Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks in Lisbon, Portugal on November 19, 2022.

(Photo: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images)

Lula Aims to Create New Federal Police Unit to Curb Environmental Crimes in Brazil

"Reverting the destruction from the past administration and taking meaningful action to protect the Amazon and the climate must be a priority of the new government," said one advocate.

The administration of leftist Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wants to establish a new Federal Police unit focused on deterring environmental crimes, Reutersreported Wednesday.

"The crimes that happened during the current government will now be combated."

The news outlet cited Sen.-elect Flavio Dino, who is widely considered a top candidate to be Lula's next justice minister and currently runs the transition team's task force aimed at reducing violent crime, restricting gun ownership, and protecting the Amazon rainforest, roughly 60% of which is located in Brazil.

In an interview with Reuters, Dino said that "there is now a specific complexity of environmental crimes, in which there is, a kind of combo of crimes in the Amazon," referring to the interconnected nature of illegal deforestation, drug trafficking, money laundering, and gang violence. "We no longer have isolated environmental crimes."

"You have this sophistication and there is a transnationality, because it involves other countries in the Amazon," Dino continued. "So the idea is a specialized unit for greater efficiency and greater articulation with neighboring countries."

While environmental crimes are currently addressed by the Federal Police's organized crime department, Dino said that creating a new unit would be a "practical proposal, which shows a sense of priority for this environmental issue."

Lula, a Workers' Party member who recently defeated Brazil's outgoing far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, said two weeks ago at the United Nations COP27 summit that "there's no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon" and outlined his plan to achieve "zero deforestation."

Parts of the Amazon--nicknamed the "lungs of the Earth" because of its unmatched capacity to provide oxygen and absorb planet-heating carbon dioxide--recently passed a key tipping point after Bolsonaro spent his four-year reign intensifying the destruction of the tropical rainforest. Bolsonaro's regressive policy changes pushed deforestation in Brazil to a 15-year high last year, helping to drive the country's greenhouse gas emissions to their highest level in almost two decades.

"The past four years have been marked by Bolsonaro government's anti-environment and anti-Indigenous agenda, and by the irreparable damage caused to the Amazon, biodiversity, and to the rights and lives of Indigenous people," Andre Freitas, Amazon campaign coordinator for Greenpeace Brazil, said Wednesday in a statement.

"Reverting the destruction from the past administration and taking meaningful action to protect the Amazon and the climate must be a priority of the new government," said Freitas.

During his COP27 speech, Lula, who previously served as Brazil's president from 2003 to 2010 and takes office again on January 1, said: "The crimes that happened during the current government will now be combated. We will rebuild our enforcement capabilities and monitoring systems that were dismantled during the past four years."

Most of the deforestation that occurred under Bolsonaro was illegal, fueled by logging, mining, and agribusiness companies that were given a green light by the outgoing president and often used violence to repress Indigenous forest dwellers and other environmental defenders.

"We will fight hard against illegal deforestation. We will take care of Indigenous people," said Lula, who drastically slashed clear-cutting and inequality when he governed the country earlier this century. "Brazil is emerging from the cocoon to which it has been subjected for the last four years."

According to Freitas, "To start rebuilding the climate agenda in Brazil, it is fundamental for the new government to have a robust plan to control deforestation and fight mining and land-grabbing by resuming the creation of protected areas, respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, and holding those responsible for environmental crimes accountable."

"It is essential," he added, "that the future government promotes an ecological transition that establishes a predominant economy in the Amazon that can live with the forest standing and that brings real, just development to the region."

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