Jair Bolsonaro accuses NGOs of surroundings fires in Amazon rainforest

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The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has accused environmental groups of setting fires in the Amazon as he tries to deflect growing international criticism of his failure to protect the world’s biggest rainforest.

A surge of fires in several Amazonian states this month followed reports that farmers were feeling emboldened to clear land for crop fields and cattle ranches because the new Brazilian government was keen to open up the region to economic activity.

About Bolsonaro
Jair Messias Bolsonaro (Brazilian Portuguese: [ʒaˈiʁ meˈsi.ɐz bowsoˈnaɾu] or [ʒaˈiɾ]; born 21 March 1955) is a Brazilian politician and retired military officer, serving as the 38th President of Brazil since 1 January 2019. He served in the country’s Chamber of Deputies, representing the state of Rio de Janeiro, between 1991 and 2018. He is currently a member of the conservative Social Liberal Party.
Bolsonaro was born in the small town of Glicério, in the northwest area of the state of São Paulo. He graduated from the Agulhas Negras Military Academy in 1977 and served in the Brazilian Army’s field artillery and parachutist groups. He became known to the public in 1986, when he wrote an article for Veja magazine criticizing low wages for military officers, after which he was arrested and detained for fifteen days. One year later he was accused by the same magazine of planning to plant bombs in military units, which he denied. After a first degree conviction, he was acquitted by the Brazilian Supreme Military Court in 1988.He joined the reserve army in 1988 with the rank of Captain and ran for the Rio de Janeiro City Council that same year, being elected while a member of the Christian Democratic Party. Bolsonaro was elected in 1990 to the lower chamber of Congress and was subsequently re-elected six times. During his 27-year tenure as a congressman, he became known for his strong support of national conservatism. He is a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and homosexuality, abortion, affirmative action, drug liberalization and secularism. In foreign policy, he has advocated closer relations to the United States and Israel. During the 2018 presidential campaign, he started to advocate for economic liberal and pro-market policies. A polarizing and controversial politician, his views and comments, which have been described as far-right and populist in nature, have drawn both praise and criticism in Brazil.Bolsonaro announced his pre-candidacy for president in March 2016 as a member of the Social Christian Party. However, he left the party in 2018 and joined the Social Liberal Party, which launched his presidential campaign in August 2018 with retired general Hamilton Mourão as his running mate. He portrays himself as an outsider and a supporter of family values. He came in first place in the first round of the general election on 7 October 2018, with Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad coming in second place. The two candidates faced a run-off on 28 October 2018, and Bolsonaro was elected with 55.1% of the vote.

Jair Bolsonaro accuses NGOs of setting fires in Amazon rainforest

About accuses

Amazon fires map

Brazil has had more than 72,000 fire outbreaks so far this year, an 84% increase on the same period in 2018, according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research. More than half of them were in the Amazon.

There was a sharp spike in deforestation during July, which has been followed by extensive burning in August. Local newspapers say farmers in some regions are organising “fire days” to take advantage of weaker enforcement by the authorities.

Jair Bolsonaro accuses NGOs of setting fires in Amazon rainforest

Since Bolsonaro took power the environment agency has issued fewer penalties, and ministers have made clear that their sympathies are with loggers rather than the indigenous groups who live in the forest. The head of Brazil’s space agency was fired last month after the president disputed the official deforestation data from satellites.

An international outcry has prompted Norway and Germany to halt donations to Brazil’s Amazon fund, which supports many environmental NGOs as well as government agencies. There have also been calls for Europe to block a trade deal with Brazil and other South American nations.

Bolsonaro suggested the fires were started by environmental NGOs to embarrass his government.

“On the question of burning in the Amazon, which in my opinion may have been initiated by NGOs because they lost money, what is the intention? To bring problems to Brazil,” the president told a steel industry congress in Brasilia.

He made a similar allegation earlier in the day when he suggested groups had gone out with cameras and started fires so they could film them. Asked whether he had evidence, or whether he could name the NGOs involved, Bolsonaro said there were no written records and it was just his feeling.

Environmental activists said his comments were an absurd attempt to deflect attention from the problem of poor oversight and tacit encouragement of illegal forest clearance. “Those who destroy the Amazon and let deforestation continue unabated are encouraged by the Bolsonaro government’s actions and policies. Since taking office, the current government has been systematically dismantling Brazil’s environmental policy,” said Danicley Aguiar, of Greenpeace Brazil.

In Brazil’s Amazonas state, heat from forest fires has been above average every day this month, according to data provided to the Guardian by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. On the peak day, 15 August, the energy released into the atmosphere from this state was about 700% higher than the average for this date over the previous 15 years. The story was similar in Rondônia state, where there have been 10 days this month where fire heat has been more than double the average for the time of year.

It is unclear which fires have been deliberately set by farmers to clear land and which were accidental or natural. The problem is not restricted to Brazil. Neighbouring Bolivia is also experiencing unusually large wildfires that have reportedly destroyed 5,180 sq km (2,000 sq miles) of forest. Video from the country’s Santa Cruz department shows monkeys and other animals scurrying in search of shelter amid a landscape reduced to blackened stumps, bare branches and ashes. Copernicus satellite images show it was primarily a fire in Bolivia that led to the darkening of the skies during the day on Monday in São Paulo, thousands of miles away.