Amazon forest fires spread to Bolivia

President Evo Morales announced Aug. 21 that Bolivia has contracted a Boeing 747 "Supertanker" to help extinguish huge forest fires in the Amazon have that have spread over the border from Brazil. The giant air-tanker, capable of carrying up to 19,200 gallons (72,680 liters) of water or fire retardant, was flown from California to Viru Viru International Airport in Bolivia's eastern city of Santa Cruz, on lease from the firm Global Supertanker. Morales has also mobilized army helicopters to evacuate affected communites deep in the rainforest. Some 500,000 hectares of forest are now said to be in flames in Bolivia. (Fire Aviation, TeleSur, Folha de S.Paulo, Aug. 22)

Smoke from hundreds of fires across the Amazon Basin on Aug. 19 plunged the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo into darkness in the middle of the day, blanketed in fumes that were pushed hundreds of miles south by a cold front. (Wildfire Today, Aug. 20) Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has recorded more than 74,000 fires so far this year—an 84% increase on the same period in 2018, and the highest number since records began in 2013. (Global News, Aug. 21)

Although Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has been openly encouraging the destruction of the Amazon, dropping barriers to the clearing of forest by agribusiness and resource interests, he is now floating the baseless conspiracy theory that the fires were set by NGOs that oppose his government in an effort to discredit him. (Al Jazeera, Aug. 21)

Yet just earlier this month, Bolsonaro portrayed rainforest protection measures in Brazil's Amazonian states as a needless barrier to resource exploitation and economic development. "With technology, in 20 years we could have in Roraima an economy close to that of Japan. Everything is there, but 60% of the territory is immobilized by indigenous reserves and other environmental questions." (EFE, Aug. 6)

Indigenous and environmental groups in Bolivia, however, accuse the supposedly left-wing Evo Morales of more quietly enacting similar policies. Morales last month issued Supreme Decree 3973, which allows the wider cutting of forest on both private and communal lands in the Amazon Basin, under the guise of "integral management of forests and lands." Under the decree, 28,190,265 hectares have been designated as open to cutting "without restriction."

Environmentalists are assailing the measure as a green light to cattle and agribusiness interets to invade indigenous territories. Juan Carlos Ojopipi of the Amazon Defense Committee (Comité Defensor de la Amazonía) called for the overturn of the "predatory decree," saying: "To give a legal tool to those who think only of themselves is insensitive and inhuman, and not in accord with the time we are living in." (La Izquierda Diario, July 22; ANF via BioDiversidadLA, July 15)