s allies. They include Rondonia, where European settlers controlled local powers and dismantled environmental laws through state legislatures. In Acre, where economic opportunities are scarce, rubber extractors who have long fought to protect the rainforest are turning to cattle grazing instead.
For decades, the Amazon has been plagued by illegal gold mining that employs tens of thousands of people in countries such as Brazil, Peru and Venezuela. Illegal mining causes mercury contamination of rivers that indigenous people rely on for fishing and drinking water.
“The main reason for that is the absence of states,” says Gustavo Geiser, a federal police forensics expert who has worked for Amazon for more than 15 years.
One area where Lula has more control is to designate indigenous territories, the best-preserved areas of the Amazon.
Lula is under pressure to create 13 new indigenous territories. The process had stalled under Bolsonaro, who kept his promise not to give indigenous peoples “another inch” of land.
A major step is to scale up Uneiuxi, one of the world’s most remote and culturally diverse regions, home to 23 people. The process of expanding Uneiuxi’s boundaries began 40 years ago and the only remaining step is the president’s signature, increasing its size by 37% to make him 551,000 hectares (2,100 square miles).
Guajajara aide Kleber Kalipuna said: “Lula has already shown that there is nothing wrong with doing that.
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