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Bolsonaro’s Era of Destruction in Brazil Has Finally Come to an End

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro attends a speech at the Ministry of Economy, in Brasilia, Brazil, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro attends a speech at the Ministry of Economy, in Brasilia, Brazil, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.
Photo: Eraldo Peres (AP)

This weekend, Brazilians voted out Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing, Christo-fascist president who oversaw vast environmental destruction during his nearly four years in office.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has gone from a political prisoner to the incoming president of Brazil. Lula, who led the country previously from 2003 to 2010, won in a narrow victory. He received 50.9% of the vote, compared to 49.1% for Bolsonaro. Lula will be sworn in on the first of January for a four-year term.

Brazil’s soon-to-be former president, Bolsonaro, won the Brazilian presidency back in 2018 and was sworn in on January 1, 2019. His first month in office, he signed a series of executive orders, including one in which he gave the Agriculture Ministry the authority to designate Indigenous lands. This paved the way for agricultural development in places that used to be off limits, CNN reported. To be fair, the Amazon rainforest has been under attack for years—from loggers, forest fires, and cattle ranching interests. But the forest’s fate took a turn for the worse under Bolsonaro’s presidency.

Later that same year, fires blazed all over the Brazilian section of the Amazon rainforest. Indigenous leaders declared an environmental and humanitarian emergency in August 2019 in an open letter. They called on the United Nations for help and blamed Bolsonaro’s policies for the destruction. A few months later, a report from Brazil’s Climate Observatory found that the first year of Bolsonaro’s presidency marked the third biggest leap in year-to-year deforestation at the time. According to the Observatory’s data and satellite imagery, 2019 saw 29% more deforestation than 2018.

Emboldened by the president, farmers and criminal gangs lit fires to clear rainforest for the country’s agribusinesses, at the expense of Indigenous communities and the many endangered animals that rely on the rainforest.

As covid-19 began to sweep the globe in 2020, Bolsonaro downplayed the severity of the virus. He promoted quack remedies like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. His misinformation fueled so many preventable deaths. That same year, the Brazilian Amazon lost more than 3 million acres.

By 2021, the Brazilian Senate accused Bolsonaro of mass murder. A report from a Brazilian congressional panel suggested that he be charged with genocide against the country’s Indigenous communities, especially those in the Amazon rainforest, the New York Times reported. Hospitals in those communities faced months-long shortages waiting for oxygen for ventilators, while wildfires raged on. 2022 saw another deforestation record—4,000 square kilometers (1,500 square miles) of forest was destroyed from January to June of this year.

On the campaign trail, Lula promised to stop the land grabs in the Amazon and to set new emissions targets for the country, CNBC reported. His win has sparked optimism for a greener, more equitable future for the Amazon rainforest and its inhabitants, though whether the promises will turn into action remains to be seen. The mess left by Bolsonaro likely won’t be so easy to clean up.

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