In early April 2022, I had the chance to travel to Brazil to consult with Fern’s partners and attend the yearly Free Land Camp organised by Brazil’s Articulation of Indigenous Peoples (APIB) in Brasilia. This trip gave me a snapshot of where the people with whom we work stand in this crucial year for the country.
Brazil will hold its next general elections in October 2022. Jair Bolsonaro, running for a second term, is set for a standoff with Luis Ignacio Lula Da Silva, Brazil’s former president. All Fern partners told me that this will be a make-or-break moment for Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples and forests.
Indigenous rights and deforestation have been an important international level issue for years, following the many campaigns and mobilisations by civil society and artists such as the “Rock for the rainforest movement”. But this has also now become a key topic of conversation within Brazil.
This new phenomenon is the direct result of Bolsonaro’s term, which saw the prioritisation of agribusiness and the launch of an offensive on the Amazon and its historical inhabitants, evidenced by the many laws that the President’s allies have passed or are currently pushing through Congress. For the first time since satellite monitoring started in 1988, Brazil has witnessed four consecutive years of increased deforestation.
Bolsonaro’s attacks on Indigenous Peoples and on forests have polarised the nation. A recent poll indicates that 80 per cent of voters believe that protecting the Amazon is a priority for the presidential election. Any opponent to Bolsonaro must now confront him on this topic.
And this is exactly what Lula has done, visiting APIB’s Terra Livre camp on 12 April to announce his openness to creating a Minister for Indigenous issues. For the first time, APIB has decided to officially endorse a candidate. Disconcertingly, at around the same time, Lula also announced that as part of his ticket, Geraldo Alckmin, a former political rival who is very close to the agribusiness sector, would become his agriculture minister.
Brazilians are very aware of the importance of the Amazon at the international level. A Fern partner has dubbed it Brazil’s biggest “soft power tool”. These issues have indeed become a key concern in relations with the EU, which has put the Free Trade Agreement with Mercosur on ice principally because of Bolsonaro’s hostile agenda toward Indigenous Peoples and forests. In its current form, the agreement does not respect the Paris Agreement, Indigenous Peoples’ rights, or EU commitments to stop deforestation.
In a 2021 speech to the European Parliament, Lula declared that the trade deal needed to be re-assessed, for economic reasons. His former minister of foreign affairs Celso Amorim rejected the idea of abandoning the deal, insisting that the relationship with Europe is critical to prevent the world from being divided into spheres of influence between the US and China.
The kind of partnership Europe and Brazil will develop if Lula is elected remains to be seen. In Europe, high-level policymakers see the trade agreement as an important tool to strengthen ties with other regions of the world, and to respond to the war in Ukraine’s profound impacts on the global geopolitical situation. In a 26 April interview with Politico, the Parliament rapporteur on the EU Mercosur agreement urged Czechia and Sweden, the next countries to hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU, to put the deal’s ratification back on the agenda, arguing that Mercosur countries could help to overcome supply chain disruptions caused by the trade blockade with Russia.