Chief Raoni condemns Bolsonaro 'lie' on Amazon fires

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) –


Chief Raoni Metuktire, one of the most iconic defenders of the Amazon, condemned Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Saturday for blaming wildfires devastating the rainforest on indigenous people.

The far-right president sparked controversy Tuesday with a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in which he defended his environmental record and said the fires destroying large swaths of the world's biggest rainforest were largely set by indigenous farmers using traditional slash-and-burn agriculture.

Environmentalists, who say the fires are mainly set to clear land for large-scale agribusiness, were quick to dispute the claim -- as did Raoni, a 90-year-old chief of the Kayapo people known for traveling the world to raise awareness of threats to the Amazon.

"He said on TV that Indians were setting the planet on fire. That's a lie. The farmers are the ones setting the fires," Raoni told journalists during a visit to the west-central city of Sinop for a medical check-up, according to the news site G1.

"Some of them are harming the forest. Loggers, gold miners.... They are the ones setting the planet on fire," added the chief, who is famous for the large disc inserted in his lower lip and his colorful feather headdresses.

Raoni is the latest figure to accuse the president of distorting the truth in his speech, in which Bolsonaro downplayed damage to the Amazon and said Brazil was the victim of a "brutal disinformation campaign."

Bolsonaro has presided over a surge in deforestation since taking office in January 2019.

Last year, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased 85.3 percent, to a record 10,123 square kilometers (3,900 square miles) -- nearly the size of Lebanon.

So far this year, the rate is down by about five percent, though the number of fires has increased 12 percent, to 71,673.

Meanwhile, just south of the Amazon, the world's largest tropical wetlands, the Pantanal, are also being devastated by fires this year.

In less than nine months, 2020 has already broken the annual record for the number of fires in the Brazilian Pantanal, with 16,119, burning more than 10 percent of the wetlands.