Amazon wildfires: President Jair Bolsonaro says Brazil has just 40 men to fight widespread ‘chaos’

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said his government lacks the resources to fight wildfires devastating the Amazon rainforest.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, he said Brazil was in “chaos” and that his government could only send “40 men” to fight the extensive fires.

He said: “The Ministry of Justice can send 40 men to combat the fight, but do you understand that? Forty men. There are not enough resources. We are in chaos.”

It follows satellite images showing a record number of burning spots in the forest this year.

Mr Bolsonaro also denied accusing environmental groups of starting the fires, saying he was merely airing his suspicions when he spoke previously on the issue.

The president had suggested, without citing any evidence, the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) could be starting the wildfires to make him look bad.

“Maybe – I am not affirming it – these [NGO people] are carrying out some criminal actions to draw attention against me, against the government of Brazil,” the leader previously said in a video posted to his Facebook account.

“This is the war we are facing.”

On Thursday, he appeared to suggest NGOs were angered after losing government funding and was pressed why he linked them to the fires.

He told reporters: “For God’s sake – there is not proof of that [NGOs causing the fires], nobody writes ‘I will set fire to that’. It does not exist. If you don’t catch someone red-handed while setting the fire then look for those responsible for ordering it – it’s a crime.”

Mr Bolsonaro also said: “Do you want me to blame the indigenous? Do you want me to blame the Martians? In my understanding there is a strong suspicion that the people from the NGOs lost the teat.”

When asked if farmers could be behind the fires, the president replied: “Yes, it could be the farmers, everybody is a suspect but the biggest suspects come from the NGOs.”

He added: “I have not accused the NGOs. I said suspect.”

The latest comments come after environment minister Ricardo Salles was booed as he took the stage at a UN workshop on climate change in the northern state of Bahia on Wednesday.

Some audience members at the event – which Mr Salles tried to cancel earlier this year – shouted and waved placards emblazoned with the words “stop ecocide” and “the Amazon is burning”.

The minister spoke briefly at the workshop and said climate change needed to be addressed.

Pressure has been growing on the Brazilian government after the country’s official monitoring agency reported a sharp increase in Amazon wildfires this year.

The National Institute for Space Research said the country had seen a record number of wildfires this year, counting 74,155 as of Tuesday. It marks an 84% increase compared to the same period in 2018.

The states worst affected this year are Mato Grosso, Para and Amazonas, which fall within the Amazon region. The wildfires account for 41.7% of all fires.

Mr Bolsonaro, who once threatened to leave the Paris climate accord, has previously attacked environmental groups, which have been seen as obstacles in the leader’s quest to develop the country’s full economic potential, even in protected areas.

He and Mr Salles have been calling for more development and economic opportunities in the Amazon region, which they consider to be over-protected by current laws.

On Thursday, the Brazilian president tweeted a thread by presidential adviser Filipe G Martins, who said “there’s a reason why Brazil has the best environmental credentials and the best preserved forests in the word (sic): we know how to protect and take care of what is ours”.

Mr Martins adds that “Brazil is the most successful country in the world in preserving the primeval forests within its borders” and that “our environmental legislation is also one of the most stringent in the world”.

“If you are wondering who is going to save the Amazon, here’s a very straightforward answer for you: it’s not the empty, hysterical and misleading rhetoric of the mainstream media, transnational bureaucrats and NGOs, but the sovereign action of Brazil,” he concludes.

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