Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s presidential election victory in Brazil has spurred renewed hope for the future of the world’s largest rainforest, as the left-wing leader pledged to combat the climate crisis and reverse some of his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro’s policies.
Shortly after being declared the winner on Sunday evening, Da Silva, better known as Lula, said “Brazil is ready to resume its leading role in the fight against the climate crisis,” especially by protecting the Amazon rainforest.
“In our government, we were able to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent. Now, let’s fight for zero deforestation,” Lula, who previously served as president from 2003 to 2010, wrote on Twitter.
Brazil’s president-elect had campaigned on a promise to protect the Amazon, which is critical to the global fight against climate change and has seen years of increased destruction under Bolsonaro’s administration.
The far-right former army captain had pushed for more mining and other development projects in the Amazon, saying they would stimulate the economy.
But rights groups had accused Bolsonaro of gutting Brazil’s environmental and Indigenous protection agencies, leading to an uptick in deforestation and violence across the sprawling Amazon region.
Greenpeace Brazil on Monday called on Lula to follow through on his campaign promises and rebuild the government agencies tasked with protecting the environment, among other measures it deemed “urgent”.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also urged Lula to put human rights at the centre of his incoming government’s policies, including by strengthening “law enforcement to fight the destruction of the Amazon, and threats and attacks against forest defenders”.
Indigenous leaders had for years raised alarm over the threats their communities face in the South American nation, particularly in areas with little government oversight that farmers, miners, poachers and others are seeking to control and exploit.
Brazil is home to more than 800,000 Indigenous people from over 300 distinct groups, according to data from the last census in 2010 cited by the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) rights group.
The Indigenous Missionary Council recorded 305 cases of “possessory invasions, illegal exploitation of resources and damage to property” on Indigenous territories last year, affecting 226 Indigenous lands in 22 Brazilian states. That was up from 109 such incidents in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro took office – a 180 percent increase.
Andrea Carvalho, a senior research assistant at HRW in Brazil, told Al Jazeera earlier this year that the escalation of attacks on Indigenous people and their lands “is driven by disastrous policies related to the protection of the environment and Indigenous rights”.
Carbon Brief, a UK-based climate website, said in a report last month that a Lula election victory could see deforestation drop by 89 percent in the Brazilian Amazon over the next decade – avoiding the destruction of approximately 75,960 square kilometres (29,328 square miles) of rainforest by 2030.
Lula could face tough political opposition in areas where Amazon deforestation is happening, however, while he also must deal with the difficulty of policing vast areas.
Bolsonaro had been backed by major business interests, including loggers, miners and other groups exploiting Brazil’s natural resources, throughout his administration as well as in this year’s elections.
“Agribusiness has been clearly adopting an anti-Lula stance,” Roberto Ramos, a social sciences professor at Roraima Federal University, told the Reuters news agency.
On Monday, truckers and other protesters blocked highways in several Brazilian states in an apparent protest over Bolsonaro’s election defeat.
Burning tyres, as well as vehicles such as trucks, cars and vans were blocking several points in the central-western agricultural state of Mato Grosso, which largely supports Bolsonaro, reported the company that manages the highway in the state.
Road blockages were also seen in at least five other states, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, according to local media.
Oliver Stuenkel, a professor of international relations, told Al Jazeera that Lula – who won by a razor-thin margin of 50.9 percent support to Bolsonaro’s 49.1 percent on Sunday – will need to work hard on reconciliation given how polarised Brazil has become.
“Basically 50 percent of Brazilians are very afraid his return to power. This is a very polarised country, it’s a frustrated country,” said Stuenkel, from the Fundacao Getulio Vargas (FGV) in Sao Paulo. “I think it’s a volatile moment now, and Lula will have to choose his words very carefully.”