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Bolsonaro, Facing Blame for Surge in Amazon Deforestation, Says Destruction Won't End Because "It's Cultural"

The Brazilian president's new comments came after data confirmed that "2019 has been a dark year for the rainforest in Brazil."

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, seen here at the U.N. General Assembly's 74th session on Sept. 24, 2019, said Wednesday that the fires and deforestation in his country aren't coming to an end.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, seen here at the U.N. General Assembly's 74th session on Sept. 24, 2019, said Wednesday that the fires and deforestation in his country aren't coming to an end. (Photo: Cia Pak/U.N.)

Right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro drew worldwide rebuke Wednesday after saying Amazon deforestation and fires would not end because "it's cultural."

Marcio Astrini, public policy coordinator at Greenpeace Brazil, told the Washington Post that "the only cultural aspect of deforestation in the Amazon is the culture of forest crime, which the government does not seem to want to confront."

Bolsonaro's comments to reporters in the capital of Brasília came two days after data released by the Brazilian government showed that Amazon deforestation hit its highest level in over a decade. The Brazilian Space Research Institute (INPE) said Monday that deforestation wiped out 3,769 square miles (9,762 square kilometers) over the 12-month period ending July 30, 2019—the highest rate of deforestation since 2008.

That forest loss represents a nearly 30 percent spike from the year before.

The figures, said Rainforest Foundation Norway secretary-general Øyvind Eggen, confirm "that 2019 has been a dark year for the rainforest in Brazil."

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Earlier this month, as Common Dreams reported, NASA said that based on 20 years of ground and satellite data, "human activities are drying out the Amazon." The rainforest, said study co-author Sassan Saatchi, "may no longer be able to sustain itself." 

But this year's "deforestation surge can definitely be blamed on the Bolsonaro administration," wrote Philip M. Fearnside, an American biologist at Brazil's National Institute for Research in Amazonia.

Noting in his commentary at Mongabay that INPE's 2019 data ends with July, Fearnside wrote that "the deforestation rate in the succeeding months has exploded to levels far above those for the same months in the previous year: in August 2019 the deforestation rate was 222 percent above the 2018 value, and the September value was 96 percent higher."

"As a result," he continued, "this part of the 'Bolsonaro effect' will only be reflected in the data" that comes out next year.

Cristiane Mazzetti, Greenpeace Brazil's Amazon Campaigner, said in a statement Monday that Bolsonaro's "anti-environmental agenda favors those who practice environmental crimes, and encourages violence against forest people. His administration is trashing practically all the work that has been done in recent decades to protect the environment and end deforestation."

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