Pope Francis Blames Amazon Fires On Destructive ‘Interests’

Pope Francis speaks as he celebrates a mass on October 6, 2019, at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, for the opening of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region. Tiziana FABI / AFP

 

Pope Francis opened a synod on Sunday to champion the Amazon’s poverty-stricken and isolated indigenous communities by condemning the destructive “interests” he blamed for the fires that devastated the region.

The three-week synod, or assembly, is to unite 184 bishops, including 113 from the nine countries of the pan-Amazon region, including Brazil.

Brazil is home to 60 percent of the world’s largest rainforest, which is vital for the planet but is suffering from its worst outbreak of fires in years.

The fires, mostly caused by humans with the goal of clearing land for farming and cattle ranching, are having a grievous effect on the forest.

Representatives of indigenous peoples, some with their heads adorned with coloured feathers, also gathered in Saint Peter’s Square to hear the pope’s inaugural mass.

“The fire set by interests that destroy, like the fire that recently devastated Amazonia, is not the fire of the Gospel,” the pontiff said in his homily.

“The fire of God is warmth that attracts and gathers into unity. It is fed by sharing, not by profits.

“The fire that destroys, on the other hand, blazes up when people want to promote only their own ideas, form their own group, wipe out differences in the attempt to make everyone and everything uniform.”

‘Predatory and ecocidal development’

The working document for the synod denounced in scathing terms social injustices and crimes, including murders, and suggested a Church action plan.

“Listen to the cry of ‘Mother Earth’, assaulted and seriously wounded by the economic model of predatory and ecocidal development… which kills and plunders, destroys and devastates, expels and discards,” the 80-page document said.

The run-up to the synod saw some 260 events held in the Amazon region involving 80,000 people, in a bid to give the local populations a voice in the document.

Among those attending the synod as an observer was Sister Laura Vincuna, a missionary trying to protect the territories of the Caripuna indigenous people in the Brazilian Amazon.

“Help us defend our motherland, we have no other home!” she said on Saturday.

“Earth, water, forest: without these three elements nobody can do anything”.

Jose Luiz Cassupe, a member of an indigenous community from Brazil’s Ronodia state, said the Brazilian government “did not keep its word”.

“We are asking the world for help because we are very worried about the new mining exploration policy in the Amazon,” he told AFP, wearing a headdress of indigo blue feathers.

The Amazon is suffering from its worst outbreak of fires in years. In this file photo taken on August 23, 2019, aerial picture showing a fire raging in the Amazon rainforest about 65 km from Porto Velho, in the state of Rondonia, in northern Brazil, on August 23, 2019. Carl DE SOUZA / AFP

 

‘New forms of colonialism’

Sunday’s gathering comes as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a climate-change sceptic, told the United Nations that the world’s media were lying about the Amazon, and attacked indigenous leaders as tools of foreign governments.

In his 2015 encyclical on ecology and climate change “Laudato Si”, Francis denounced the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest in the name of “enormous international economic interests”.

Last year, the world’s first Latin American pope visited Puerto Maldonado, a village in southeastern Peru surrounded by the Amazon jungle, to meet thousands of indigenous Peruvians, Brazilians and Bolivians.

That trip was the first step towards the synod which opened Sunday.

The pope in his homily also voiced regret that the Church had in the past promoted “colonisation rather than evangelisation”, but warned against “the greed of new forms of colonialism”.

Francis’ hopes of bringing the Catholic faith to far-flung populations will also see the bishops gathered in Rome debate a highly controversial proposal — allowing married men to become priests.

The issue deeply upsets some traditionalists, who argue that making an exception for the Amazon would open the door to the end of celibacy for priests, which is not a Church law and only dates back to the 11th century.

The German Catholic Church in particular, which has an influential progressive wing, has been hotly debating the subject.

The synod will also reflect on making official roles for women, who already play a central part in the Amazonian Church.

AFP

Amazon Countries Meet To Bolster Rainforest Protection

Firefighters try to control a fire near Charagua, Bolivia, in the border with Paraguay, south of the Amazon basin, on August 29, 2019. Fires have destroyed 1.2 million hectares of forest and grasslands in Bolivia this year. PHOTO: AIZAR RALDES / AFP

 

Presidents and ministers from seven Amazon countries met in Colombia on Friday to agree on measures to protect the world’s biggest rainforest, under threat from wildfires and rampant deforestation.

The summit took place in the wake of an international outcry over months of raging fires that have devastated swaths of the Amazon in Brazil and Bolivia.

The gathering aimed “to foster a space for regional dialogue to advance the protection and sustainable use of this region, which is essential for the survival of the planet,” Colombia’s President Ivan Duque said.

