Amazon Fires and the Politics

August 29, 2019 Updated: August 29, 2019

RECIFE, Brazil—Brazil has been affected by a wave of fires in the Amazon region since the beginning of August. Dry weather in the region has exacerbated the burning.

The fires began shortly after the federal government announced changes to the governance of the Amazon Fund, an initiative created in 2008 to raise funds from developed countries to fight deforestation in the Amazon.

While there are a high number of fires, the rate is about average for this time of year, according to NASA.

Illegal Fires

The dry season that spans August and September is contributing to the increase in the fires, making preventive actions more difficult.

“It’s normal to have fires at this time of year, but I have never seen fires on such a large scale and as close to urban areas as now,” said accountant Taís Santos, a resident of Porto Velho, Rondonia, a state that has experienced more fires than average.

According to environmental engineer Juliano Montaño, besides natural factors, the large number of fires in the region are likely the result of criminal actions such as illegal deforestation, especially in the Cerrado savanna.

“There are many occurrences of natural fires in the Cerrado area, but these events would not have grown to such a great extent if there was no criminal action,” he told The Epoch Times.

Investigations by Globo Rural magazine discovered that some of the fires were set deliberately to clear forest. The action was allegedly coordinated in a WhatsApp group of trade unionists, farmers, traders, and land-grabbers.

On Aug. 10, entitled “Day of Fire,” according to the Globo Rural report, the group hired people on motorbikes to set fire to land near Jamanxin National Forest, a 1.3 hectare (3.2 acre) environmental reserve.

Based on the information provided by the magazine, the minister of justice, Sergio Moro, announced an investigation led by the federal police to verify any criminal actions and arrest those responsible.

Due to the high number of fires in the Amazon region, the Ministry of Defense has ordered the deployment of 43,000 military personnel to reinforce firefighting efforts in the area, and dispatched two C-130 Hercules aircraft that can carry about 12,000 liters (3170 gallons) of water to douse the fires.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has issued a measure that bans land-clearing fires for 60 days. The decree was published Aug. 29.

NGO Fundraising

The president of Chile, Sebastian Piñera, has pledged to send aircraft to assist in fighting the fires.

In addition, the Brazilian president said that on Sept. 6, all countries that contain portions of the Amazon rainforest, except Venezuela, will meet to adopt a common policy to combat illegal deforestation.

While money is being pledged to save the Amazon, one senator from the state of Amazonas has been questioning the fundraising efforts of NGOs. Sen. Plínio Valério of the Brazilian Democracy Social Party said in an interview with The Epoch Times that there’s no transparency in how the funds are distributed.

“The vast majority of these organizations take advantage of the Amazonian appeal to raise money, but do not pass it on to the forest population, especially the indigenous people,” he said.

In order to clarify information from the NGOs, Valério has obtained the signatures of 30 senators to open an inquiry in the Senate into the actions of these organizations.

Use of Old Images

French President Emmanuel Macron has commented about the fires on Twitter and raised the issue on several occasions.

However, along with his comments, Macron tweeted an old photograph of Amazon fires as if it were a current image. The photograph posted was taken in 1989 by Loren McIntyre, an American photojournalist who died in 2003.

Macron had threatened in June not to sign the EU-Mercosur trade pact because of Bolsonaro’s antagonism toward the Paris Agreement. In his recent tweet, the French president said that the Amazon fires are an international crisis that should be discussed at the G-7 meeting.

Macron’s statement angered Bolsonaro, who said that the G-7 discussion in the absence of Brazil “evokes a misplaced colonialist mentality in the 21st century.”

President Donald Trump has offered help to Brazil to combat the fires. On Twitter, Trump said that Bolsonaro is “working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also offered assistance in fighting the fires.