Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won Brazil’s election on Sunday in a squeaker, defeating incumbent Jair Bolsonaro by a mere two points. It was a victory for more than Lula. In an election perhaps more important for all of us than the U.S. midterms, Lula’s victory improves the chances for survival of both Brazil’s democracy and the Amazon rainforest. And the health of the Amazon, the largest, most diverse tropical rainforest on Earth, is critical to the health of the planet.
Under Bolsonaro, funding for environmental protection agencies was slashed while the president encouraged his supporters to continue illegal mining. The “lungs of the planet” suffered its worst deforestation in 15 years. In addition to his environmental mischief, Bolsonaro gave Brazil incendiary speeches, the testing of democratic institutions, and atrocious management of the Covid pandemic.
Lula wasn’t without his scandals either, during his time as president from 2003 to 2010. His administration was involved in vast corruption and he spent time in prison. However, his sentences were later annulled by the Supreme Court, clearing his way to run for re-election.
During his tenure he was credited with building an extensive social welfare program, lifting tens of millions into the middle class and presiding over an economic boom. He left office with an approval rating over 80 percent.
Regarding the key issue to us, the health of the Amazon, when last in office he enacted policies that reduced deforestation rates by 80 percent. He says he now plans to resume those policies. “We will fight for zero deforestation in the Amazon,” he declared. “Brazil and the planet need a living Amazon.” Amen to that.
He will face powerful opposition. Logging, mining and cattle industries may often be illegal but they provide a lot of profit and jobs. And Bolsonaro, like Trump, may be a one-termer, but also like Trump his influence remains powerful. Dozens of states now have governors who support him, and his party is the largest in the Senate. There is no room for complacency when a fascist gets almost half of the vote.
To aid him in his program Lula is building a broad alliance of politicians and parties, including those of the centre and moderate conservatives. In a sentiment always good to hear, he has promised to “govern for 215m Brazilians … and not just for those who voted for me.”
And speaking of Trump, we now await the American mid-terms. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for next Tuesday.