Brazilian Elections and the Future of the Amazon

/ Online Transmission - Zoom

“Are Brazil’s indigenous peoples against economic development? No, we are not against it, but we need sustainable projects that keep the forest standing; preserve the Amazon biome; and respect the knowledge of indigenous peoples, riverside, and quilombola communities,” said Toya Manchineri, coordinator of COIAB (Coordination of Indigenous Peoples Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon), in the webinar held by the FHC Foundation and FAS (Sustainable Amazon Foundation).

“The challenge is to create public policies and programs that allow all the people of the Amazon to live with dignity and respect. For that, it is essential to resume dialogue [with the new government] because, in the Bolsonaro administration, there is no room for debate,” added the indigenous leader, who has been fighting for years for the demarcation of indigenous territories in the state of Acre.

What do Amazonians think about preservation and development?

“We are facing a crossroads regarding the Amazon because the forest is severely threatened. We are the last generation of Brazilians who can save the Amazon. This topic is vital to the future of Brazil and the planet. Still, it has not taken center stage in the political debate—at the federal level, within the states of the region, and in Congress,” said the superintendent of FAS, Virgílio Viana, a forest engineer with a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology from Harvard University and postdoctoral studies in Sustainable Development from the University of Florida.  

In his opening speech, Viana presented the results of the survey “2022 Elections in the Amazon,” in which Amazonians—the 38 million people who live in the Amazon region—were interviewed about how they perceive the problems and challenges related to the preservation of the forest and the economic and social development of the Amazon. FAS and Instituto Clima e Sociedade conducted the study.

“This is the largest survey ever carried out, with rigor and sampling strength, on what people who live in the Amazon think about the fundamental issues of the region. On a scale of zero to ten, the main concerns of Amazonians are health (9.3), education (9.2), security (8.8), corruption (8.8), employment and income (8.7) and, in sixth place, the environment (8.7),” said Viana.

“At the same time, 83% say that the fires negatively impact their health and that of their family, and 82.9% say that illegal mining contaminates the waters and fish and affects the health of the population,” he explained. For 56.5%, the Amazon does not receive its much-deserved place of importance in the political debate. Preservation is the word that comes to mind for most interviewees to summarize what they think about the Amazon.  

Viana also recalled that, between 2003 and 2010 (Lula’s two terms as President of Brazil), deforestation in the Amazon was reduced by 72%. From 2019 to 2021, the first three years of the current administration, there was a 29% increase in deforestation, with data for 2022 not yet included. 

“Regardless of each person’s political party position, the numbers are clear. There has been a huge setback in recent years. If we continue on this path, the Amazon could very quickly reach a point of no return, as several scientists have warned, including Brazilian climatologist Carlos Nobre,” said the FAS representative.

Diseases in the Amazon are related to the environment

“When Amazonians point to health as the main problem, while the environment appears in sixth place, it is necessary to consider that people do not associate health with environmental issues. However, 70% of diseases in the Amazon region are related to a lack of sanitation and waste disposal in streams and rivers, which become vectors of contamination. The air pollution caused by the fires also has a great impact,” recalled geographer and environmentalist Mario Mantovani, president of the Florestal Foundation.

Mantovani accused the Bolsonaro administration of having been associated with illegal deforestation and environmental crimes and the Congress itself of omission. “The Agricultural Parliamentary Front (known as Bancada Ruralista) made more than 50 attempts to change Brazil’s Forest Code to facilitate the opening of new agricultural areas, although it publicly says that this is not necessary for food production in the country. Members of the Environmentalist Parliamentary Front also failed to address important issues related to the protection of the Amazon,” said Mantovani, who worked at the SOS Mata Atlântica Foundation for more than 30 years.

The environmentalist defended the approval of an “Amazon Legal Act,” which would detail specific legislation for the region, as proposed in the 1988 Constitution. “It is essential that we define a legal framework to structure the economy of the forest, the bioeconomy, the use of land and rivers, mineral exploration, ecotourism, as well as all public policies related to preservation and sustainable development. The Amazon is unique; it is impossible to apply the same rules from other parts of the country,” he said.

A specialist in water resources, Mantovani also proposed policies to protect the “flying rivers” formed by the water vapor produced by the forest and carried by air currents to different parts of South America, mainly the Midwest, Southeast and South regions of the country, but also to Argentina and Uruguay. “The existence of these rivers and their importance for the rainfall regime on the continent is proven. This isn’t a tree-hugger’s talk.”

The Amazon is at the center of the world’s concerns

“I just got back from a trip to Germany, and that’s all they talk about over there: everyone in Europe wants to know what will happen if deforestation continues to increase, as has happened in recent years in Brazil,” said Marina Caetano, senior coordinator of political dialogue at the Talanoa Institute and chancellor fellow of the Humboldt Foundation.

Caetano cited the study  “The Whole Amazon – History, Scenario, and Analysis of Federal Public Policies,” published on September 5, Amazon Day, which brings together and consolidates the decisions that the federal Executive branch has made on topics related to the region, including:

- various regulations that weaken environmental governance;

- dismantling of government bodies, committees, and councils;

- political decisions not supported by hard data;

- absence of research incentive policies.

“The decarbonization of the Brazilian economy necessarily involves the Amazon and a true federative pact involving the federal government, states and municipalities in the region, as well as the private and the third sectors. Everyone must unite to quickly contain the damage to the forest and its rivers; reduce crime and violence; and connect preservation, social, and economic development policies,” said Caetano, whose institute participated in the draft of the 10-Point Plan for Brazil’s Decarbonization – Recommendations for the 2023-2026 Federal Government.

Finally, the environmental activist defended a better use of the willingness of other countries to cooperate with financial, technological, and human resources for the preservation and sustainable development of the Amazon. “The Amazon is at the center of the world’s concerns, and the current administration is leaving us increasingly isolated,” he concluded. 

“Does Brazil have the capacity to take care of the Amazon by itself? Yes, we’ve done that before. But there is the other side of the coin: why not take advantage of the huge interest in the Amazon to mobilize broad national and international resources, public and private, to finance a large project to protect and recover the forest and secure the sustainable development of the entire region? The world is eager to cooperate, and there is no lack of resources,” said Virgílio Viana.

Viana reported a recent conversation with Ambassador Celso Amorim—Lula’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs and his main foreign policy advisor—about convening an international conference on the Amazon in case the former president wins the presidential election. 

“The idea is to bring together all the countries of the Amazon region and other relevant nations such as Germany, Norway, France, United Kingdom, United States, Japan, and China, as well as institutions such as the UN and the World Bank, to discuss how to finance the prosperity of the Amazon, leveraging the economy while keeping the forest standing,” he said.

“It is essential to think about education programs to raise awareness among indigenous peoples and Amazonian caboclos about the policies of the United States and Europe, as well as the decisions of our representatives in the Executive and Legislative branches, which influence the river and the forest where we live and from where we obtain our livelihood. Only then will we be masters of our destiny,” said Manchineri.

“One thing is certain: the mobilization of indigenous peoples and those who support us will continue regardless of who is elected president of Brazil on November 30,” concluded the indigenous leader.

Watch the full video from the webinar (in . 

Read the article “Amazon 4.0” Project: Defining a Third Way for the Amazon written by climatologist Carlos Nobre and biologist Ismael Nobre for the magazine “Futuribles em Português,” published by the FHC Foundation.

Otávio Dias is the content editor at Fundação FHC. He is a political and international affairs journalist, a former correspondent for Folha de São Paulo in London, and former editor of the website. 

Portuguese to English translation by Melissa Harkin & Todd Harkin (Harkin Translations).


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