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Amazon Leader Welcomes Climate Vow from Brazil’s Lula to End Deforestation with Indigenous Help

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Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva addressed world leaders at the U.N. climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Wednesday, vowing to end deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and create a ministry to represent Indigenous peoples in his government. Brazil’s new approach to climate change aims to reverse outgoing far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies that have devastated Indigenous lands. “With Lula’s support, we can fight against deforestation and support Indigenous peoples in protecting and confronting the threats they face, including assassinations and human rights violations,” says Gregório Mirabal, an Indigenous leader from the Venezuelan Amazon. His colleague Atossa Soltani, board president of Amazon Watch, translated for him.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, earlier this week, on Wednesday, the Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva spoke. He pledged to recommit Brazil to tackling the climate crisis as he replaces far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

PRESIDENT-ELECT LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA: [translated] The planet warns all of us of the time that we need each other to survive. Alone, we are vulnerable to climate tragedies. However, we ignore these alerts. We spend trillions of dollars on wars that bring destruction and death, while 900 million people in the world don’t have something to eat. …

No one is safe. Climate emergency affects everyone, although its effects affect more vulnerable people. Inequality between the rich and the poor manifests itself even in the efforts to reduce effects of climate change. …

Dear companions, there is no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon. We will spare no efforts to have zero deforestation and the degradation of our biomes by 2030. …

We are going to rigorously punish those responsible for any illegal activity, whether it’s mining, gold digging, wood extraction or agricultural occupation. These crimes affect mostly the Indigenous people. That is why we will create the Ministry of Indigenous People, so that Indigenous people present to the government policies that guarantee them their survival, security, peace and sustainability. …

The second initiative is to put forward Brazil as a host for COP30 in 2025. We will be increasingly assertive in the face of the challenges of climate change. We will be aligned to the compromises made in Paris, and driven by the quest for decarbonization of the global economy.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva speaking at the U.N. climate summit here in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The former president is due to take office January, when he will replace Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who oversaw major deforestation of the Amazon and deregulation of extractive industries as Indigenous environmental leaders and also journalists were systematically killed and attacked.

Nearly 60% of the Amazon rainforest falls within Brazil’s borders, and its future depends in part on the direction President-elect Lula takes. As Democracy Now! broadcasts from COP27 here in Egypt, on Tuesday, we spoke about this and more with Gregório Mirabal, Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin, or COICA. He’s an Indigenous leader from the Venezuelan Amazon and one of the highest-profile people from the Amazon at this summit. His colleague, Atossa Soltani, interpreted for him. She’s the director of global strategy for the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative, founder and board president of Amazon Watch. I asked Gregório Mirabal what he is calling for here at COP27.

GREGÓRIO MIRABAL: [translated] First, I want to thank you for giving us this opportunity to share with you our dreams, our visions and our aspirations.

We’re here because last year in Glasgow a lot of promises were made to support Indigenous peoples, technically, financially and politically. Towards implementation of this action, we are back here working to make sure that there’s implementation of those promises. So far there hasn’t been progress.

Once again, we’re here to say that the Amazon is reaching a point of no return. We announced that last year, and we’re here again saying that the Amazon needs urgent action, and we Indigenous peoples are bringing forth solutions. Scientists agree that Indigenous peoples are doing the best job as protectors of the forest and that Indigenous solutions need to be supported. So, once again, we’re here to demand the technical, political and financial support that we need to continue to protect our forest and avoid the tipping point.

AMY GOODMAN: The significance of the Atabapo River, which now sits at the tri-border of Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela?

GREGÓRIO MIRABAL: [translated] Where I live, where I come from, is the union of four important rivers: the Atabapo, the Guainia, the Río Negro and the Orinoco. This conjunction, this confluence of these rivers are one of the largest confluences within the Amazon basin, and they flow — these rivers eventually flow to the Amazon. It was NASA who discovered that the deserts in the Sahara of Africa bring much-needed nutrients and are connected to the Amazon basin and feed the Amazon basin. And the Amazon basin creates flying rivers that feed the world, that are vital for the planet. So we are here to say that these four rivers are vital for the future of life on the planet.

