Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed a decree on Thursday banning the setting of fires to clear land for farmers and other economic activities for the next two months.
He signed the decree amid escalating international pressure over fires in the Amazon that have led to fractious relations between Brasilia and some European nations, as the latter insist the fires, currently within the average of the past decade, are a serious environmental hazard. Bolsonaro also deployed thousands of troops and firefighters this weekend to tackle the fires, along with two C-130 Hercules and other aircraft that are dumping water over the most affected areas of rainforest.
Around 85,000 fires are currently raging across the Amazon, the largest figure since 2010, with more than half of them within the Amazon basin. Citing longer term dwindling of deforestation activities in the Amazon, Bolsonaro said Wednesday the scope of the fires is “under the average of the past few years.”
The decree also comes as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres suggested on Thursday bringing various countries together to draw up plans to tackle the crisis, which is also devastating Amazon territory in Bolivia.
“We are strongly appealing for the mobilization of resources and we have been in contact with countries to see whether, during the high-level session of the General Assembly, there could be a meeting devoted to the mobilization of support to the Amazon,” he told reporters.
Bolsonaro is a strong supporter of agribusiness and has proposed using some of the Amazon Rainforest for farming and other forms of economic development. He has resulted faced fierce opposition from environmental groups, and last week suggested that NGO’s started the fires to undermine his presidency.
“On the question of burning in the Amazon, which in my opinion may have been initiated by NGOs because they lost money, what is the intention?” Bolsonaro said at a steel industry congress in Brasilia. “Maybe — I am not affirming it — these (NGOs) are carrying out some criminal actions to draw attention against me, against the government of Brazil. This is the war we are facing.”
Brazil’s former socialist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, currently serving an over decade-long prison sentence for corruption during his term, has accused Bolsonaro of causing “tremendous evil” to the Brazilian people.
“They are deforesting as if Brazil and the world didn’t lack forests,” he told the BBC in an interview from prison. “The people who are setting fire to the Amazon on fire used to do the same in the past. People seem to think that to preserve the rainforest and fight global warming is foolish. There is real stupidity at a high level governing our country today.”