Brazilians Take To The Streets To Protest Deforestation Of The Amazon

Aug 23, 2019
Originally published on August 23, 2019 6:13 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

So what can be done to stop these wildfires ravaging the Amazon? That is a question that's being asked by everyone from world leaders to protesters on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Foreign language spoken).

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Foreign language spoken).

CHANG: Pressure is building on Brazil's president to do more. We're going to go now to NPR's Philip Reeves, who's at that protest in Rio de Janeiro.

Hey, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So what are those people chanting about?

REEVES: Well, they're chanting about a number of things but mostly their anger and their indignation and their dismay about what's going on in the Amazon rainforest. They're here behind me now about 50 yards from where I'm sitting. I'm in downtown Rio de Janeiro in one of the best-known squares in the city - chanting, singing, waving banners saying, forest is life, SOS Amazon and Bolsonaro out - a reference to Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's president.

And when you talk to them, they are angry and upset about what's going on. They're aware that the rest of the world has very strongly reacted to this. And they are keen to try to draw the attention of their fellow Brazilians to the crisis and the catastrophe that's been playing out in the Amazon rainforest in recent days.

CHANG: So after all of this criticism has been hurled at Bolsonaro for not protecting the Amazon enough, what is he doing now to limit the spread of these fires?

REEVES: Well, his position has changed somewhat today. If you recall, a couple of days ago, he was almost contemptuous of those who were drawing attention to the crisis that's happening there.

CHANG: Right.

REEVES: He, at one point, suggested that the fires were being set by nongovernmental organizations, a claim that led to astonishment and outrage not only in Brazil but around the world. Today, though, he's changed. He held a meeting of his ministers. And he signed an executive order that enables him to send the army into the rainforest to try to combat these fires. Now, how the army deals with thousands and thousands of fires that are raging in an area that's 10 times the size of Texas isn't known yet. But people here, when you talk to them, say that one thing they could do is arrest some of the farmers that are deliberately setting these fires to clear land because that would send a message if you publicize those arrests to the rest of the - those in the forest who are committing these illegal acts.

CHANG: Yeah. I mean, there's been a lot of intense diplomatic pressure on Bolsonaro, especially from Europe. Has that had a lot of impact?

REEVES: Well, Bolsonaro takes a very nationalistic line on this. He says that the Amazon rainforest is Brazil's concern, and he sees international pressure as foreign interference. But that pressure has really been building, especially from Europe. At the G-7 summit of world leaders, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has said that he's going to highlight the issue there. He's actually accused Bolsonaro of lying to him about climate change at an earlier summit.

So the pressure really is considerable, and people here are not comfortable with that. They are concerned that it's damaging the image of the country. And they're also worried that that could lead to some sort of sanctions, maybe boycotts - or some cost will be paid in terms of trade. So it's an issue that Bolsonaro has to face up with - up to.

CHANG: And, real quick, are more demonstrations planned in Brazil?

REEVES: Yes. There's one more here on Sunday, and there will be demonstrations over the weekend in dozens of cities around this country.

CHANG: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Rio de Janeiro.

Thanks, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.