Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is being criticized for attending a comedy club as fires rage across the Amazon rainforest — blazes that environmentalists say that Bolsonaro himself bears credit for encouraging.
The far-right president campaigned last year on a promise to open up the Brazilian rainforest for more development and would not let environmental regulations get in the way. The rainforest fires were caused almost entirely by loggers and cattle farmers looking to clear land, and many environmental experts believe that the sharp uptick in fires this year compared to last are a result of Bolsonaro’s encouragement to use the massive rainforest as a national commodity.
As The Guardian reported, Bolsonaro is coming under pressure now for attending a comedy club as a pre-recorded speech aired to the nation assuring that he had directed the army to help fight the fires. The Brazilian president had already been accused of failing to properly respond to the fires, and the decision to forgo speaking live to the nation and instead attend a comedy club drew widespread criticism.
The Brazilian president appears to be taking the crisis seriously in recent days. As the Associated Press reported, Bolsonaro vowed this week to “act strongly” to control the fires and said it was the country’s “duty” to protect the rainforest, even though critics said that his lack of action contributed to the fires spreading over the course of the last few weeks.
“The protection of the forest is our duty,” the Brazilian 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.”
Critics say that Bolsonaro’s statements about opening up the forest for development offered encouragement to loggers and farmers who have set the fires. Leaked documents had also seemed to indicate that Jair Bolsonaro was trying to sabotage conservation efforts in encouraging more development of the rainforest.
The Independent reported that the Brazilian government had met with leaders in the state of Para, where the Amazonia National Park is located, and discussed the need for Brazil to “fight off international pressure” to implement conservation plans.
Jair Bolsonaro is now facing international pressure as well. As the Independent noted, French President Emmanuel Macron threatened to veto a EU trade deal with South American states, including Brazil, over concerns with the Amazon fires.