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Bolsonaro Fans the Flames

Brazil’s Government Still Has One Faction That Can Douse Them

Bolsonaro in Brasilia, August 2019 Adriano Machado / Reuters

Thousands of fires have raged over the past weeks in the Amazon, devastating parts of the rainforest and badly damaging Brazil’s global reputation. Since taking office in January, the country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has encouraged deforestation, a policy that environmentalists around the world link to the forest fires and have loudly protested. But Bolsonaro seems to revel in his role as environmental enemy number one, responding to criticism from world leaders in the same way he reacts to his opponents at home: with provocative disdain. He taunted French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, called the fires and the deforestation of parts of Brazil’s rainforest an “internal issue,” and repeated that “the Amazon belongs to Brazil.”

Bolsonaro views international concern over the fires in the Amazon as a threat to his country’s sovereignty. He and a coterie of closely allied ministers and advisers—

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