Under far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil has lost a staggering amount of the Amazon rainforest to man-made fires. A report earlier this year estimated that in just six months, more than 1,300 acres had burned away. Since Bolsonaro took power, he's largely demolished Brazil's conservation achievements, scrapping environmental regulations and scaling back enforcement of the laws he hasn't reversed. The result has been a massive spike in logging, cattle ranching, and mining in the Amazon, industries that rely on clear-cutting and burning parts of the rainforest.
But Bolsonaro is trying to lay the blame for the fires anywhere else. This past Thursday, the president repeated baseless claims that the World Wildlife Fund, a conservation NGO, had a hand in starting the fires in order to drum up donations. "So what did the N.G.O. do? What is the easiest thing? Set fire to the forest. Take pictures, make a video," Bolsonaro said on a live webcast. He added that the fund "makes a campaign against Brazil, it contacts Leonardo DiCaprio, he donates $500,000." He continued: "A part of that went to the people that were setting fires. Leonardo DiCaprio, you are contributing to the fire in the Amazon. That won’t do."
He repeated the accusation the next day, telling supporters outside the presidential residence, "This Leonardo DiCaprio is a cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon." Again, Bolsonaro gave no evidence to back up his accusations.
According to the Associated Press, Bolsonaro's accusations come shortly after Brazilian police forces raided the headquarters of two nonprofits this past week, and arrested four volunteer firefighters who authorities claim are under investigation for starting fires to get funding from sympathetic donors. But federal prosecutors say their investigations point toward illegal land-grabbers as the most likely culprits, not firefighters or non-profits. DiCaprio has been a vocal climate change activist for some time now, and his environmental organization, Earth Alliance, pledged $5 million to help protect the Amazon after the widespread fires became international news earlier this summer. In a statement to the AP, DiCaprio wrote that his environmental organization, Earth Alliance, has not contributed money to either of the accused nonprofits. "While worthy of support, we did not fund the organizations targeted. The future of these irreplaceable ecosystems is at stake and I am proud to stand with the groups protecting them," the statement reads.
Bolsonaro seems more invested in using the rainforest fires to perpetuate his personal grudges than he is in actually preventing them. In August, he announced that he was refusing to accept an aid package from G-7 countries, saying he would only take the money to protect the Amazon if he received a personal apology from French president Emmanuel Macron. Bolsonaro had previously mocked the French president's wife, and he was offended by how Macron responded.
Satellites detected a staggering 39,194 fires in the Amazon in just 2019.
Originally Appeared on GQ