The health of the planet has worsened so much since the Brazilian Marina Silva (Breu Velho, Acre, 64 years old) was minister two decades ago, with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, that her portfolio is now called the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change although the The golden label on the façade does not yet reflect the full name. Three days after the Bolsonaro assault on the heart of Brazil’s political and judicial power, the monumental esplanade in Brasilia where the ministries stand is closed to traffic this Wednesday because the followers of the former president threaten new mobilizations. The alert is maximum out there, but this environmentalist who has been in politics for four decades is serenity in person. The minister receives EL PAÍS in one of her first interviews with international media and the first with a Spanish-language media since she took office. He speaks softly, deliberately. She is well aware of the challenge and the risks on the horizon.
Question. Let’s start with the assault on the three powers. You campaigned with Lula to save democracy, to prevent the passage to barbarism, as she said then. Was he afraid of an attack like the one perpetrated here next door?
Reply. We were aware of the risk. That is why he knew that, in order to defeat that authoritarian, anti-democratic, anti-human rights, anti-environmental political vision, a broad front was necessary that would give President Lula a strategic victory. Because Brazil would not last four more years [de Jair Bolsonaro en la presidencia]. But the electoral defeat of Bolsonaro does not mean the defeat of Bolsonarismo. What gives us peace of mind to advance in the restoration of institutions, public policies and the strengthening of democracy? That we manage to respond every time democracy is threatened. Congress, the Supreme Court, more than half of civil society have risen to the occasion. But it is not something that can be underestimated under any circumstances. It is essential to keep the institutions in a state of alert, the broad front and international solidarity. It is very important that President Lula be able to fulfill strategic agendas for the benefit of Brazilian society in order to gain momentum against this threat to democracy”.
Q. Where was he on Sunday? How did you follow it?
R. Working at home, on the computer. My daughter warned me: “Mom, something terrible is happening. You have to see it!”. We were alert. The Ministers of Justice, Defense… were vigilant. It was abominable, how sad to see an enraged mob outraging democracy, with no respect for public property, for historical heritage, for Brazilian society.
Q. How far do you think the responsibility of former President Bolsonaro goes?
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R. It is investigated through the judicial and political channels. no one can be convicted a priori, but Congress must form a commission of inquiry. Those who violate the democratic rule of law cannot maintain their political rights.
Q. He defends that, if Bolsonaro is guilty of attacking democracy, he cannot run in the elections.
R.. Bolsonaro has a record of acts, words and omissions that testify strongly against him. But we need to investigate. He has an undemocratic record of apology for authoritarianism. And, as president, he consistently attacked other powers in the Republic. And that invocation of authoritarianism, the lack of respect for civilizing ways of resolving conflicts resulted in what we saw. There are things you do so organically that even though you didn’t say “look at him, well, do it like that”, you created an expectation of impunity. Bolsonaro maintains his power to summon angry mobs, but perhaps not the power to demobilize them. And that is very dangerous.
Q. He has just returned to the ministry, again with Lula. What is the first item on her list?
R. We have already done things. In the transition, the Government added 500 million to our budget, which is little, but it gives us a break because Bolsonaro’s was totally insufficient. We managed to remove the Amazon Fund (from foreign donations) and other environmental funds from the spending ceiling. And in the first decrees, President Lula included the fight against deforestation and illegal mining and placed them as a priority government policy to combat climate change. And we have revoked an ordinance that would have prescribed fines for some 18,000 million in fines. And we already have the Interministerial Commission for the Plan to Fight Deforestation. It is a transversal policy, which involves 17 ministries. But it cannot be done without planning and intelligence support. The policy against illegal mining is a commitment of President Lula that concerns the ministries of Justice, Defense, and those of the social area. The priority is the lands of the Yanomami, Mundurukú and Kayapó peoples. It requires planning because if you take an erratic action, you leave them vulnerable.
Q. When you were a minister, deforestation fell like never before (from 27,000 square kilometers to 13,000, now it is at 11,500). What was the recipe? Will it work now?
