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Amazon fires: Brazil officials say rainforest warnings sensationalist



Brazil’s government is downplaying the record number of fires that have ripped through the Amazon this year, calling international warnings about the damage to the rainforest “sensationalist,” and “hysterical and misleading.”

The government is painting itself as the subject of an international smear campaign as activists and political leaders around the world urge action and decry state policies that have allowed increased clearing of the forest for farming and logging, which has likely been the source of many of the fires.

Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, accused French President Emmanuel Macron of trying to “make personal political gains in an internal matter” after the French leader called the fires an “international crisis.”

Macron called on Thursday for the fires to be discussed at the G7 summit of world leaders, which begins on Saturday.

“Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days! #ActForTheAmazon,” he tweeted.

Read more: 99% of the fires in the Amazon rainforest were started by humans, one expert says — here’s why they’ve gotten so out of control

Smoke billows during a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Amazonas State, Brazil on August 17.
Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

“I regret that Macron seeks to make personal political gains in an internal matter for Brazil and other Amazonian countries. The sensationalist tone he used does nothing to solve the problem,” Bolsonaro tweeted in reply.

Macron received support from Canada’s Justin Trudeau. But he may not ultimately get support from US President Donald Trump or other leaders like the UK’s Boris Johnson at the G7.

Bolsonaro also accused Macron of having a “colonialist mentality” for suggesting that the issue be discussed at the G7. Neither Brazil, nor other Amazonian nations like Colombia and Peru are members of the group.

Read more: Fires in the Amazon could be part of a doomsday scenario that sees the rainforest spewing carbon into the atmosphere and speeding up climate change even more

Smoke billows during a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Amazonas State, Brazil on August 14.
Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

Bolsonaro expressed frustration with other countries’ concern about the fires during a Facebook live on Thursday.

“These countries that send money here, they don’t send it out of charity … They send it with the aim of interfering with our sovereignty,” he said, Reuters reported.

António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations has also called for action to save the Amazon, while Ireland’s prime minister said he will try and block a trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur, a South American trade bloc, if Brazil does not take action to save the Amazon.

Amnesty International Secretary General Kumi Naidoo said: “Instead of spreading outrageous lies or denying the scale of deforestation taking place, we urge the President to take immediate action to halt the progress of these fires.”

INPE, Brazil’s space research center, has detected more than 74,000 fires so far in 2019 — almost double the number recorded in all of 2018.

Read more: Here’s what you can do to help the burning, ravaged Amazon rainforest

An aerial view shows a deforested plot of the Amazon near Porto Velho.

Bolsonaro’s response, and his insistence that the fires raging across the source of 20% of the world’s oxygen is a matter for only Brazil and other Amazonian countries, has been mirrored by other Brazilian officials.

Filipe Martins, one of Bolsonaro’s advisors, said the Amazon would be saved by Brazil and not “the empty, hysterical and misleading rhetoric of the mainstream media, transnational bureaucrats and NGOs,” Sky News reported.

Onyx Lorenzoni, Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, accused European countries of exaggerating the issue to harm Brazil’s commercial interests.

“There is deforestation in Brazil, yes, but not at the rate and level that they say,” he said, according to The Associated Press, which cited Brazilian news website

In May, Bolsonaro fired the head of INPE, Ricardo Galvao, saying that the institution had exaggerated the extent of deforestation in the Amazon, and calling one of its reports a “lie.”

“We cannot accept sensationalism, or the disclosure of inaccurate numbers that cause great damage to Brazil’s image,” Bolsonaro said at the time.

Members of Suriname indigenous tribes pray for the protection of the Amazon and Brazilian indigenous tribes on August 9, 2019.
REUTERS/Ranu Abhelakh

Despite his protestations, Bolsonaro said that Brazil does not have the resources to fight the fires itself.

“The Amazon is bigger than Europe, how will you fight criminal fires in such an area,” he told reporters on Thursday, according to Reuters. “We do not have the resources for that.”

Read more: The Amazon is losing about 3 football fields’ worth of rainforest per minute

Some European countries had decided to withhold money meant to help protect the Brazilian rainforests as Brazil’s leadership appeared uncommitted to the project, according to the AP.

The fires have put a new spotlight on Bolsonaro’s policies after he pushed the opening of the rainforest for industrial activities like logging and farming.

A tract of Amazon jungle burns as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Novo Airao, Amazonas state, Brazil August 21, 2019.
Bruno Kelly/Reuters

Alberto Setzer, a senior scientist at Brazil’s INPE told CNN that about 99% of fires in the Amazon start by humans actions, “either on purpose or by accident,” and that the fires are often used to clear the land for industry.

Bolsonaro has also repeatedly pushed an evidence-free theory that NGOs have started the fires in order to make Brazil look bad.

On Thursday, he acknowledged that farmers may be starting fires.

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