Brazil’s new president works to reverse Amazon deforestation

ASSOCIATED PRESS RIO DE JANEIRO — Shaking a traditional rattle, Brazil’s incoming head of Indigenous affairs recently walked through every corner of the agency’s

headquarters — even its coffee room — as she invoked help from ancestors during a ritual cleansing. The ritual carried extra meaning for Joenia Wapichana, Brazil’s first

Indigenous woman to command the agency charged with protecting the Amazon rainforest and its people. Once she is sworn in next month under newly inaugurated President Luiz Inácio

Lula da Silva, Wapichana promises to clean house at an agency that critics say has allowed the Amazon’s resources to be exploited at the expense of the environment. As

Wapichana performed the ritual, Indigenous people and government officials enthusiastically chanted “Yoohoo! Funai is ours!’’ — a reference to the agency she will lead.

Environmentalists, Indigenous people and voters sympathetic to their causes were important to Lula’s narrow victory over former President Jair Bolsonaro. Now Lula is seeking to

fulfill campaign pledges he made to them on a wide range of issues, from expanding Indigenous territories to halting a surge in illegal deforestation. To carry out these

goals, Lula is appointing well-known environmentalists and Indigenous people to key positions at Funai and other agencies that Bolsonaro had filled with allies of agribusiness and

military officers. In Lula’s previous two terms as president, he had a mixed record on environmental and Indigenous issues. And he is certain to face obstacles from

pro-Bolsonaro state governors who still control swaths of the Amazon. But experts say Lula is taking the right first steps.