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Brazil’s Bolsonaro Blamed Leonardo DiCaprio For The Amazon Fires, Now The Actor Claps Back

During a webcast President Jair Bolsonaro blamed the Academy Award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio for causing the increase in Amazon forest fires. The controversial rightwing president seemed to think the cause of the depleting rainforest is nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). CNN noted that Bolsonaro went on the rant “providing no evidence to support the accusation.”

DiCaprio has a long history of supporting environmental causes and has pledged $5 million to save the Amazon. According to the BBC, Bolsonaro has made four arrests — despite a lack of evidence — that some volunteer firefighters were starting fires to use the images to solicit donations for NGOs. 

Bolsonaro calls Leonardo DiCaprio out for allegedly donating half a million to an NGO. 

“The NGO people, what did they do? What’s easier? Set fire to the bush,” Bolsonaro said in a webcast. “Take photo, film, send it to an NGO, the NGO spreads it out, does a campaign against Brazil, gets in touch with Leonardo DiCaprio and Leonardo DiCaprio donates $500,000 to this NGO. One part went to the people who were setting the fire, right?”

Bolsonaro essentially blamed DiCaprio for participating in an unsubstantiated conspiracy to set the Amazon rainforest on fire to accrue donations to save it. 

“Leonardo DiCaprio, you are assisting with the burning of the Amazon, that can’t be,” Bolsonaro continued in the bizarre rant.

Bolsonaro’s accusations seem to stem from a disputed social media conspiracy that the World Wildlife Fund paid volunteer firefighters to set fire to the Amazon and take photos.

However, NGOs are saying Bolsonaro’s accusations were politically motivated and the law enforcement sting was harassing the environmental groups when it arrested the volunteer firefighters. Despite opposition, the president continued to blame the actor. 

“This Leonardo DiCaprio is a cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon,” Bolsonaro said the following day. 

DiCaprio responds to Bolsonaro on Instagram. 

“At this time of crisis for the Amazon, I support the people of Brazil working to save their natural and cultural heritage. They are an amazing, moving and humbling example of the commitment and passion needed to save the environment. The future of these irreplaceable ecosystems is at stake and I am proud to stand with the groups protecting them,” DiCaprio stated.

DiCaprio denied even having any ties or donating to the World Wildlife Fund. The World Wildlife Fund also denied receiving any money from DiCaprio. The actor’s foundation, named after himself and created in 1998, is dedicated to combating climate change. In 2018, DiCaprio’s foundation said it would match recurring donations for the entire year of 2019. 

“While worthy of support, we did not fund the organizations targeted. I remain committed to supporting the Brazilian indigenous communities, local governments, scientists, educators and general public who are working tirelessly to secure the Amazon for the future of all Brazilians,” the actor said. 

This isn’t the first time Bolsonaro has claimed that NGOs, rather than illegal farming and logging, is the cause of the deforestation in the Amazon. In August, he said “everything indicates,” NGOs were starting the fires, according to Reuters. 

Two major organizations issue statements regarding Bolsonaro’s attack on NGOs. 

Two of the largest environmental groups in the Amazon, Global Wildlife Conservation and IUCN Species Survival Commission released statements calling out the president. 

“We are alarmed by recent events that seek to undermine this progress. In the past few days, false accusations have been made to undermine environmental defenders and distract the general public from policies that directly lead to environmental disasters like those across the Amazon earlier this year,” GWC said in a statement. 

The IUCN also defended NGOs and environmental activists from the ire of the rightwing leader saying, “environmental defenders, whether in local communities, NGOs, or government agencies, should be afforded with the highest protection of the law in Brazil.” 

Activists speak out against Bolsonaro’s continued targeting of environmental groups. 

Bolsonaro decreased NGO funding after taking office. Under his administration, Amazon fires have peaked, increasing by 83%, with INPE recording 72,843 fires in 2019 as of August. Many advocates believe Bolsonaro’s attacks are a diversion from his administration’s negligence and considerable dismantling of protections for the rainforest. 

“This is a sick statement, a pitiful statement,” Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brazil’s public policy coordinator, told Reuters. “Increased deforestation and burning are the result of his anti-environmental policy.”

The increase in fires is more accurately attributed to farmers clearing the land for cattle — an act Bolsonaro seemed to encourage.

“NGOs working in the Amazon do not use fire in farming. On the contrary, they encourage rural communities to avoid fire,” climate scientist, Carlos Nobre, told Reuters. 

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