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Bolsonaro Forced to React While Fires Rage in Amazonia

The long list of controversies involving the Brazilian head of state caused a turmoil on the internal and international political scene. Homosexuals, women, blacks, and many other groups were on the radar of Jair Bolsonaro. He even went that far as to give praise to the dictatorship lasting from 1964 until 1985.

But none of the issues seemed as infuriating for the masses, both in Brazil and the world, as the recent fires that caught the Amazon region. The anger is blazing from all sides, and the president appears to be cornered.

For quite some time, Bolsonaro was dismissive of the criticism regarding his environmental politics. One of his angles was to claim that environmentalist groups even started the fires themselves in an attempt to discredit him and his government. The officials from Brasilia have been asking for looser laws regarding the Amazon ever since they came to power.

The idea of more lenient legislation in order to make room for agricultural development did not go well. The European leadership threatened to put an end to the trade deal with Brazil as well as with other South American countries. Thousand of protesters swamped the streets of the cities in Brazil and gathered in front of Brazilian embassies worldwide to express dissatisfaction. #PrayforAmazonia hashtag went viral in no time.

Internally, the situation started changing when Pope Francis called for action. He stated that the lungs of the Earth were burning. It caused quite a stir in the predominantly catholic Brazilian society.

Last Friday, Bolsonaro declared that 44,000 soldiers will go help fight the fires. This is a deviation from his aggressive, confrontational position he was holding since the catastrophe started. As it seems, the fire is charring the already deforested land and not the areas still covered with trees. However, it is very likely that those areas have been subject to illegal tree-cutting in the past years.

Many say that these actions are meager and belated. They only come as a reaction to severe international pressure. As per Mauricio Santoro, the criticism that the Brazilian president has been exposed to is unlike anything else on the current political scene. The country lost credibility by failing to honor international environmental agreements. The government seems to be unable to provide any respectable leadership on the worldwide stage, according to a professor of international relations from the Rio State University.

During the weekend, the military deployed its planes to dump water over Rondonia. The first batch of troupes headed towards the hot zones. The actions were deemed too weak by many Brazilians who rallied the streets again on Sunday. They are asking for a more suitable response from Bolsonaro. His name is often spelled with a dollar sign instead of S on the banners the protesters are carrying.

Many critics say that the current administration has been encouraging ranchers and farmers to strip away the land, seeing deforestation as a way to boost economic progress in Brazil. Bolsonaro seems to have changed the agenda and is ready to keep the rainforest protected. However, this comes as a result of diplomatic pressures and threats. Santoro again proves that foreign influences resonate with the government far more than any domestic action.

The president of the G-7 said that they were coming forward with the plan to assist Brazil in putting out the fires and repairing the damage. Emmanuel Macron stated that the assistance would be both financial and technical. The French president called for the most effective way of stopping the natural disaster.

Angela Merkel believes that reforestation is the crucial element of recovery after extinguishing the fires. Though she said that Germany fully respected Brazilian sovereignty, the question of Amazon was much wider, and the whole planet suffered.

During the dry season, wildfires are not uncommon in Brazil. However, this year, there have been 77,000 reported, which is 85% more than last year. Most of them are affecting the Amazon region, according to the National Space Research Institute.

Amazon has been defenseless for over eight months. It is a direct result of Bolsonaro’s environmental policies. This comes from the members of Brazil’s Amazonia Campaign by Greenpeace. One of them, Romulo Batista, claims that the government has been showing impunity to farmers who take part in illegal deforestation actions.

Further complications include the extinction of numerous plants and animals and the pollution of many towns and cities. It would affect the alteration of rain patterns on the entire continent. Agriculture would not flourish. It would suffer, Batista claims.

The pressure by G-7 will force Bolsonaro to change his attitude in spite of his arguments against the importance of the Amazon for controlling climate change. Among the first steps is the investigation announced by the federal police of the reports that farmers in Para have been involved in the setting of fires. Para is one of the states that is heavily affected by the disaster. Reportedly, some of the farmers have created a WhatsApp group in which they called for “a day of fire.” 

The action represented support to looser environmental legislation and to Bolsonaro himself. At this point, it seems that these acts will be the subject of rigorous prosecution and punishment, at least according to Bolsonaros Justice Minister, who is in charge of the police.

Despite Merkel’s comment that he is doing a lot to save the rainforest, Bolsonaro has a turbulent relationship with foreign governments, Germany included. Just on Friday, Macron’s office called him a liar. Still, he advised he would continue the talks with the French president over the current problems. 

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