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Lula appoints staunch Amazon defenders as ministers in Brazil | Brazil

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Two internationally famous Amazon defenders, Marina Silva and Sônia Guajajara, have been appointed ministers in Brazil’s new government in a bid to stem the intensifying attack on indigenous territories and the environment.

The announcement was made by new president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who will take office on Sunday after four years of rainforest destruction under the rule of his far-right predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.

Silva, 64, will return to the post of Minister of the Environment, which she held from 2003 to 2008 – a period in which Brazil managed to drastically reduce deforestation in the Amazon.

Guajajara, 48, will lead Brazil’s first indigenous peoples ministry, created in response to the wave of violence and land invasions spurred by Bolsonaro’s dismantling of indigenous and environmental protections.

“[This is] a milestone in our history of struggle and resistance,” said Guajajara. “The creation of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples is proof of President Lula’s commitment to safeguarding our autonomy and space to make decisions about our territories, our bodies and our ways of life.”

Bolsonaro’s anti-indigenous and anti-environmental policies were revealed earlier this year by the murders of indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips in the Amazon, where deforestation has increased by 60% since 2019.

Marina Silva with the new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who named her Minister of the Environment.
Marina Silva with the new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who named her Minister of the Environment. Photography: Adriano Machado/Reuters

Speaking after Lula’s election in October, Silva said the new government would strive to honor the memory of these forest martyrs by building “a new democratic ecosystem” in which conservation, sustainability and the climate emergency would be prioritized.

Silva was born in a remote rubber extraction community in the western Amazon in 1958 and became Brazil’s youngest senator and an internationally respected environmentalist. She joined Lula’s cabinet after his election in 2002, but resigned in 2008 after a series of political battles over environmental policy.

Guajajara was born in the territory of Araribóia, in the eastern Amazon, and became one of the leaders of the burgeoning movement for indigenous rights in Brazil, as well as a prominent left-wing politician. In 2018, Guajajara became the first indigenous woman to run for Vice President of Brazil. She won a seat in Brazil’s male-majority Congress in October’s elections.

During a recent trip to the Amazon, Guajajara said the new ministry – which will represent Brazil’s 307 indigenous groups – illustrated Lula’s genuine commitment to environmental protection and the defense of indigenous communities that have been left “threatened, weakened and vulnerable” by Bolsonaro.

However, experts say the new government will face enormous challenges in its battle to rebuild indigenous and environmental protections, given the deliberate dismantling of the environment ministry under Bolsonaro.

“The ministry was destroyed. He doesn’t exist anymore. It will have to be rebuilt almost from scratch,” said Marcio Astrini, head of an umbrella group of NGOs called Observatório do Clima.

Astrini welcomed the return of knowledgeable and knowledgeable environmental figures such as Silva, but warned that the powerful politicians and criminal gangs driving the rainforest to a catastrophic tipping point would not suddenly disappear. “Amazon deforestation will not be liquidated overnight,” he said.