Brazil’s president has signed an order deploying military troops to help battle the huge wildfires searing through the Amazon.
Jair Bolsonaro has previously described rainforest protection as an impediment to economic growth, in the face of critics pointing out its importance in containing global warning.
But as vast swathes of forest continue to go up in smoke the governor of the Amazon state of Roraima, Antonio Denarium, told reporters in Brasilia that the president had signed off on sending the army in to help combat the wildfires.
Protesters gathered outside the Brazilian consulate in London, Paris and Geneva urging the government to do more to tackle record number of blazes.
Neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay have also struggled to contain fires that swept through woods and fields and, in many cases, got out of control in high winds after being set by residents clearing land for farming.
In escalating tension over the fires, France accused Bolsonaro of having lied to Emmanuel Macron and threatened to block a European Union trade deal with several South American states, including Brazil.
The specter of possible economic repercussions for Brazil and its South American neighbors show how the Amazon is becoming a battleground between Bolsonaro and Western governments alarmed at the extent of the devastation.
Ahead of this weekend’s G7 summit, Macron’s office issued a statement questioning Bolsonaro’s trustworthiness and accusing him of deciding ‘to not respect his commitments on the climate, nor to involve himself on the issue of biodiversity’.
Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, also chimed in on the issue noting that he is ‘truly worried about the attitude Brazil seems to have adopted right now regarding’ the fires.
‘Brazilian rainforests are vital for the world’s climate’ and the country should do whatever it can to stop the blazes, Rinne added.
Bolsonaro in return accused Macron of politicizing the issue and European countries of exaggerating Brazil’s environmental problems in order to disrupt its commercial interests.
He said he intended to convert land for cattle pastures and soybean farms.
Even so, Brazilian state experts have reported a record high of nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85 per cent over the same period in 2018.
Brazil contains about 60 per cent of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall.
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