the debrief: issue ten

Third terms the charm: Lula’s first month back
by Eleanor Austin

image credit: Luiz79 (Wikimedia Commons)

Since his inauguration on 1 January 2023, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s homecoming has been tumultuous, with the first week of his presidency seeing an attempted coup d’etat by 5,000 pro-Bolsonaro protestors. The insurrectionists declared that the presidential election had been stolen, and that Bolsonaro should be reinstated. Despite these claims, after four years of Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency, it seems clear that the nation is desperate for change. Bolsonaro and his government polarised and harmed Brazil, especially through poorly managed covid responses, destructive environmental policies, and a failure to address soaring poverty rates. Consequently, the policies of Lula’s previous presidencies, which saw social, economic and political improvements across the nation, seem to be sorely needed once more. His first month has seen him beginning to reverse the damage of Bolsonaro’s government, and in the process, bringing back hope for the future to Brazil. 

In terms of foreign policy, Lula has had a busy first month rebuilding regional relationships destroyed by Bolsonaro. One of his first priorities upon inauguration was recognising the Venezuelan and Cuban governments. Furthermore, he is pushing for greater independence of the Latin American region from the US’ influence. In January’s Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) meeting, the extent of Lula’s plans for regional cooperation could be seen clearly. Alongside Argentina, plans are being made to create the ‘Sur’, a new currency for Latin American nations to trade in. This currency would remove the reliance on the US dollar and in turn boost regional trade relationships and economic integration. Pushing for increased cooperation coincides with the renewed Pink Tide flowing across the region, with the majority of Latin American nations electing left-wing governments in recent years. Positive regional integration is becoming more likely now due to this ideological coherence across states. The first CELAC attended by Brazil in two years, after Bolsonaro denounced the organisation, provided Lula with the perfect opportunity to bring his nation out of regional isolation. This is a clear demonstration of how the first month of Lula’s presidency has been focused on reversing and redressing the damage caused by his predecessor.  

Moving on from the foreign policy level to the realm of environmental politics, we can see that Lula is equally trying to redress the negative impacts of Bolsonaro’s presidency. Reducing deforestation has always been a core aspect of Lula’s agenda, and has thus been tackled by Lula rather successfully during his previous presidencies. In his first term in office deforestation dropped by 43.7 percent, and by 52.3 percent in his second. Sadly, during Bolsonaro’s term, this was reversed and considerably worsened, with deforestation soaring up to 72 percent. Positively, initial reports are showing that deforestation is down by 61 percent, indicating that the legacy of Lula’s previous presidencies has not been lost. 

However, reversing the damage caused to the Amazon by Bolsonaro’s government will not be a simple task. Miners have been furnished with substantial power and resources, especially in the Roraima region, which is unlikely to change. The climate aspect of this damage is well known, as the Amazon is Earth’s main carbon sink. But recently, the effects on the indigenous population have been recognised by the government. In a visit to the Roraima area, Lula met with the Yanomami people, who are indigenous to the region and deeply affected by the deforestation. Relying on the natural resources that surround them to sustain their livelihoods, the damage caused by the mining activities has been extreme. The cataclysmic growth in gold mining in the region resulted in resources being depleted, destroyed and polluted. Fish and rivers have reportedly been polluted by mercury, leading to the poison spreading to the local communities. Yanomami children are dying at a rate 191 times greater than the Brazilian average. The man made crisis present here was deemed by Lula as more than a humanitarian crisis, calling it ‘genocide’, and promising to overcome it. 

50 written pleas were sent by the leader of the Yanomami to Bolsonaro, to stop the gold mining invasion and help with the ever-increasing levels of malnutrition and malaria. These desperate pleas were ignored by Bolsonaro, who instead continued to support the wildcat miners on their mission to wreck the rainforest for the pursuit of economic growth. This week, however, sticking to his promises, Lula’s government started raids against these illegal miners to expel them from the land. The government agents seized fuel and weapons, destroying: a plane, a helicopter and mining support structures among other things. This is a positive change for the Yanomami community, who after being ignored for years, are finally starting to see justice being served. For both Lula and environmental activists, this is a crucial first step to his first promise upon election to fight for zero deforestation in the nation. 

Despite Lula’s overall record being positive so far, there has been one event that seems to go against this winning streak of political successes. Controversially, and in contradiction to Lula’s environmental stances, the Brazilian navy recently sunk the decommissioned ‘Sao Paulo’ aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean. Despite calls from many environmental groups to halt this decision, the navy did not rescind this decision. Whilst the Brazilian government attempted to stop the sinking by filing a suit, they were still unsuccessful in preventing the disaster. The sixty year old ship, which contained toxic materials such as asbestos, is now polluting the natural life Lula promised to protect. This decision, which according to Greenpeace, violated three international environmental treaties, has been a pitfall in Lula’s overwhelmingly positive first month in office. However, to deny Lula’s triumphs due to this single failure would be nonsensical and pessimistic. Instead, Lula’s return to the presidency through the Pink Tide ought not to be viewed through rose-tinted glasses, rather it should be acknowledged that, in his fight for environmental protection, he is hindered by the strength of Brazilian agribusiness. Overall, Lula’s first month has been a step in the right direction for Brazil. The work already done clearly signals that, although there will be difficulties, more positive changes are still to come.

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