Bolsonaro suggests NGOs setting Amazon fires, gives no proof

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Brazil’s official monitoring agency is reporting a sharp increase in wildfires this year, and President Jair Bolsonaro suggested yesterday, without citing evidence, that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) could be setting them to make him look bad.

Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, a federal agency monitoring deforestation and wildfires, said the country has seen a record number of wildfires this year, counting 74,155 as of Tuesday, an 84 per cent increase compared to the same period last year. Bolsonaro took office on January 1.

“Maybe – I am not affirming it – these (NGO people) are carrying out some criminal actions to draw attention against me, against the government of Brazil,” Bolsonaro told reporters.

When asked if he had evidence, the President did not provide any.

“There is a war going on in the world against Brazil, an information war,” Bolsonaro said.

Earlier this month, the head of the space research institute was forced to leave his position after standing up to the President’s accusations that deforestation data had been manipulated to tarnish the image of his administration.

Protesters sing and play drums during a march against the Brazilian government’s environmental policies, on the sidelines of a climate change meeting in Salvador, Brazil. PHOTO: AP

The states that have been most affected by fires this year are Mato Grosso, Para and Amazonas – all in the Amazon region – accounting for 41.7 per cent of all fires.

“It is very difficult to have natural fires in the Amazon; it happens but the majority come from the hand of humans,” said Paulo Moutinho, co-founder of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute.

Moutinho, who has been working in the Amazon forests for nearly 30 years, said fires are mostly used to clean up vast areas of land for farming or logging.

The fires can easily get out of control, especially now during the Amazon’s dry season, and spread to densely forested protected areas.

This year, the Amazon has not suffered from serious dryness, Moutinho said. “We’re lucky. If we had had droughts like in the past four years, this would be even worse.”

Bolsonaro, who once threatened to leave the Paris climate accord, has repeatedly attacked environmental non-profits, seen as obstacles in his quest to develop the country’s full economic potential, including in protected areas.

Bolsonaro and Environment Minister Ricardo Salles are both close to the powerful rural caucus in Congress and have been urging more development and economic opportunities in the Amazon region, which they consider overly protected by current legislation.