Brazil Military Mobilizes to Fight Amazon Fires Amid Global Backlash

By (Pilar Melendez)
Antonio Scorza/Getty

Amid global outcry over its delayed response, Brazil on Saturday deployed more than 40,000 troops as apart of an awaited military operation to battle the fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest, officials said. 

Brailizan military officials said they had dispatched two C-130 cargo planes with firefighting equipment and are sending nearly 44,000 troops to six states in the Amazon area in an “unprecedented” move. As of Saturday, six Brazilian states had requested federal help to contain hundreds of fires that have been burning for several weeks, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo said. The six Brazilian states under fire siege are Para, Rondonia, Roraima, Tocantins, Acre, and Mato Grosso.

The Amazon basin is often referred to as the lungs of the world and the valuable forests there are said to consume as much as 20 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide production. Satellite images released by NASA Friday show pockets of the actively burning fires and smoke in Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia.

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According to The New York Times, the Brazilian chief of the Armed Forces’ Joint Staff said Saturday’s deployment is to create “a positive perception of the country.”

The plan comes a day after European leaders threatened to veto an EU trade deal with South America struck in June over Brazil’s non-response to the weeks-long environmental crisis. On social media, thousands called for a boycott of Brazilian products. 

French President Emmanuel Macron accused Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro of lying about his commitment to fighting climate change and launched an appeal to the other national leaders at the G-7 summit to discuss the Amazon fires. Bolsonaro denounced what he calls Macron's “colonialist mentality” on Friday. 

EU Council president Donald Tusk reportedly echoed Macron’s warning to reporters at the summit Saturday, saying it would be hard to imagine European countries ratifying the trade pact with Brazil amidst the ongoing fires. 

Hours alter, Bolsonaroa long-time vocal critic of Brazil’s strict environmental regulations—said in a televised speech that the government would take a “zero tolerance” approach to environmental crimes and accused his “profound love and respect for the Amazon.” The far-right leader previously argued the environmental fines in the Amazon are an “industry” that should be abolished, pledged to aid industries who want access to the protected areas, and dismissed concerns about the raging fires for days

“It shows the concern of Bolsonaro’s government about this issue,” Azevedo reportedly said. “It was a very fast response.”

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During a news conference on Saturday morning, officials reportedly said the first mission will deploy 700 troops to the capital of Rondonia. He added that the military will use two C-130 Hercules aircraft capable of dumping up to 12,000 liters of water on fires. Azevedo said military leaders are also organizing a task force to assess how their intelligence could contain the fires in areas previously evacuated.

While the vast majority of fires were deliberately started by farmers and loggers trying to clear land for future industrial or agricultural use, the fires have increased by 83 percent, Brazil's National Institute for Space Research reported. The INPE said about 1,663 new fires were ignited between Thursday and Friday. More than 1,200 of those fires were spotted in the Amazon region. 

The military’s goal is to “preserve this forest that we all need because it is a treasure of our biodiversity and our climate thanks to the oxygen that it emits and thanks to the carbon it absorbs,” he added.

The defense minister also noted while President Trump offered in a tweet to help Brazil combat the fires, there had been no further contact on the matter.

“Our future trade prospects are very exciting and our relationship is strong, perhaps stronger than ever before,” Trump tweeted Friday. “I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist!”

The Trump administration, however, has made no official statement on whether the U.S. will be aiding Brazil in their efforts to stop the blaze.

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