Duque inaugurated the meeting in a “maloka” – an indigenous hut – surrounded by members of the Tikuna tribe with headdresses of colored feathers in southern Colombia’s Amazon city of Leticia.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, widely criticized over policies that favor deforestation and a delayed reaction to the wildfires, did not travel to Leticia, citing doctors’ orders.

However, speaking by videoconference, he urged other leaders to resist calls, spearheaded by French President Emmanuel Macron, to internationalize protection of the Amazon.

“We must take a strong position of defense of sovereignty so that each country can develop the best policy for the Amazon region, and not leave it in the hands of other countries,” said Bolsonaro, who is due to undergo surgery Sunday.

Protection Pact

Seated at a long wooden table in the shade of tall trees, the representatives of the seven nations signed the “Leticia Pact for the Amazon” that Duque said would provide greater protection for the rainforest, as existing treaties had “fallen short.”

The pact establishes a roadmap for safeguarding the rainforest “not only for the Amazon countries but also the nations of the region and the international community,” he said.

Colombia’s Environment Minister Ricardo Lozano said the new measures include the establishment of an “Amazonian cooperation network” to share information on deforestation, including weather data to mitigate the effects of climate change, and threats from illegal mining and logging.

“We needed to increase and strengthen the cooperation between us, precisely to meet the great challenges of the Amazon, which are becoming more extreme and more intense every day,” he told reporters in Leticia.

Aside from the host Duque, other presidents attending were Peru’s Martin Vizcarra, Ecuador’s Lenin Moreno and Evo Morales of Bolivia. Suriname’s vice-president Michael Adhin and Guyana’s natural resources minister Raphael Trotman also attended.

Brazil was represented by Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo.

“We have to give concrete answers,” Vizcarra told the conference. “The dimension of the problem forces us to make drastic decisions.”

New Instruments

In a message to the summit, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay called on leaders to “reinforce existing instruments” designed to protect the Amazon.

“These instruments should be strengthened, more states encouraged to ratify them, increase protected areas, strengthen surveillance and action capabilities.”

Brazil contains 60 percent of the rainforest within its borders, with the rest spread over areas of Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela as well as the French overseas department of French Guyana.

Venezuela, despite having a large swath of the Amazon, was not invited, as host, Colombia does not recognize the presidency of Nicolas Maduro.

Brazil Bans Burning For Two Months To Defuse Amazon Crisis

Aerial view of deforestation in the Menkragnoti Indigenous Territory in Altamira, Para state, Brazil, in the Amazon basin, on August 28, 2019. PHOTO: Joao LAET / AFP

 

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro signed a decree Wednesday to ban burning throughout the country for two months, government sources cited in local media said, as the authorities scramble to defuse the Amazon fires which have triggered a global outcry.

The blazes that have engulfed parts of the world’s largest rainforest — which is crucial for maintaining a stable global climate — have also sparked a diplomatic spat between Brazil and Europe that threatens to torpedo a major trade deal.

The decree, which will be officially published on Thursday, prohibits any burning for the next 60 days, barring some exceptions in cases of approved agricultural and forestry practices, media reports said.

It comes as Bolsonaro’s renewed demand that French leader Emmanuel Macron withdraw “insults” against him cast doubt on whether Brazil would accept the G7’s offer of $20 million to help combat the fires.

Bolsonaro initially rejected the G7’s offer, saying on Tuesday that he would be willing to accept it only if Macron withdrew his “insults,” before appearing to change his mind to say Brazil would accept foreign aid on the condition that it controlled the money.

But later on Wednesday, the South American leader fired a fresh salvo.

“Only after he withdraws what he said… we can talk again,” Bolsonaro told reporters Wednesday, referring to Macron.

He also accused France and Germany of “buying” the Latin American country’s sovereignty with Amazon fire aid.

“It seems that $20 million is our price. Brazil doesn’t have a price of 20 million or 20 trillion — it’s the same thing for us,” he said.

Macron has accused Bolsonaro of lying to him about his commitments on climate change and vowed to block the EU-Mercosur trade deal involving Brazil that took decades to negotiate.

An aide to President Donald Trump said Wednesday the US was ready to assist with the Amazon crisis, but only if it involved the Brazilian government.

“We didn’t agree to a G7 initiative that failed to include consultations w/ @jairbolsonaro . The most constructive way to assist w/ Brazil’s ongoing efforts is in coordination w/ the Brazilian Gov,” National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis tweeted late Wednesday.

Bolsonaro’s latest remarks make him and his government appear “increasingly unhinged,” said Robert Muggah, from a Rio de Janeiro think tank, the Igarape Institute.

“There don’t appear to be any adults left in the room with the ability or inclination to restrain his worst impulses,” Muggah said.

