Wednesday 18 September 2019

Bolsonaro defies critics over Amazon farming

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: REUTERS/Adriano Machado
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's president, has doubled down in defence of his Amazon policies despite international condemnation for allowing loggers and farmers to trigger the worst wildfires on record.

Bolsonaro, the far-right former army captain and Donald Trump ally, used a rare televised address to say that those living in the Amazon basin should be allowed "to develop along with the rest of the country" by exploiting the "incalculable wealth... of natural resources" in the region.

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His speech was met with protests across the country, with residents in major cities whistling, banging pots and sounding car horns to show their displeasure.

It followed stark warnings from members of the G7, and European countries in particular, that threatened to derail a huge trade deal with Latin America.

There have been about 75,000 fires in the Amazon this year alone, an 83pc rise on last year. They have been blamed on loggers and farmers who have been given the green light by a raft of land reforms that have rolled back environmental regulations. Despite the increase in fires, the number of fines dished out this year has fallen 29.4pc.

Last Friday Bolsonaro ordered the armed forces to any Amazonian state that requests assistance.

Six states out of the Amazon region's nine yesterday requested military help.

Local indigenous groups have also began to speak about the fires which, along with a rapid increase in deforestation, are threatening their land. Indigenous chiefs have called for Bolsonaro's removal from presidential power.

Bolsonaro's speech was delivered with an uncharismatically humble tone compared with his usual brash demeanour. Under mounting pressure, he said the government is "working to combat illegal deforestation... which put our Amazon at risk".

The comments marked a retreat from his previous position blaming the fires on foreign NGOs bent on undermining him.

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