R. That plan has been restored and will be updated. I am glad that, when public policies are well designed, implemented and structured, they survive time and different governments. That is why when I joined President Lula’s campaign I presented him with the document Updated rescue of the lost Socio-environmental Agenda. I am very happy to be here to help you. I think we are the only ones coming here for the third time, he is 77 years old, I am 64. It is exciting, but sad because the challenge is enormous. President Lula now assumes this agenda as his own. When (in 2002) I proposed the plan against deforestation, for many it was crazy. And the president, in solidarity, accepted that he was linked to the presidency. The other day I told him: ‘before, you helped me, now I help you’ because he is the one who has assumed the leadership of climate policy, deforestation and indigenous peoples.
Q. The climate emergency is now at the center of the political agenda. Does President Lula have more environmental awareness than 20 years ago?
R. What is at stake is the destruction of the planet. We have all learned. Not just political leaders, but business leaders. Those who were focused on social and development issues have taken on the issue of climate, environmentalists have understood that development has to go hand in hand. I used to say that the climate agenda had to be transversal, now President Lula says so.
R. In 2008, you clashed with Lula to the point that you resigned as minister in protest against the large infrastructure projects in the Amazon.
R. beautiful mount [una polémica hidroeléctrica] it was not done during his tenure.
Q. But it was screened then.
R. The project was presented and the president agreed that it should be studied further. It was built during the government of President Dilma. Now, when the president was asked about Belo Monte, he said that we have alternatives: solar energy, wind energy… that have a lower cost and will be prioritized. We need those redefinitions, even helping other sectors that need a boost. The day before yesterday I spoke with the Minister of Agriculture so that we move towards low carbon agriculture. President Lula’s request is that we create synergies. Will there be disagreements? Of course. But there is a determination that everyone understands that fighting climate change, not allowing the destruction of the Amazon, will make a huge difference. It is a scorched earth situation, we have an economic crisis and a social crisis to respond to along with the political crisis. That is why President Lula really needs this help and solidarity from the developed world. We don’t condition protecting the Amazon to getting paid, we want to do it and we already did it. Now we need solidarity to stabilize democracy, solidarity (on Sunday) was incredible and helped us to respond, to make people feel that this path of human rights, environmental protection, social justice, the fight against inequality , is the right path.
Q. In the Amazon it is easier to make a living illegally mining, fishing or logging than it is to find a good legal job. How are you going to reverse this situation? Will there be aid to encourage legality?
R. The Amazon has more than 25 million inhabitants. It has incalculable riches and beauties, but it coexists with unacceptable poverty rates. It requires short, medium and long term policies. Emergency policies, such as Bolsa Família, committing to the bioeconomy, diversification, increasing productivity in agriculture… But it cannot be achieved overnight, nor in four years. Our dream is to have an agriculture with traceability of the production chains, etc. But first you have to do territorial land planning, environmental registration… It’s not magic.
P. What should the international community do, apart from helping financially?
R. For example, opening markets to sustainably produced products, scientific cooperation in the field of bioeconomy, in promising areas such as cosmetics or the pharmaceutical industry, in activities to stimulate tourism…
Q. Bolsonaro did not demarcate an inch of indigenous land or nature reserves. Several are ready to be created. When will it happen?
R. We are making a schedule for President Lula to create both conservation units and indigenous lands. It is among the measurements of the first 100 days.
Q. Will the murderers of the indigenista Bruno Pereira and the journalist Dom Phillips be tried and punished?
R. The Minister of Justice has insisted that both those who carry out the crimes, such as the masterminds, and those who finance them, will be rigorously punished. Both in the case of Chico Mendes and in the case of Sister Dorothy (Stang) the perpetrators were punished. And when you make it clear that there will be no impunity for those who execute, order or finance a crime, you reduce violence.
Q. You are one of the three evangelical ministers of this government. Do you think the Government should make gestures towards this group?
R. The gestures that a government must take are to guarantee respect for the Constitution, the freedom to believe or not believe and have efficient public policies for all and not discriminate. However, having an attitude of dialogue with a segment that will soon be almost half of the Brazilian population is essential. The correct thing is to treat everyone as subjects of political and social rights, the right to believe, not to believe, regardless of color or sexual orientation. This is a secular state. But neither can we have politicians who ignore or treat certain groups with indifference. Never, not even when I was Catholic and wanted to be a nun, did I use my faith to promote myself in politics. Sometimes they accuse me of being little evangelical or fundamentalist. I am not one thing or the other. Who can judge my faith is God.
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