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The climate was not tepid at the Amazon Dialogs preceding the Amazon Summit. Indigenous youth and social movements were present and engaged in the debates. Photo: Carlos Borges/SUMAÚMA

What would a third Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva term be like, after a twelve-year break between January 2011 and January 2023 – and a six and a half-year break since the Workers’ Party held power, which included an impeachment, a scheming vice president, and even four years of fascism from Jair Bolsonaro?

The world Lula left in 2010 is very different from the one he found when he returned to office in 2023. How would he deal with this, under the shaky condition of having returned to the presidential palace on a close win and with the support of a Broad Front that lives up to its name? How would he negotiate with a predatory Congress that, on most issues, can either be hostile or not, depending on how funds are distributed among members, but that seems to indeed be more ideological in its conservatism on cultural agendas, particularly those involving gender and race?

There were a lot of question marks – and there still are. But at least an answer is already taking a clearer shape: the social movements seem to have learned not to allow themselves to be coopted, as they were in the administrations before the Workers’ Party, and Indigenous leaders, who for the first time hold offices near the top and at the very top of the federal government, have worked hard to impress a difference between “being in” the government and “being” the government.

It’s still too early to know which way these relationships are headed, but the lesson is obvious. And the moment this became most evident was at the Amazon Dialogs in the lead up to the Amazon Summit, held in Belém early this August. Nearly 30,000 members of civil society and Indigenous movements occupied Pará’s capital city, the future host of the COP-30, in 2025. It was the people breathing down Lula’s neck, while he is perhaps experiencing a new moment in his long political career. Most of the base movements support him, but this support is much less unconditional than it was in his previous administrations. It is tactical and cautious support, it is wary support, and it depends on the government’s own actions.

It is possible to conceive that today, when almost half of Brazilian votes favored the fascism that is heavily represented in Congress, Lula depends more on the social movements than the social movements depend on him. By keeping a healthy – and healthy for both sides – distance from the government, even while supporting it, the movements are showing that their democratic experience has matured and they have learned to resist under extreme conditions – like under the genocidal and extreme right-wing government of Jair Bolsonaro during the pandemic. While the experience was brutal, it taught organized society to join together despite differences (although in some cases they may be forgetting about that now) and find their own ways to resist in opposing the government, facing adversities, creating new instruments for fighting and, finally, surviving.

All of these lessons seem to now be reflected in this delicate moment Brazil is going through, where nothing is guaranteed, because on the ground of the Amazon the war rages on and across Brazil fascist forces are preparing to ensure that their municipal power structures remain, in the 2024 elections, and that they retake the federal government in 2026. Organized civil society knows that under no circumstances can it let its guard down. That is the gist of in-depth reporting by SUMAÚMA special reporter Claudia Antunes, reporting on the words and actions at the Amazon Dialogs from the inside, to deliver an analysis to our readers, in this newsletter, that does more than cover the facts.

According to a story in Folha de S. Paulo, Lula was supposedly complaining about the “tepid climate” from social movements. Partly because the June 2013 protests made it clear that the Workers’ Party had lost the streets, largely because the party believed it was guaranteed to remain in power and didn’t have to tend to the gardens that make up its base. Yet reality shows that the climate was anything but tepid at the Amazon Dialogs preceding the Amazon Summit. The problem is that insofar as oil exploration in the Amazon is concerned, the social movements’ majority position is against Lula and part of his administration. If Lula wants social movements that act like government lapdogs, he won’t find it here.

One of Brazil’s best journalists, who has worked for 40 years as a reporter and editor in newsrooms at the biggest newspapers as well as at piauí magazine, Claudia’s reporting for SUMAÚMA is focused on following the challenges of the energy transition and disputes around the forest economy. In February, she showed how oil exploration in the Foz do Amazonas region, in Brazil’s Equatorial Margin, would be the first major clash within the Lula administration. Because of her obsession for details and her obsessive rigor in reporting, unlike many in the corporate press, Claudia was not fooled by maneuvering from Alexandre Silveira, the head of the Department of Mines and Energy. Along with a complicit Attorney-General’s Office, he tried to box in Marina Silva, the leader of the Department of Environment and Climate Change. In this newsletter, Claudia Antunes also explains the ins and outs of this political move aimed at underhandedly winning the debate.

A move made just two days after some great news for a planet lacking good news, one that is now experiencing heat waves and extraordinary droughts, early in an El Ninõ cycle that is accelerating and deepening climate change: the people of Ecuador said no to oil exploration in Yasuní National Park, in the Amazon Rainforest. In one story in this issue, Jonathan Watts, SUMAÚMA’s co-creator and director of international relations, explains how this choice for life by the people of Ecuador should be heard as a message to Pan-Amazonian rulers, especially Lula. If it were put to a vote in Brazil, the popular result might be the same. There is growing consensus among Brazilian society that the Amazon and oil can only exist on the same line grammatically, not in real life.

Cabo Orange National Park, on the coast of the state of Amapá. Natural ecosystems such as the amazon reef, the mangroves and the rainforest are threatened by oil exploration. Photo: Victor Moriyama/Greenpeace

If Lula and the pro-fossil fuel wing of his government don’t want to listen to the people, they at least need to listen to the science. On the same day as the prestigious journal Nature, SUMAÚMA published a new study from a group of scientists led by Luciana Gatti, from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE): the Bolsonaro administration had the same impact as the worst El Niño on record – and the Amazon Rainforest is no longer able to absorb the human damage. That the central debate of this administration would be reduced to a new front for oil exploration in the Amazon, with so much evidence, most of it visible to the naked eye, is a crime against future generations – both human and non-human.

Not that long ago, the symbolic capital of the Legal Amazon region was Manaus, in the state of Amazonas. Today, this title has clearly moved to Belém. Kudos go mostly to Pará’s current governor, Helder Barbalho (Brazilian Democratic Movement), who was reelected in the first round of voting in 2022 with over 70% of the vote. A highly skilled politician and an implacable enemy to adversaries, the youngest member of the Barbalho oligarchy, one of Brazil’s most notorious, has achieved a curious balance between the old political practices his father, Senator Jader Barbalho (Brazilian Democratic Movement), developed and the “green” discourse of sustainable development. And this is one of the most deforested and violent states in the Amazon. Having backed Lula in the second round of voting, the “King of the North” garnered support from the president to bring the COP-30 to Belém. In this issue, journalist Malu Delgado, SUMAÚMA’s news director, begins to disentangle this very complex political personality, currently a rising star in Brazil.

And as a special present, we are publishing a new report from the Colapso series, a partnership with Dromómanos, an independent news agency from Mexico – where the best reporting tells the story of how Ernesto Vera faced down capitalism and its destruction in an epic journey to find yerba mate in the forest for Victoria, the love of his life.

This newsletter is being published exceptionally on Tuesday – instead of Thursday – because SUMAÚMA is now entering a week of assessment and planning for the coming years. Our team remains committed to our community of readers, guaranteeing in-depth and rigorously checked information, so that everyone can responsibly take their own position in the face of the challenges of their time. Like Howler and Tuca, who are now in the sixth episode of their journey, we move forward with eyes wide open.

Fact check: Plínio Lopes
Spell check (Portuguese): Elvira Gago
Translation into Spanish: Julieta Sueldo Boedo
English translation: Sarah J. Johnson
Photography editing: Lela Beltrão
Page editing: Viviane Zandonadi

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