Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian politician known as Lula, scored a hard-fought victory in national elections Sunday, raising hopes for an end to runaway deforestation and violent repression of Indigenous communities in the four years since former army captain Jair Bolsonaro took office.
“Brazil chooses democracy and defeats fascism, but rebuilding the socio-environmental agenda is an obstacle race that starts now and will need a stern hand from Lula,” Brazil’s Observatório do Clima headlined in a triumphant election night post.
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“With more than 99% of the votes tallied in the runoff vote, Lula had 50.9% and Bolsonaro 49.1%, and the election authority said Lula’s victory was a mathematical certainty,” The Associated Press reports. Bolsonaro, aka “Capitão Motoserra” (Captain Chainsaw), had not yet conceded the election last night, AP writes. But congratulations had already begun pouring in from the United States and the European Union, with U.S. President Joe Biden acknowledging the country’s “free, fair, and credible elections.”
“The victory completes a stunning political revival for Mr. da Silva—from the presidency to prison and back—that had once seemed unthinkable,” the New York Times writes. “It also ends Mr. Bolsonaro’s turbulent time as the region’s most powerful leader. For years, he attracted global attention for policies that accelerated the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and exacerbated the pandemic, which left nearly 700,000 dead in Brazil, while also becoming a major international figure of the far right for his brash attacks on the left, the media, and Brazil’s democratic institutions.”
Lula’s inauguration is set for January 1.
“Though exposed to four years of manipulation and disinformation, Brazilian society decided to sweep the far right from power, along with its politics of death, impoverishment, and environmental destruction,” the Observatório said.
And while “it’s time to celebrate the resilience of the democratic system, which passed its biggest stress test,” the release added, “the socio-environmental and climate agenda is one of the places where Lula will need to act fast and firmly. Stopping the slaughter of Indigenous peoples and the devastation of the Amazon will require countering powerful gangs and, very often, the interests of allies and supporters in local governments and the Parliament. Expelling criminals from Indigenous lands and reversing runaway deforestation are urgent measures, and necessary to recover the Brazilian government’s credibility before its own people and the international community.”
The rate of deforestation declined markedly bracketing Lula’s first two terms as president, between 2003 and 2010, but reached new peaks under Bolsonaro. Forest destruction in January, 2022, increased five-fold compared to the same month just a year earlier. “The new data yet again exposes how the government’s actions contradict its greenwashing campaigns,” Cristiane Mazzetti of Greenpeace Brazil told BBC at the time.
The Observatório says the era of destruction isn’t over just yet.
“In the next three months, the developments in the plenary halls of Congress will be as important as what happens on the ground in the forest,” the release states. “The alliance between the crumbling regime and ruralismo, enshrined in Parliament, will continue even after the current president is gone. Until the end of this year, they will try to tear down both the trees and the laws. The new government must immediately start to use the political power it conquered at the ballots to prevent representatives and senators from approving the bombshells they have in their hands.”
During the election campaign, Lula said his party would push for a rainforest protection alliance between Brazil, Congo, and Indonesia if it formed the next government. But the Observatório said it would be watching for stronger domestic policies, as well. In his previous presidency, Lula “gave in to oil and gas and predatory infrastructure in the Amazon,” the organization states. In this round, he’ll need to “engage in a new development model that sees the climate crisis and Brazilian environmental heritage as opportunities to leverage economic growth and reduce inequalities.”