Amid growing international criticism over the wildfires raging through the Amazon, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday admitted farmers could be illegally setting the rainforest ablaze but told foreign powers not to interfere.
French President Emmanuel Macron and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres both took to Twitter to express concern about the fires that have reached a record number this year, devastating vast swathes of forest considered a vital bulwark against climate change.
Bolsonaro responded angrily to what he regarded as meddling.
“These countries that send money here, they don’t send it out of charity. … They send it with the aim of interfering with our sovereignty,” he said in a Facebook Live broadcast.
But earlier on Thursday, he said that Brazil alone lacked the resources to control the fires.
“The Amazon is bigger than Europe, how will you fight criminal fires in such an area?” he asked reporters as he left the presidential residence. “We do not have the resources for that.”
Fires in the Amazon have surged 83% so far this year compared with the same period a year earlier, government figures show.
Although fires are a regular and natural occurrence during the dry season at this time of year, environmentalists blamed the sharp rise on farmers setting the forest alight to clear land for pasture.
Farmers may have had at least tacit encouragement from the firebrand right-wing president, who took power in January. Bolsonaro has repeatedly said he believes Brazil should open the Amazon up to business interests, to allow mining, agricultural and logging companies to exploit its natural resources.
On Wednesday, he blamed non-governmental organizations for setting the fires, without providing evidence. He appeared to row back on Thursday, when he said for the first time that farmers could be behind the fires.