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What opportunities and challenges do Indigenous Peoples in Brazil foresee with Lula’s new government?

Last Sunday, with a narrow margin of less than two points, Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva beat Jair Bolsonaro and was elected president of Brazil. Bolsonaro leaves office with a dark legacy concerning his policies that have negatively affected, among others, the indigenous issue.

"We hope that something improves with Lula's victory. In Brazil's recent history, the rights of Indigenous Peoples have never been so execrated as during Bolsonaro's mandate," Indianara Machado, Guarani-Kaiowá and member of the Indigenous Youth Association (AJI) of the Dourados Reserve, said.

The outcome of the election raises questions about the future of the 300 Indigenous Peoples living in Brazil, particularly in the Amazon, which is home to the largest known concentration of people in voluntary isolation. According to data from the Brazilian Institute for Spatial Research (INPE), between 2019 and 2021, while Bolsonaro was in power, the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased by 73%.

This rapid and large-scale deforestation is a reflection of a political agenda that placed privilege toward the interests of companies and landowners over the constitutionally recognised rights of Indigenous Peoples. In the name of "national development ", Bolsonaro’s administration undermined the processes and institutions responsible for the demarcation of Indigenous lands, freeing up access to protected territories for economic exploitation. During this period, there were also several violent attacks against Indigenous Peoples by those supporting and pursuing economic interests, as was the case with the Guarani-Kaiowá while they were reclaiming their traditional territory in the Mato Grosso do Sul region. 

In this context, Indigenous Peoples and others, including climate activists, are pinning their hopes on Lula’s new government. In his first speech as president, Lula assured that he will fight for "zero deforestation" in the Amazon and that the "pacification of the environment" is a commitment to Indigenous Peoples and biodiversity. According to his official website, earlier this year, Lula had claimed to know how to protect the Amazon and publicly promised to reverse Bolsonaro's abusive policies towards Indigenous Peoples. At the institutional level, he pledged to "create a ministry for the causes of Indigenous Peoples".

"Even with Lula's victory, we continue our struggle in an autonomous way, in defence of our rights, preserving our gains taken away from us by previous governments," said Indianara.

Indianara explained that of the many challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples, there is a particular concern around the "destruction package" being pushed through Congress, mostly by Bolsonaro supporters, which includes the deregulation of environmental licences, the legalisation of pesticides banned in Europe and the grabbing of public lands.

“IWGIA is cautiously hopeful with the news of Lula’s presidency and we hope that many of the policies under Bolsonaro will be reversed for the protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in Brazil and for the responsible management of the Amazon," IWGIA Executive Director Kathrin Wessendorf said.


Photo: Mining on the Uraricoera River, Yanomami Indigenous Land, Roraima, Brazil. Credit: Bruno Kelly / HAY


For more on the situation of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil read our latest articles and publications here.

Tags: Land rights, Biodiversity



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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