On the evening of Sunday 30 October 2022, Brazil’s President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva delivered a speech following his narrow victory over incumbent and Liberal Party candidate Jair Bolsonaro. The leader of the Workers’ Party had already announced the creation of a ministry in charge of the Indigenous question, but he sought to go further as he spoke to the Brazilian people. These are some of his speech’s most relevant issues.
Lula said Brazil is ready to resume its leading role “in the fight against the climate crisis,” especially in “the Amazon rainforest.” He pointed out that his governments had been able to “reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 80 per cent,” “cutting the emission of gases that cause global warming.” The PT leader emphasised that they will now “fight for zero deforestation” of the Amazon, as Brazil and the whole planet need “a living Amazon.” A strong message that the president-elect illustrated clearly: “A standing tree is worth more than tons of illegally extracted timber for those who only want easy profit at the expense of the deterioration of life on Earth.”
At that point, the winning candidate took an interesting turn of engagement with Indigenous peoples: “When an Indigenous child dies at the hands of environmental predators, a part of humanity dies too.” The president-elect vowed to resume monitoring and surveillance of the Amazon and to fight illegal activities such as mining, logging, or irregular agricultural exploitation, as well as to promote the sustainable development of the communities living in the Amazon region. Lula took that commitment to the international arena, where he vindicated Brazil’s leadership on the issue —without renouncing the country’s sovereignty— in open partnership with foreign cooperation.
The new president’s commitment to the environment and Indigenous communities seems unquestionable, since in his speech he stated that his government will seek “environmental pacification” and that he is “not interested in a war for the environment”, but that they will be ready to “protect it from any threat.” This was a declaration of intent, with the world’s spotlight on Sao Paulo during the election night. Days later, such intention began to take shape with the confirmation of the president-elect’s attendance at COP27 in Egypt in November.
Nature and communities
Lula da Silva seeks a comprehensive approach to the defence of nature and Indigenous communities, as both go hand in hand. The Bolsonaro government stood out by allowing irregular activities in the Amazon rainforest and impunity for crimes against Indigenous communities. In fact, the incumbent stated when he was a member of the Brazilian Congress (2017) that Afro-descendants “are good for nothing,” “not even to procreate.”
To monitor the impact of Brazilian official policies on the lives of Indigenous communities, the Conselho Indigenista Misionário (CIMI) publishes an annual report on violence against. The document enjoys the support from the Norwegian embassy in Brasilia.
According to CIMI’s report for 2021, that year was marked by deepened and intensified violations of the rights of Indigenous peoples in Brazil. There were more land invasions, attacks against Indigenous communities and leaders, and an overall aggression against the constitutional rights of Indigenous peoples. The outgoing government stopped the demarcation of Indigenous lands previously approved by PT governments, which amounted to a policy of structural violence against those communities. Data are compelling: the CIMI recorded 226 invasions of Indigenous lands in 2021, up from 109 cases recorded in 2018. The destruction of the Amazon has also moved forward during the Bolsonaro era, with the annual rate of deforestation as calculated by INPE rising from 7,500 km² to 13,000 km² —a 73% increase.
What can be expected from the Workers’ Party-led upcoming government? The measures they promoted during their governments (2002-2016) should be looked at. The first ones in that area were taken by Marina Silva at the head of the Ministry of the Environment, notably the 2004 creation of the Action Plan for the Control of Deforestation in the Amazon. The plan led to a 73% reduction in the devastation of the rainforest in 2010. As a result, the lowest historical rate of Amazon deforestation was recorded in 2012 during Dilma Rousseff’s term, 4,600 km².
The last Indigenous census in Brazil, carried out by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) in 2010, also dates back to the PT governments. While the census scheduled for 2022 is being carried out, it can stated that 896,917 Indigenous people live in Brazil, of whom 572,083 dwell in rural areas and 324,834 in urban areas. More importantly, Indigenous populations exist in all the states of the Brazilian federation.
Political representation of Indigenous peoples
Brazil’s diverse Indigenous peoples have gained a historical political representation in this election. In the past, only two MPs had clearly introduced themselves as Indigenous: pioneer Mário Juruna (PDT, member of the Chamber of Deputies for Rio de Janeiro from 1982 to 1986) and first ever female Indigenous MP Joênia Wapichana (REDE, during the last term). Wapichana, elected for the state of Roraima, has now failed to be re-elected, but as many as 5 Indigenous people have won federal office in 2022. Among them, PT member Paulo Guedes, who despite having served as MP for Minas Gerais since 2019, has only recently registered and declared himself as Indigenous. Another exceptional case is that of newly elected MP for Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party Silvia Waiãpi, an Indigenous and military officer elected for the state of Amapá. However, most of the Indigenous people elected support Lula da Silva, such as Célia Xakriabá (PSOL, Minas Gerais) and Juliana Cardoso (PT, Sao Paulo). The best-known exponent of the rise of Indigenous relevance in Brazilian politics is Sônia Guajajara, former candidate for vice-president of Brazil along Guilherme Boulos in 2018 who was recently chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of 2022. This imprint, the result of her activism and involvement in PSOL —one of the PT’s allied parties—, has won her a seat in the federal chamber for Sao Paulo.
Guajajara welcomed Lula’s decision to promote the creation of a ministry for Indigenous peoples, but she made it clear that many other measures will be needed. The federal MP believes Indigenous peoples should take part in the setting up of cultural, educational, and health policies, as well as in the Ministry of the Environment. In fact, before the election, she was asked whether she would accept the post of Minister for Indigenous Peoples, to what she replied that Indigenous people can best contribute to the general interest by putting their experience in caring for biodiversity at the service of the country as a whole. The Indigenous ministry, according to the PSOL’s eco-socialist MP, is not enough in itself. Other Indigenous leaders have voiced the same view, regarding Lula’s victory “a relief” that does not necessarily imply “the salvation of the Amazon.”
Lula’s challenge is enormous, both in terms of respect for Indigenous communities and for the protection of the environment —two closely linked issues, as we have seen. The most paradigmatic example of such a complex scenario is that of the town of São Félix do Araguaia (Mato Grosso), where Jair Bolsonaro obtained 60.99% of the votes, to only 39.01% for Lula. The data is relevant as it is in this municipality that Catalan prelate and advocate in support of Indigenous peoples Pere Casaldàliga lived, and it is in this region that he and his team managed to ensure that the Tapirapé, Karajá, and Xavante peoples were able to recover their land, with more than 15,000 families being able to work it to survive. That is a painful example, given its implications, but a very powerful one.
Bolsonaro leaves an appalling legacy. Lula, on the other hand, said in his victory speech: “Vamos provar mais uma vez que é possível gerar riqueza sem destruir o meio ambiente.” “Generating wealth without destroying the environment” —and I would add, with the participation of the Indigenous peoples.