No liars

On Monday, Macron rebuked the “extraordinarily rude” Bolsonaro after the Brazilian leader personally expressed approval for a supporter’s Facebook post implying that Brigitte Macron was not as attractive as his own wife, Michelle Bolsonaro.

The Brazilian leader has since removed the comment from social media to avoid misinterpretation, his spokesman Otavio Rego Barros told reporters Wednesday.

Vice President Hamilton Mourao — widely considered to be a moderate voice in Bolsonaro’s government — also weighed in publicly for the first time.

In an opinion piece published in the conservative Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, Mourao criticized an “international campaign” against Brazil and said the country “does not lie and nor does its president, its government and its institutions.”

Bolsonaro said Brazil would accept bilateral aid to fight the fires, saying yes to Chile’s offer of four aircraft. “We all love the Amazon, but the nine Amazon countries… have sovereignty” over it, Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera said.

The outcry over the fires has alarmed industries in Latin America’s largest economy. They fear potential boycotts of their products.

Global brands have threatened to suspend leather purchases from Brazil over the country’s environmental policies, according to a document sent by the Brazil Tanneries Industry Center to the government.

Fires are also ravaging neighboring Bolivia where President Evo Morales and his rival in upcoming elections have suspended campaigning to deal with the blazes.

Bolsonaro on Wednesday supported Peru and Colombia’s proposal for an emergency Amazon summit in September so regional countries could coordinate a strategy to protect the vast rainforest.

The latest official figures show 1,044 new fires were started Monday and Tuesday, taking the total this year to 83,329 — the highest since 2010 — even as military aircraft and troops help battle the blazes.

More than half of the fires are in the massive Amazon basin.

In the hard-hit northwestern state of Rondonia, thick smoke has choked the capital Porto Velho as fires blacken swaths of the rainforest.

But the defense ministry insists the fires are under control. It has published satellite data it says show a reduction in the number of blazes in the nine states spanning the Amazon.

AFP

G7 Pledges Millions To Fight Amazon Fires

Handout aerial picture released by Greenpeace showing fire raging in the forest in the municipality of Candeias do Jamari, close to Porto Velho in Rondonia State, in the Amazon basin in northwestern Brazil, on August 24, 2019.  PHOTO: Victor MORIYAMA / GREENPEACE / AFP

 

The G7 will give $20 million (18 million euros) to send firefighting planes to tackle the blazes engulfing parts of the Amazon, the presidents of France and Chile said Monday.

“We must respond to the call of the forest which is burning today in the Amazon,” France’s Emmanuel Macron said as President Sebastian Pinera of Chile, a guest of the G7, underlined that “countries of the Amazon are in dire need of fire brigades and water bomber planes.”

Nearly 80,000 forest fires have been detected in Brazil since the beginning of the year — just over half of them in the massive Amazon basin.

Macron had declared the situation an “international crisis” and made it a priority of the summit of the G7, which comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

G7 leaders gathered in Biarritz held talks on the many environmental challenges facing planet Earth, with a focus on the record number of fires destroying swathes of the Amazon.

Macron has threatened to block a huge new trade deal between the EU and Latin America unless Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a climate change sceptic, takes serious steps to protect the fast-shrinking forest from logging and mining.

Bolsonaro lashed out at the French leader over his criticism and suggested NGOs could be setting the fires to embarrass him — without giving any evidence to back the claim.

But at the weekend, he finally caved in to international pressure to save a region crucial for maintaining a stable global climate, deploying two aircraft to douse fires and authorising the army to help tackle the blazes.

 ‘Universal heritage’

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his country would send a water bomber plane to fight the Amazon blazes and contribute some $15 million to the effort.

The G7 also agreed to support a reforestation plan to be unveiled in September, the leaders said.

Brazil would have to agree to any reforestation plan, as would indigenous communities living in the world’s biggest rainforest.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said new planting was needed “to preserve this universal heritage, which is absolutely essential for the well-being of the world’s population.”

He said the issue would be discussed during the UN General Assembly in New York in September.

Macron told France 2 it was hoped “at least 30 million” dollars could be raised for the project.

On Monday evening, the French leader met Brazilian indigenous chief Raoni Metuktire, who said he had asked Macron to “help us preserve our lands.”

“The forests and lands of Brazil help the entire planet live,” said the chief, an advocate for indigenous rights.

Greenpeace executive director Jennifer Morgan welcomed the G7 aid, but said the club must also “stop fuelling the destruction of the Amazon through the import of agricultural products associated with deforestation and soil degradation.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised 10 million pounds ($12 million) for Amazon reforestation projects, while luxury fashion giant LVMH pledged 10 million euros.

AFP