Brazil’s burning ban takes effect as Amazon fires rage


PORTO VELHO, Brazil, Aug 30, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – A 60-day ban on burning in
Brazil took effect Thursday after a global outcry over fires raging in the
Amazon and data showing hundreds of new blazes in the rainforest.

The decree issued by President Jair Bolsonaro comes after escalating
international pressure over the worst fires in the Amazon in years, which
have ignited a diplomatic spat between Brazil and Europe.

But activists quickly doused hopes that the ban would work.

“The people who burn without a license are not going to obey,” said Rodrigo
Junqueira of the Socio-Environmental Institute.

Thousands of troops and firefighters have been deployed since the weekend
to combat the fires, along with two C-130 Hercules and other aircraft that
are dumping water over affected areas in the country’s north.

Police on Thursday arrested three people for burning more than 5,000
hectares (12,350 acres) in a conservation area in Para state.

More than 1,600 new fires were ignited between Tuesday and Wednesday,
taking this year’s total to almost 85,000 — the highest number since 2010,
official data shows. Around half of them are in the vast Amazon basin.

Bolsonaro however claimed in a live broadcast on Facebook that “this year’s
fires are below the average of recent years.”

UN chief Antonio Guterres on Thursday mooted a meeting of key countries to
drum up support to tackle the fires that have also devastated swaths of

“We are strongly appealing for the mobilization of resources and we have
been in contact with countries to see whether, during the high-level session
of the General Assembly, there could be a meeting devoted to the mobilization
of support to the Amazon,” Guterres told reporters.

Brazil’s foreign ministry said it was not aware of the proposal.

It urged “foreign authorities” to learn more about the country’s
environmental policies, the situation in the Amazon and measures taken to
combat the fires “before proposing new initiatives.”

– Ban ‘not useful’ –

International offers of help for combating the fires is a hot-button issue
in Brazil, with Bolsonaro and others insisting on the country’s sovereign
rights over the Amazon.

Bolsonaro on Wednesday accused France and Germany of “buying” Brazil’s
sovereignty after the G7 offered $20 million in Amazon fire aid.

Vice President Hamilton Mourao — widely considered a moderate voice in
Bolsonaro’s government — also weighed in publicly for the first time on
Wednesday, insisting in an opinion piece that “our Amazon will continue to be

The governors of several states in the Amazon told Bolsonaro in a meeting
on Tuesday that international help was needed.

Their plea came after Norway and Germany halted around $70 million in
Amazon protection subsidies earlier this month.

The United States is ready to help Brazil fight forest fires in the Amazon,
President Donald Trump said Wednesday, criticizing the G7 for failing to
consult Bolsonaro over its initiative.

A water-bombing plane financed by G7 money has taken off from Paraguay to
help fight fires in the Amazon, in coordination with Chile, the French
president said Thursday.

Bolsonaro also renewed a demand Wednesday that French leader Emmanuel
Macron withdraw “insults” against him, fueling a war of words between the two
men that threatens to torpedo a huge trade deal between the European Union
and South American countries, including Brazil.

In the escalating row, Macron has accused Bolsonaro of lying to him about
Brazil’s climate change stance, while Bolsonaro has slammed Macron as having
a colonialist mentality.

“I think Bolsonaro is causing enormous harm to the Brazilian people, a
little out of evil and a little out of ignorance,” former president Luiz
Inacio Lula da Silva told the BBC from jail where he is serving almost nine
years for corruption.

Even as Bolsonaro’s decree was published, there were already doubts over
how Brazil would enforce the two-month ban on burning in the remote region
where deforestation has surged this year as agencies tasked with monitoring
illegal activities were weakened.

“It will not be useful,” a skeptical fruit shop owner in Porto Velho, the
capital of the northwestern state of Rondonia, told AFP.

“There’s insufficient supervision.”

Environmental group WWF said Brazil already had laws and tools to detect
illegal deforestation and burning, but it lacked enforcement.

“The certainty of impunity is the great spark that starts the fires,” WWF

Experts say increased land clearing during the months-long dry season to
make way for crops or grazing has aggravated the recurring problem of fires.

The defense ministry says the fires are under control and that the number
of blazes is falling, helped by recent rain in the affected areas.