As he comes under international pressure for his role in the fires raging across the Amazon rainforest, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced that he has authorized the country’s army to help battle the blazes.
As the Associated Press reported, Bolsonaro said military forces would start deploying on Saturday to areas of the Amazon where wildfires are raging. The president signed a decree saying that the forces would “act strongly” to control the fires and that it was the country’s “duty” to protect the rainforest.
“The protection of the forest is our duty,” the president said. “We are aware of that and will act to combat deforestation and criminal activities that put people at risk in the Amazon. We are a government of zero tolerance for crime, and in the environmental field it will not be different.”
But critics say that Jair Bolsonaro’s rhetoric and policies have been a direct factor in the fires existing in the first place. When he campaigned for president, Bolsonaro promised to open up the rainforest for development and pushed back against environmental regulations. Bolsonaro has also been a skeptic of climate change, and leaked documents show that his administration has been actively trying to sabotage conservation efforts.
The Independent reported that the Brazilian government had met with leaders in the state of Para, the home of the Amazonia National Park, and discussed Brazil needing to “fight off international pressure” to implement conservation plans.
The fires have garnered international media coverage and led to people taking aim at Bolsonaro, with many blaming his rhetoric and policies for leading to the sharp rise in wildfires. Environmental protection groups have also blamed the country’s policies for failing to properly manage the forests.
Environmental experts said the vast majority of the fires in the Amazon were purposely set by cattle farmers and loggers looking to clear the land for their own use. While this has previously been a common practice in the Brazilian rainforest, there has been a sharp uptick in the fires this summer, Bolsonaro’s first year in office.
There is also evidence that the Amazon fires were part of a coordinated effort on the part of developers who believed they had the backing of Bolsonaro. A report two weeks ago from the small Brazilian newspaper Jornal Folha do Progresso appeared to show direct evidence of this plan, saying that locals were planning what was called a “day of fire” or “burning day” in the Amazon.