Brazil’s Lula has chosen an Amazon defender as environment minister
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) —
Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced Thursday that Amazon activist Marina Silva will be the country’s next environment minister. The announcement says the new administration will prioritize fighting illegal logging in the forest, even if it means clashing with powerful agribusiness interests.
Both attended a recent United Nations climate conference in Egypt, where Lula promised packed crowds “zero deforestation” in the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, by 2030, a key to combating climate change. “If there will be no climate security. Amazon is not protected,” he said.
Silva told the Globo TV news network shortly after announcing that the ministry he will lead will be renamed the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.
Many agribusiness players and related lawmakers are unhappy with Silva. This follows Lula serving as environment minister for most of his previous presidency, from 2003 to 2010.
Lula also appointed indigenous woman Sonia Guajajara as Brazil’s first indigenous peoples minister and soybean farmer Carlos Favaro as agriculture minister.
Silva was born in the Amazon and worked as a rubber tapper as a teenager. As environment minister, he oversaw the creation of dozens of conservation zones and a sophisticated strategy against deforestation with major operations against environmental criminals and new satellite surveillance. He also helped design the largest international effort to protect the rainforest, the Amazon Foundation, which is largely supported by Norway. Deforestation has decreased dramatically.
But when Lula and Silva began serving farmers in their second term, they fell out, and Silva resigned in 2008.
Lula seems to have convinced him that he has changed tactics and joined his campaign after he accepted the protection offers.
Silva told reporters during his speech at the UN summit: “Brazil will restore the leading role it once had in climate and biodiversity issues.”
It would be a sharp turnaround in the policies of incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, who has pushed for development in the Amazon and resigned as environment minister after the national police began investigating whether he was aiding the export of illegally logged timber.
Bolsonaro froze the creation of protected areas, weakened environmental protection agencies and placed forest management under the control of the agriculture ministry. He is also a supporter of agribusiness, opposing the creation of protected areas such as indigenous territories and pushing for the legalization of land grabbing. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon reached a 15-year high in the year ending July 2021, although the destruction slowed slightly in the following 12 months.
In Egypt, Lula has vowed to prosecute all crimes in the forest, from illegal logging to mining. He also said he would urge rich countries to keep their pledges to developing countries to adapt to climate change. And he pledged to work with other countries with large rainforests — Congo and Indonesia — to coordinate negotiating positions on forest management and biodiversity conservation.
As environment minister, Silva will be responsible for implementing much of this agenda.
Silva is likely to face opposition from Congress next year, where the farm caucus will make up more than a third of the House and Senate.
Two lawmakers allied with Lula and from the country’s agriculture sector told The Associated Press before the announcement that they disagreed with Silva’s candidacy, citing a conflict over his previous term. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Others were more optimistic. Neri Geller, an agribusiness caucus lawmaker who acted as a bridge for Lula during the campaign, said things changed after Silva left in 2008.
“At the time, Marina Silva was perhaps a bit too extremist, but people in the agribusiness sector also had extremists,” he said, referring to strengthened environmental legislation. “I think he has matured and we have matured. We can make progress on important agenda items for the sector while protecting (the environment). »
Silva and Brazil are set to benefit from the revamped Amazon fund, which took a major hit in 2019 when Norway and Germany froze new transfers after Bolsonaro banned state governments and civil society from taking control. Norway’s embassy in Brazil welcomed Lula’s “clear signals” on fighting deforestation.
“We believe that once the Brazilian government restores the fund’s governance structure, the Amazon Fund can be opened quickly to support the government’s action plan,” the embassy said in a statement to the AP.
The rift between Lula and Marina in his last administration came as the president increasingly bowed to agribusiness amid China’s voracious demand for soybeans. Tensions rose within the administration when Blairo Maggi, the governor of Mato Grosso state, one of the world’s largest soybean producers, and others lobbied against some measures to combat deforestation.
Lula and Silva have also been at odds over the massive Belo Monte dam, a project that displaced some 40,000 people and drained parts of the Xingu River, where local and other communities depend on fish. Silva opposed the project; Lula said it was necessary to meet the country’s growing energy demand and, despite the plant’s impact and producing much lower installed capacity, he has not regretted it since.
After Silva resigned, he left Lula’s Workers’ Party and became a fierce critic of him and his successor, Dilma Rousseff. Silva and Lula did not begin to reconcile until this year’s presidential campaign, finding common ground in the defeat of Bolsonaro, whom they saw as an environmental scoundrel and supposed authoritarian.
Caetano Scannavino, coordinator of Health and Happiness, an Amazon nonprofit that supports sustainable projects, said Silva “became more than just a minister of the environment.”
“It’s important because the environmental challenges are bigger than they were two decades ago,” said Scannavino, citing rising criminal activity in the Amazon and growing pressure from agribusiness to export to China and Europe. “Silva’s success is also Brazil’s success in the world. He deserves all the support.
AP writer Carla Bridi contributed from Brazil and Diane Jeantet from Rio de Janeiro.
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Fabiano Maisonnave, Associated Press