Bolsonaro’s blame game

Caroline Hendrix, Contributing Writer

The Amazon fires began earlier in 2019, many of which were started by farmers with the intent of clearing land for use in the next farming season — at least, according to reporting by CNN. This practice is not new, however, and certainly has never reached the level of devastation now observable in the Amazon basin, thus making this simple explanation quite improbable on its own. President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, seems to disagree; the Brazilian President is more than eager to find a person or persons to blame for the fires in the Amazon forest. In recent times, Bolsonaro has gone to great lengths to shift blame for the fires from himself on the two most unlikely culprits: the World Wildlife Fund and Leonardo DiCaprio. What are Bolsonaro’s motives, and is there any truth behind his accusations?

It seems close to impossible that the World Wildlife Fund could – or would – orchestrate the Amazon fires. Nonetheless, Bolsonaro claims that this environmental organization started the fires with the intention of taking pictures of the devastations to spark an increase in donations, according to the New York Times. Yet this allegation comes with a major flaw: an international organization that works to aid in environmental protection would not likely further imperil the most diverse ecosystem on the planet. There should be no amount of monetary incentives that would cause the World Wildlife Fund to play a role in the creation of the fires in the Amazon.

Bolsonaro called out DiCaprio more directly. According to the New York Times, Bolsonaro believes that one of the donations that the World Wildlife Fund received from their alleged scheme was $500,000 from DiCaprio, which implies that DiCaprio is supporting the burning of the Amazon. The actor and environmental activist quickly responded to these claims this past Wednesday on Instagram, explaining that while he supports the World Wildlife Fund, he did not give any donations to the organization. DiCaprio’s statement appears to be much more probable than Bolsonaro’s allegations. After all, he is the co-founder of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, a group that supports finding solutions to the environmental issues that we face, including forest fires.

So, do I think that DiCaprio took any part in orchestrating or supporting the Amazon fires? Absolutely not. Do I think that Brazil’s president is shifting blame to distract the public from his possible role in the escalation of the fires? That would be a resounding yes. CNN reports an 80 percent increase in deforestation in Brazil from 2018 to 2019 and many put blame on Bolsonaro for this reality. Seeing as a 2018 CNN report claimed that Bolsonaro essentially froze Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency by making major budget cuts, these allegations may not be that far from the truth. By weakening this agency, Bolsonaro created a clear path for use of the land in the Amazon, which allowed deforestation to occur much easier than it did before. In turn, the deforestation makes fires spread easier by creating dry areas of land in the Amazon that are typically wet.

Bolsonaro is no doubt attempting to avoid taking responsibility for his role in the increase in deforestation and ultimately, his role in the spread of the Amazon fires. His accusations against DiCaprio and the World Wildlife Fund are overwhelmingly flawed, which only makes the public further question what he has to hide.

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