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DiCaprio Responds After Brazil's Bolsonaro Claims He Is Contributing to Amazon Fires

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(L) Leonardo DiCaprio. JB Lacroix / Getty Images (R) Jair Bolsonaro. Jeso Carneiro / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has found a new person to blame for the record number of wildfires that have ravaged the Amazon rainforest this year: actor and environmental advocate Leonardo DiCaprio.


"Leonardo DiCaprio is a great guy, isn't he?" Bolsonaro said Friday, as CNN reported. "Donating money to set the Amazon on fire."

This is not the first time that Bolsonaro has blamed environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for intentionally starting fires in order to raise money. While indigenous and environmental groups have blamed Bolsonaro's pro-development rhetoric and policies for the uptick in illegal burns in the Amazon, the president has pushed back by shifting blame. This August, as the news of the fires sparked international outrage, he claimed that "everything indicates" the fires were started by NGOs, though he did not provide any proof.

His accusations against DiCaprio come as four volunteer firefighters have been arrested for allegedly starting fires in Brazil's northern Pará state in order to attract NGO donations, BBC News reported. Specifically, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been accused of paying the firefighters for photographs of burned forest. WWF denies these claims, and human rights and environmental organizations said the arrests were politically motivated and an attempt to harass environmental groups.

Bolsonaro first connected DiCaprio with the fires in a webcast Thursday discussing the accusations against WWF.

"So what did the NGO do? What is the easiest thing? Set fire to the forest. Take pictures, make a video. [WWF] makes a campaign against Brazil, it contacts Leonardo DiCaprio, he donates $500,000," Bolsonaro said, according to BBC News. "A part of that went to the people that were setting fires. Leonardo DiCaprio, you are contributing to the fire in the Amazon, that won't do."

DiCaprio responded with a statement posted on Instagram Saturday.

"At this time of crisis for the Amazon, I support the people of Brazil working to save their natural and cultural heritage," DiCaprio wrote. "They are an amazing, moving and humbling example of the commitment and passion needed to save the environment."

DiCaprio has a history of promoting environmental causes. He promised in December 2018 to match every donation made to the group Amazon Frontlines for all of 2019, The New York Times reported. His Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation works to protect vulnerable wildlife and ecosystems.

However, he said in his statement that he had not supported the groups currently being accused, though he said they were "worthy of support."

"I remain committed to supporting the Brazilian indigenous communities, local governments, scientists, educators and general public who are working tirelessly to secure the Amazon for the future of all Brazilians," DiCaprio said.

WWF also said in a statement that it had not received any money from DiCaprio, The New York Times reported.

Global Wildlife Conservation and IUCN Species Survival Commission, two of the largest environmental organizations currently working in the Amazon, also spoke out generally against the accusations, CNN reported.

"As an umbrella organization committed to biodiversity conservation, we are concerned that there are increasing and targeted attacks on people and groups working to protect nature in the Amazon," IUCN said. "Environmental defenders, whether in local communities, NGOs, or government agencies, should be afforded with the highest protection of the law in Brazil."

As a carbon sink, the Amazon rainforest is considered an essential part of the fight against the climate crisis, The New York Times pointed out. However, experts are concerned that if it continues to burn, it could reach a tipping point and transform from rainforest into grassland.

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