By Tia’Lavon Hill, Contributing Writer for Telegraph Local
On Friday, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro authorized use of the military to battle the fires that is tearing through the rainforest, while thousands took to the streets to protest his environmental policies. This action comes two weeks after the fires not only ravaged huge parts of the Amazon rainforest, but also threatened to start a few global political disputes at the same time. According to the presidential decree, starting Saturday military aircrafts and about 44,000 troops will deploy for a month to border areas, indigenous territories and other affected regions in the Amazon to assist in putting out fires. The armed forces will collaborate with public security and environmental protection agencies, the decree says. “The protection of the forest is our duty,” the president said.
“We are aware of that and will act to combat deforestation and criminal activities that put people at risk in the Amazon. We are a government of zero tolerance for crime, and in the environmental field it will not be different.” As the president spoke, thousands of Brazilians demonstrated in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and the capital of Brasilia demanding the government announce concrete actions to curb the fires. Small numbers of demonstrators also gathered outside Brazilian diplomatic missions in Paris, London, Geneva and Bogota, Colombia, to urge Brazil to do more to fight the fires. Larger protests were held in Uruguay and Argentina.
Hundreds also protested in Chile, Ecuador and Peru. It looks like the people aren’t the only ones who have some concerns about the sincerity of the President’s promises. In escalating tension over the fires, France accused Bolsonaro of having lied to the French President Emmanuel Macron. As a result, Macron threatened to block a trade deal with a South American bloc which includes Brazil. Ireland joined in on the threat as well.
However, the Brazilian government has said European countries are exaggerating Brazil’s environmental problems in order to disrupt its commercial interests. According to NASA scientist Doug Morton, things may be more serious than perceived “Fires are directly burning into the Amazon rainforest and that releases the carbon stored in those trees. The carbon then enters the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane, where it contributes to the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change, bringing us a warmer and a drier planet.” Neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay have also struggled to contain fires that swept through woods and fields, in many cases set to clear land for farming. About 2,900 square miles of land has been affected in Bolivia, Defense Minister Javier Zavaleta said.
An estimated 40 square miles have burned in northern Paraguay, near the borders with Brazil and Bolivia, said Joaquín Roa, a Paraguayan state emergency official. He said the situation had stabilized. Fires are common in Brazil in the annual dry season, but they are much more widespread this year. Brazilian state experts reported nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018. Just over half of those fires have occurred in the Amazon region. Brazil contains about 60% of the Amazon rainforest.
U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday that he spoke with Bolsonaro.“Our future Trade prospects are very exciting and our relationship is strong, perhaps stronger than ever before,” Trump tweeted. “I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon Rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist!” Argentina, which is struggling with rising poverty and austerity measures, has offered to send emergency workers to Brazil and Bolivia to help battle the fires. Chile also offered aid.