Bolsonaro accuses critics of setting fires in the Amazon to hurt his image

Brazil’s right-wing president on Wednesday shifted blame to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for the wildfires currently raging through the Amazon rainforest at record rates, accusing the groups of starting the fires in an effort to hurt his image, The Washington Post reports.

“The fire was started, it seemed, in strategic locations,” President Jair Bolsonaro reportedly said Wednesday. “There are images of the entire Amazon. How can that be? Everything indicates that people went there to film and then to set fires. That is my feeling.”

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“Crime exists. These people are missing the money,” he continued, referring to funding cuts to NGOs that were implemented under his administration.

According to Reuters, when pressed about whether he had evidence to support his claims, Bolsonaro said that he had “no written plan” and added that “that’s not how it’s done.”

Marcio Astrini, who serves as the public policy coordinator for Greenpeace Brazil, called Bolsonaro's claims “sick” and “pitiful” in a statement to the news agency.

“Increased deforestation and burning are the result of his anti-environmental policy,” he continued.

Other environmentalists also blasted Bolsonaro’s claims shortly after, with some accusing Bolsonaro of attempting to use the allegations as a “smoke screen” to cover his own administration’s role in rescinding environmental protections for the region since he took office this year.

Since Bolsonaro, who has called for the development of the Amazon region in his country, took office, reports say deforestation of Brazil's Amazon has risen to a rate above three football fields per minute. 

As wildfires continue to engulf Brazil's Amazon rainforest at a record pace, Bolsonaro has come under immense scrutiny with advocates saying fires have increased in areas of the world's largest rainforest where deforestation has also risen.