Brazil’s president criticizes Leonardo DiCaprio over Amazon fires

National/World
Jair Bolsonaro

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro flashes a thumbs up as he greets supporters after attending a Changing of the Guard at the Planalto Presidential Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday said actor Leonardo DiCaprio had funded nonprofit groups that he claimed are partly responsible for widespread fires in the Amazon rainforest this year. Bolsonaro did not offer proof for the claim when speaking to a small group of supporters in Brasilia.

“DiCaprio is a cool guy, isn’t he? Giving money to set the Amazon on fire,” he said.

DiCaprio’s environmental organization Earth Alliance has pledged $5 million to help protect the Amazon after a surge in fires destroyed large parts of the rainforest in July and August.

The actor’s press representative did not immediately comment on Bolsonaro’s remarks.

The remarks are part of a wider government campaign against environmental nonprofit groups operating in Brazil. Some members of Bolsonaro’s administration argue that civil society groups and environmental laws hinder economic development in the region.

Bolsonaro and Environment Minister Ricardo Salles are promoting development in some protected natural areas, even as intentional fires and deforestation in the Amazon have reached levels not seen in a decade.

The criticism of DiCaprio and environmental activists follows a police raid at the headquarters of two nonprofit groups in the Amazonian state of Para earlier this week. Local police also arrested four volunteer firefighters and say they are investigating them for allegedly igniting fires to obtain funding from sympathetic donors.

The volunteer firefighters denied any wrongdoing and a judge ordered their release.

Federal prosecutors say their investigations point to land-grabbers as primary suspects for fires in the area, not nonprofits or firefighters.

Brazil’s president has previously suggested, without evidence, that nonprofit groups are setting fires in the Amazon. Bolsonaro has also questioned warnings about climate change.

Cattle ranchers, farmers and others have long used fire to clear land in the Amazon.

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