September 19, 2019
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Brazil's leading environmentalist calls Amazon fires a "holocaust"

Quito, Aug 26 (efe-epa).- The failure to protect the environment and an outdated approach to economic development are the main factors behind the fiery "holocaust" raging in the Amazon region, Brazil's most prominent environmentalist said here Monday.

"The lack of commitment to the most important tropical rainforest on the planet" has combined with "a mistaken vision of development, which wants to reproduce in the 21st century the same pattern of development of the beginning of the 20th century," Marina Silva told Efe ahead of a sustainable development conference in Quito.

"We know about the grave global environmental crisis," she said, adding that desertification has already created more than 150 million "environmental refugees."

Silva, who served as Brazil's environment minister from 2003-2008, placed some blame for the current situation in the Amazon on the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has rolled back environmental regulation and called for expanding both agriculture and extractive industries in the region.

But above all, she said, it is "climate change that threatens the planet's equilibrium," made worse by "populist" politicians who encourage settlers in the Amazon to persist in outmoded practices such as using fires to clear land for planting.

One way to disincentivize such practices would be to create "a certification process" that allows agricultural producers who eschew burning to command higher prices for their products, Silva said.

The National Space Research Council (INPE), which monitors fires in Brazil using satellite imagery, said the number of blazes in the country was up 83 percent compared with the same time last year.

The INPE said in a report released on Aug. 20 that 52.5 percent of the 71,497 fires registered between Jan. 1 and Aug. 18 were in the Amazon region.

Silva, who has run for president three times on an environmental platform, warned that another fire-season of the magnitude of this year's could push the Amazon beyond the point of "no return."

"That's why it is important to apply all necessary measures to impede that systemic imbalance," she said, pointing to Bolsonaro's policies as having contributed to the "pernicious potion that led to this environmental holocaust."

After addressing a gathering in Quito sponsored by the Latin American Future Foundation, Silva plans to return to Brazil and consult with politicians, activists and academic experts on the drafting of a proposal to Congress for addressing the crisis in the Amazon.

As an activist, Silva won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for South & Central America in 1996. In 2007, the United Nations Environment Program named the then-environment minister as one of the Champions of the Earth. EFE

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Brazilian troops fight fires in 8 Amazon states

Porto Velho, Brazil, Aug 26 (efe-epa).- The Brazilian armed forces, under orders from President Jair Bolsonaro, have organized to fight the wildfires that are destroying vast expanses of the Amazon rainforest, and on Monday were operating in eight of the nine affected states.

Amapa joined the states of Acre, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Para, Rondonia, Roraima and Tocantins in calling for military reinforcements to deal with the region's most destructive fire season in seven years.

The only Amazon state that has not yet requested aid of the right-wing federal government is Maranhao, whose Communist Party Gov. Favio Dino is one of Bolsonaro's staunchest adversaries.

The mobilization of the armed forces was announced last Friday as Bolsonaro's first fire-fighting measure following fierce criticism from both inside the country and abroad that the government was doing nothing to combat the illegal deforestation of the Amazon region.

Up to now, the state that has called up the most troops is Roraima, from whose capital, Porto Velho, two C-130 Hercules tanker aircraft have been operating since Saturday, each equipped with five cisterns holding up to 12,000 liters (3,200 gallons) of water per flight.

The Amapa state government said the aid requested is mostly of a preventive nature, since it is getting ready for the dry season that hits this state so intensely in the months of October and November.

"Though Amapa is not facing a critical situation either from wildfires or illegal deforestation, we must act preventively because as the drought intensifies, it leaves the land set to go up in flames," according to the message the state government sent to the presidency.

Despite criticism that the president is undermining environmental policies, thus leading to runaway deforestation, and because of his delay in reacting to the wildfires, the Bolsonaro government guaranteed that the situation is under control and that the negative reactions were "exaggerated for political reasons."

Brazil also claimed that such fires break out every year.

The National Space Research Council (INPE), which monitors fires in Brazil using satellite imagery, said the number of blazes in the country was up 83 percent compared with the same time last year.

The INPE said in a report released on Aug. 20 that 52.5 percent of the 71,497 fires registered between Jan. 1 and Aug. 18 were in the Amazon region.

While drought is a factor, experts say that accelerating deforestation is the main driver behind the spike in wildfires.

The Brazilian government expressed gratitude for the $20 million in aid to fight the fires approved Monday by the G7 countries, but stated clearly that it will use the funds in a sovereign manner.

The G7 aid will chiefly serve to pay for sending tanker planes to the Amazon region.

Once the blazes are controlled, the G7 also plans to launch within next September's United Nations General Assembly, and in coordination with the Amazon nations, a plan to pursue reforestation and the conservation of biodiversity. EFE-EPA cm/cd

World leaders pledge aid for Amazon wildfires

Biarritz, France/São Paulo, 26 Aug (efe-epa).- G7 leaders have agreed to mobilize $20 million to help fight massive wildfires affecting the Amazon rainforest amid fresh protests in Brazil.

A record number of blazes are burning in the Amazon region in Brazil, according to official reports.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced that G7 countries will release $20 million and that France will offer military backup to firefighting efforts.

The funding announcement was made during a summit of the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US in the French city of Biarritz.

"We will immediately offer Amazonian countries who have requested help financial aid," Macron said during a press conference with Chile's president Sebastián Piñera.

Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro responded that the plan to “save the Amazon” portrayed Brazil “as if we were a colony of no-man's land”.

“We cannot accept that a president, Macron, unleashes and gratuitous attacks on the Amazon, nor disguise his intentions behind the idea of an 'alliance' of G7 countries,” he wrote on Twitter.

The Brazilian leader previously said on Twitter that he had accepted Israel's offer to dispatch an aircraft to tackle the blazes.

The president of Bolivia Evo Morales welcomed the offer of aid from international leaders on Sunday.

He said that the G7 members “must understand that the fire in the Amazon is an urgent call to move from worry to action”.

Morales also announced that Peru would provide support with two helicopters to fight fires in Chiquitania.

Thousands of wildfires have been recorded ravaging parts of the world's largest rainforest, prompting a global outcry and heaping international pressure on Bolsonaro to take action in Brazil, the country with the largest share of Amazonian territory.

Scores of trade unionists protested in the streets of São Paulo on Monday against Bolsonaro’s environmental policy and accused his government of failing to act.

The event denounced a series of acts by which the state has "ignored" the increase in forest fires in the Amazon and that have contributed to the worsening of the situation.

"Development is necessary, but it has to be promoted with extreme respect for life, nature, jungle villages and local populations," said Miguel Torres, president of the Metallurgist Union of São Paulo.

International pressure and days of demonstrations around the world finally forced Bolsonaro to react and he announced on Friday his intention to combat forest crimes.

Nearly 44,000 Brazilian soldiers were deployed to the vast region on Saturday.

The Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (Coica) criticized the governments of Brazil and Bolivia and called for them to be sanctioned for "genocide and ecocide."

The Amazon region has registered more than half of the 71,497 forest fires detected in Brazil between January and August of this year, 83% more than in the same period of 2018, according to official data. EFE-EPA

cm/ysm/mgr-er/rb

With added contributions from correspondents in La Paz, Bolivia, Biarritz, France, and Rachael Burnett at the Madrid desk.

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