Leo DiCaprio responds after Brazilian president blames him for paying to have Amazon fires set

(Image: Wikimedia)

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro lamented fires that have scorched the Amazon rainforest and is holding actor Leonardo DiCaprio accountable.

The South American leader called out DiCaprio for “giving money to torch the Amazon,” referring to donations the actor has reportedly made to local non-profit organizations, according to Reuters.

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“This Leonardo DiCaprio is a cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon,” Bolsonaro said on Friday at the presidential residence after speaking about the actor the day before during a live webcast as he claimed that the World Wildlife Fund had paid volunteer firefighters for photos of the Amazon fires to use in soliciting donations.

“So what did the NGO do? What is the easiest thing? Set fire to the forest. Take pictures, make a video,” the president said. “(WWF) makes a campaign against Brazil, it contacts Leonardo DiCaprio, he donates $500,000.”

“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,” he added.

The WWF refuted the claims by Bolsonaro and said the organization did not obtain any photos from the firefighters and denied the alleged $500,000 contribution from DiCaprio.

“WWF Brazil rejects the attacks on its partners and the lies involving its name, including a series of lie-based social media attacks such as the purchase of photographs linked to a donation from the actor Leonardo DiCaprio,” the group said in a statement.

The 45-year-old “Titanic” star also denied the Brazilian president’s allegations, saying in a statement that he praised “the people of Brazil working to save their natural and cultural heritage.”

“While worthy of support, we did not fund the organizations targeted,” the statement read. “The future of these irreplaceable ecosystems is at stake and I am proud to stand with the groups protecting them.”

DiCaprio has often spoken out about the Amazon fires as well as other environmental issues and his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which is part of the Earth Alliance, targets projects that “protect vulnerable wildlife from extinction.”

Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo claimed in a tweet that DiCaprio had donated $300,000 to “the NGO that set fire to the Amazon.”

According to Reuters:

Four members of the nongovernmental organization Alter do Chão Fire Brigade were arrested on Tuesday with police accusing them of purposefully setting fires in order to document them and drum up more donations. They were released on Thursday on a judge’s order.

Politicians and other NGOs fiercely criticized the arrest, saying it was part of a concerted attempt by Bolsonaro’s government to harass environmental groups.

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro, who took office in January, has accused several people and organizations of setting the blazes, declaring in August that “everything indicates” non-governmental groups are to blame. Asked for any evidence to back his allegations, the president said he had “no written plan,” and “that’s not how it’s done.”

He also claimed that farmers could be illegally setting the rainforest fires and, weeks later, slammed the “lying media” for reporting that the fires were destroying the rainforest.

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Environmental groups have laid the blame on Bolsonaro, claiming his support of deforestation for farming and development has spurred land speculators, farmers and ranchers to set the fires in order to clear the land.

“This cowardly business of international NGOs like WWF and so many others from England sticking their noses into Brazil is going to end! This tomfoolery stops right here!” Bolsonaro told the Guardian last year.

Politicians and activists slammed the Brazilian president for his attack on DiCaprio this week.

“How desperate,” the senator from the Amazon state of Amapá, Rodrigues, tweeted.  “Our negligent and incompetent president – responsible for an environmental dismantling unprecedented in our country – wants to blame DiCaprio but won’t blame his own administration which is incapable of taking a single step without destroying something.”

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Frieda Powers

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