Focus: Mr Bolsonaro ‘good fight’, growing concerns over Amazon deforestation | Reuters

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Brazil’s federal police chief Alexandre Saraiva was demoted last year after leading the country’s largest crackdown on illegal logging in the Amazon. He wanted to protect the country’s rainforests in the political arena, so he ran for the House of Representatives.

The elections are seen internationally as an important opportunity to stop the rapid destruction of the Amazon rainforest and to curb climate change, the destruction of nature and the disappearance of wildlife. A Bolsonaro supporter holds the flag in Brasilia, Brazil, June 2, 2022. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

But Saraiba and three environment officials seeking seats in Thursday’s legislative elections were all defeated. Several of the winning candidates have ties to President Bolsonaro’s government and have been criticized by activists for hijacking environmental policies.

“My conclusion is that the Brazilian people don’t really care about the Amazon,” Saraiva said. During the campaign, the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate said it was his “civic duty” to stop deforestation, which has exploded under Bolsonaro’s far-right government.

In the presidential election, former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva won 48.4% of the vote, while incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro won 43.2%, posting a better performance than polls predicted. .

A second round between the two best candidates is scheduled for October 30. Lula pledged to increase environmental protection while promoting economic development in the Amazon region, while Bolsonaro advocated the expansion of commercial agriculture and mining development in protected areas.

The election is seen internationally as an important opportunity to stop the rapid destruction of the Amazon rainforest and curb climate change, nature destruction and wildlife loss.

Bolsonaro’s ruling Liberal Party (PL) was the biggest winner in the parliamentary elections by 513 seats, winning 99 seats. Lula’s Labor Party (PT) won 68 seats.

Even more surprisingly, Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party won 13 of the 27 seats vying for re-election to the federal Senate. Lula’s Labor Party won only nine seats.

Among the winners are Bolsonaro vice-president Hamilton Mourao and five ministers, including former agriculture minister Teresa Cristina.

Many of these winners support Mr. Bolsonaro’s policies that have led to increased deforestation in the Amazon, agricultural expansion and resource extraction.

Carlos Minck, who served as environment minister in Lula’s government from 2008 to 2010, would have a strong position if Bolsonaro were re-elected, and could pass legislation that failed in his first term.

“Bolsonaro is the environment’s greatest enemy,” said Mink, who ran for the Socialist Party and won re-election to parliament in Rio de Janeiro.

While the Bolsonaro government has allowed the large-scale expansion of farms, ranches and mines in the Amazon and other natural forest areas of Brazil, Bolsonaro himself has repeatedly justified his environmental policies.

Mink said he was surprised by the landslide victory of liberal candidate Ricardo Salles, who previously served as environment minister under Bolsonaro.

Salles was elected to the House of Representatives, but his vote count was about half that of former presidential candidate Marina Silva, who ran in the constituency of Brazil’s Sustainable Network Party (REDE). ) in São Paulo and was elected to the House of Representatives. was three times as many.

Silva, an Amazonian-born environmentalist, served as environment minister in Lula’s government from 2003 to 2008. Deforestation in the Amazon has nearly halved during that time.

Since Bolsonaro took office, deforestation in the Amazon has reached its highest level in 15 years, with 7,135 square kilometers cleared between January and August this year, according to government satellite data. This is an increase of 19% compared to the same period last year.

In 2020, Salles was criticized by international environmentalists for recommending governments ease environmental restrictions as the public focused on the pandemic.

Salles resigned from the cabinet in June 2021 after being investigated for obstructing a police investigation into illegal logging in the Amazon.

According to José Niemeyer, a political analyst who studies international relations at Ivumec University in Rio de Janeiro, the big win boosts Salles’ chances of securing a seat on the congressional environment committee. He can even become chairman of the committee.

This committee is responsible for determining what environmental legislation is put to Congress for a vote.

“Sales will have a lot of power,” Niemeyer said.

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Political pundits, however, say the president ultimately controls environmental policy. The president has the power to approve or reject laws passed by Congress.

In his manifesto, Mr. Lula has a “net zero” deforestation policy. In the final presidential debate before the election on Sunday, Mr Lula pledged to ban illegal small-scale mining and reclaim degraded ranches for agriculture instead of opening new ones.

During his presidency, Mr. Bolsonaro kept his election promise not to approve new indigenous territories. He also introduced a bill to legalize mining development in these areas. He also supports a bill to expand the conversion of illegally occupied public land into private ownership.

Bolsonaro said in his re-election bid that he would strike a balance between “environmental protection and sustainable and fair economic growth for all.”

The former president is known for his superior negotiating skills, while environmentalists say Congress may resist any environmental policies he might propose if elected, and argue he can win centrists to his side, including members of the Liberal Party who value pragmatism.

Few candidates were elected to Congress for environmental protection reasons. But Brenda Britto, a research associate at the Amazon Institute for Humans and the Environment (Imazon), a nonprofit that tracks deforestation, said environmental lawmakers like Silva are highly skilled and have a beneficial impact.

Political analysts said the left fought hard in Wednesday’s parliamentary election as center and center-right parties lost seats to Mr Bolsonaro’s far-right party.

Politically to the left of Lula’s Labor Party, the Liberal Socialist Party (PSOL) won four seats to a record 12 seats.

The PSOL has been the most vocal critic of Bolsonaro’s environmental policies.

Among the PSOL laureates are indigenous women Sonia Guajajala and Celia Zakriava. Joenia Wapichana, the only indigenous person in Congress before her election, was not re-elected.

“There are 150 bills in Congress that are negative in terms of indigenous rights,” said Krebel Caripuna, executive coordinator of the Brazilian Association of Indigenous Peoples (APIB), which represents much of the 900,000 indigenous people living in the country. Brazil. this,” he said.

“Our fight is to derail these anti-indigenous bills,” Kalipuna said.

Pundits and polls say Lula is likely to win, but Saraiba said Bolsonaro cannot be ruled out.

“Lula will probably win, but I don’t think it’s an absolute certainty. The far-right candidate’s big victory in the legislative elections will give momentum to Bolsonaro’s campaign,” Saraiba said.

A victory for Bolsonaro would mean the end of the Brazilian Amazon, Saraiva said. “This regime is clearly complicit in deforestation,” he added.

(Reporters by Fabio Teixeira and Andre Cabette Fabio, translated by Eacleren)

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