SAO PAULO – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has ordered the armed forces to help fight a record number of forest fires in the Amazon.
Brazilian forces will deploy starting Saturday to border areas, indigenous territories and other affected regions in the Amazon to assist in putting out fires for a month, according to a presidential decree authorizing use of the army.
The military will “act strongly” to control the wildfires, Bolsonaro promised as he signed the decree.
The armed forces will collaborate with public security and environmental protection agencies, the decree says.
“The protection of the forest is our duty,” the president said. “We are aware of that and will act to combat deforestation and criminal activities that put people at risk in the Amazon. We are a government of zero tolerance for crime, and in the environmental field it will not be different.”
The announcement comes after intense pressure from European leaders and demonstrations across the world.
France and Ireland say they will not ratify a huge trade deal with South American nations unless Brazil does more to tackle blazes in the Amazon.
Demonstrators gathered outside Brazilian embassies on Friday to protest against inaction on Amazon wildfires.
Hundreds came together in cities including London, Madrid and Bogota, calling for Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro to act.
U.S. President Donald Trump, however, showed trust in Mr. Bolsonaro offered his country’s assistance to tackle the huge fires.
This came a day after Bolsonaro announced the creation of a crisis cabinet to address the Amazon rainforest situation.
Ministers attending the meeting included, Environment, Ricardo Salles; Defense, Fernando Azevedo de Silva; Foreign affairs, Ernesto Araujo; Agriculture and Livestock, Teresa Cristina; Institutional Security, Augusto Heleno; Government Secretary, Luiz Eduardo Ramos; Executive Secretary, Jorge Oliveira and cabinet chief Onyx Lorenzoni.
The Brazilian government has been the target of criticism supported with NASA images of the Amazon rain forest fires, as well as from United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, and French president Emmanuel Macron, who proposed the issue should be addressed during the coming G7 summit of the world’s richest countries, which will be taking place in France.
Bolsonaro replied saying that Macron initiatives were “colonialist” and accused the French president of appealing to fake pictures of the fires to meddle in Brazilian affairs.
Neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay have also struggled to contain fires that swept through woods and fields, in many cases set to clear land for farming. About 7,500 square kilometers (2,900 square miles) of land has been affected in Bolivia, Defense Minister Javier Zavaleta said.
A B747-400 SuperTanker arrived in Bolivia and began flying over devastated areas to help put out the fires and protect forests. The U.S.-based aircraft can carry nearly 76,000 liters (20,000 gallons) of retardant, a substance used to stop fires.
Some 370 square kilometers (140 square miles) have burned in northern Paraguay, near the borders with Brazil and Bolivia, said Joaquín Roa, a Paraguayan state emergency official.
There are currently a record number of fires in the Amazon. It’s the largest rainforest in the world and a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming.