Brazil’s President Inexplicably Blames Amazon Fires on Leonardo DiCaprio

The latest in a long line of controversial comments from Jair Bolsonaro

Jair Bolsonaro
Jair Bolsonaro has accused Leonardo DiCaprio of funding the Amazon wildfires.
Palácio do Planalto/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / December 1, 2019 11:00 am

Since taking office, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has increased under Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro. His response to the wildfires there has been equally contentious, which included turning aid to help combat the fires into a political football. It’s par for the course for a controversial political leader, with far-right politics and a stated nostalgia for the days of military rule

Now, Bolsonaro has set his sights on a new adversary. A report at The New York Times notes that he recently accused actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio of paying people to set fires in the Amazon.

If your reaction to this is “Wait, what?” — well, you’re not alone. Even in an era of politicians using philanthropists as all-purpose targets for politically expedient conspiracy theories, this accusation is particularly flagrant in its falsehood.

Bolsonaro’s comment on Friday was, pardon the pun, incendiary: “This Leonardo DiCaprio is a cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon.” The Times reports that there’s been some controversy surrounding the arrest of four members of a nongovernmental organization for allegedly setting fires to solicit donations. 

The Times notes that these arrests have also been the source of controversy: “Politicians and nongovernmental organizations had fiercely criticized the arrests, saying they were part of a concerted attempt by Mr. Bolsonaro’s government to harass environmental groups.”

CNN reports that DiCaprio responded with a post on Instagram on Saturday. “At this time of crisis for the Amazon, I support the people of Brazil working to save their natural and cultural heritage,” he wrote. “They are an amazing, moving and humbling example of the commitment and passion needed to save the environment.”

Bolsonaro’s bizarre feud won’t do anything to restore the Amazon — which is an even more concerning aspect of this for anyone concerned about the environment.

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