Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday promised to send in troops to fight wildfires in the country’s Amazon rainforest, blaming dry weather for this year,s spike in outbreaks.
Bolsonaro said his government was very aware of the situation and will fight “environmental crime” the same way it combats other types of crime, amid accusations that he had turned a blind eye to illegal deforestation by farmers and land grabbers in the region. The military will “act strongly” to control the blazes, the president promised, as he signed the decree that states the armed forces will collaborate with public security and environmental protection agencies. “The protection of the forest is our duty,” he said. “We are aware of that and will act to combat deforestation and criminal activities that put people at risk in the Amazon.”
What are the new measures?
Mr Bolsonaro appeared on television on Friday to confirm he had authorised the armed forces to help fight the fires. “I’ve learned as a military man to love the Amazon forest and I want to help protect it,” he said. The decree itself is fairly vague in its wording, but specifies that the military will be deployed to nature reserves, indigenous lands and border areas in the region. The deployment of soldiers will be left down to regional governors who can request “preventive action … against environmental crimes” and ask the army to “survey and combat fire outbreaks”. Defence Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva is to oversee the order and will be responsible for allocating resources, it states. The order is initially authorises action for a month, from 24 August to 24 September.
Outrage from indigenous leader
World leaders were not alone in reacting to Bolsonaro’s approach to the wildfires. Raoni Metuktire, a leading campaigner against deforestation in the Amazon.
“He wants to finish with the forest, with us. It’s really terrible what he does,” Raoni told AFP by telephone from Germany, accusing Bolsonaro of emboldening farmers, loggers and miners. “We have to get him out soon.”
How bad are the fires?
Satellite data published by the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) has shown an increase of 85% this year in fire acrss Brazil, most of them in the Amazon region. Mr Bolsonaro has brushed off the latest data, arguing that it was the season of the “queimada”, when farmers burn land to clear it before planting. However, Inpe has noted that the number of fires is not in line with those normally reported during the dry season. Wildfires often occur in the dry season in Brazil but they are also deliberately started in efforts to illegally deforest land for cattle ranching.
Conservationists say Mr Bolsonaro has encouraged loggers and farmers to clear the land. During his campaign, he pledged to limit fines for damaging the rainforest and to weaken the influence of the environmental agency.