AMY GOODMAN: One of these major Amazon countries, Brazil, has a new leader, Lula, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He will be president again. And he’s also at this summit, like you are, Gregório. I’m wondering if you can talk about his significance and what happened to the Amazon under the Brazilian President Bolsonaro?

GREGÓRIO MIRABAL: [translated] The importance of having Lula here is that we are seeing a political shift. Lula, in his election, had committed to support us, support Indigenous peoples, support biodiversity, support the future of the rainforest, and that this is — with Lula’s support, we can fight against deforestation and support Indigenous peoples in protecting and confronting the threats they face, including assassinations and human rights violations.

Bolsonaro was bent on the destruction of the Amazon. Under his leadership, we saw an increase in deforestation. And we saw an increase in human rights violations for all of the Indigenous peoples. Bolsonaro put at risk the entire Amazon basin, as well as all of humanity.

With Lula coming into office, we are hopeful that he will follow through with his promises to protect the Amazon and to avoid a tipping point and to help Indigenous peoples protect their territories.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re from the area that is known as Venezuela. What is your assessment of Maduro, the president of Venezuela, and his treatment of Indigenous people and the Amazon region?

GREGÓRIO MIRABAL: [translated] The last four years, I’ve been focused on all of the Amazon basin. But what I can tell you, that the big threats to the Venezuelan Amazon are deforestation and illegal mining, and that for years this has been increasing. The rate of deforestation has been increasing.

However, recently, President Petro of Colombia has managed to convince President Maduro to come back to the negotiations here at COP to step up into his commitment to protect the forest, to join the efforts of Lula, Petro and the world in protecting the Amazon. And hopefully, that’s not just a promise and that it is actually what ends up happening, because we are urgently needing for this to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the most powerful corporations, what they’re doing to the Amazon, and also this whole issue of loss and damage, U.N. speak for reparations by the wealthiest, most polluting countries? The U.S. is the historically largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, China the largest current greenhouse gas emitter. What is their responsibility to the Amazon, and what can they do to repair it?

GREGÓRIO MIRABAL: [translated] Saving the Amazon is going to cost billions of dollars, a lot of money. However, when you consider the amount of money spent in the Ukraine-Russia war, it’s equivalent to about three days of what we’re spending in that war to save the Amazon.

However, there are also irreversible damages, irreversible loss happening to the Amazon. And this is caused by a lot of petroleum drilling, by monoculture, cattle ranching and gold. These irreversible harms, irreparable harms are being a responsibility of big countries like China, Russia, the United States, and that they need to take responsibility for restoring and repairing the harm they’re creating in the Amazon.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what it means to be an Indigenous land defender? Latin America is the deadliest place for environmentalists like you. How do you both defend the land and defend yourselves?

GREGÓRIO MIRABAL: [translated] In this moment, we’re calling for the ratification of the Escazú Agreement. This agreement would help to prevent assassinations and persecution of Indigenous land defenders. Right now to be a defender of the forest in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia or Brazil, it is really literally accepting a death sentence. What we’re seeing in many cases, Indigenous peoples have been charged with lawsuits, have been basically sued and are facing criminal charges. For example, the leader of the Indigenous peoples of Ecuador, Leonidas Iza, has 16 cases, 16 charges against him. And so, for leaders in the Amazon, we have to protect their life and their ability to be defenders. In each day two Indigenous leaders are assassinated in the Amazon basin. And this has to change.

AMY GOODMAN: Gregório Mirabal, Indigenous climate activist from the Venezuelan Amazon, coordinator of COICA. That is the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin.

Coming up, we hear from more Indigenous land defenders, from Central America, from Guatemala and Mexico. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Chief Ninawa Huni Kui, president-elect of the Huni Kui Federation in the Brazilian state of Acre. He was performing today, praying today, at the People’s Plenary, just an hour before we went to broadcast. To see our interview with him at the COP in Lima, Peru, several years ago, go to democracynow.org.

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