Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Claimed Actor Leonardo DiCaprio Financed The Amazon Rainforest Fires

'This Leonardo DiCaprio is a cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon,' Bolsonaro said.

fires burn in the amazon rainforest
Victor Moriyama / Getty Images

'This Leonardo DiCaprio is a cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon,' Bolsonaro said.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro claimed, without evidence, that actor Leonardo DiCaprio donated money to burn down the Amazon rainforest, The New York Times reports. It’s the latest attempt by the right-wing president to assign blame for the devastating fires.

Devastating Fires

The Amazon rainforest — which includes parts of Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru — is the world’s largest carbon dioxide sink. That is, its thick and abundant plant life absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, replacing it with precious, life-giving oxygen. As such, the rainforest is considered a bulwark against climate change.

Unfortunately, the forest is constantly being burned down by ranchers, farmers, developers, and land speculators. Such fires burn every year, but 2019 saw a surge in the illegal fires.

Though the practice is illegal, enforcement can be lax. And in Brazil, part of the blame for the surge in fires has been directed at Bolsonaro, whose political platform favors development and progress over conservation. And indeed, Bolsonaro has been loathe to take any blame for the fires, instead casting blame here and there, including now on the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

What Does The WWF Have To Do With It?

Rumors have started circulating on social media that the WWF has been paying firefighters for up-close images of the fire, which the group can then use to drum up donations.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 23: A piece of cardboard hold by a woman reads in Portuguese 'The Amazon is Ours' during a protest in defense of the Amazon and against deforestation and forest fires on August 23, 2019 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Bruna Prado/Getty Images)
  Bruna Prado / Getty Images

And in fact, four volunteer firefighters, not affiliated with the WWF but instead belonging to the group Alter do Chão Fire Brigade, were arrested and charged with deliberately setting fires in order to photograph them and use the photos to solicit donations.

However, some claim the arrest was a ruse to harass environmental groups.

What Does Leonardo DiCaprio Have To Do With This?

Bolsonaro claimed that DiCaprio donated half a million dollars to the WWF as part of its (the WWF’s) efforts to pay firefighters to start fires and take photos.

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“This Leonardo DiCaprio is a cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon… What is the easiest thing? Set fire to the forest. Take pictures, make a video. (WWF) makes a campaign against Brazil, it contacts Leonardo DiCaprio, he donates $500,000… Leonardo DiCaprio, you are contributing to the fire in the Amazon, that won’t do,” he said.

WWF has denied paying money to firefighters to drum up donations.

Similarly, DiCaprio, for his part, has also denied donating money to Amazon firefighting efforts.

“While worthy of support, we did not fund the organizations targeted,” he said in a statement.

DiCaprio is, however, an ardent environmentalist. He’s spoken frequently about the need to protect the Amazon, and through his foundation, the Earth Alliance, he’s worked on “protect[ing] vulnerable wildlife from extinction.”