Bolsonaro plays down Amazon fires, accuses NGOs of blocking land titling
BRASÍLIA, Sept 17 (Reuters) - President Jair Bolsonaro said late on Wednesday Brazil was being "disproportionately" criticized for fires in the Amazon rainforest and Pantanal wetlands, at a time when many places around the world were seeing a surge in blazes.
The number of fires in the Amazon, the world's largest rainforest, likely hit a 10-year high in August, according to a government scientist. The Pantanal, the planet's biggest wetland, in 2020 has registered the most annual fires since government records began in 1998.
"There are disproportionate criticisms of the Amazon and the Pantanal. California is burning with fire. Africa has more fires than in Brazil," he told supporters waiting for him at the entrance of his official residence.
In the Amazon, illegal ranchers and land speculators generally set fire to plots of land to clear them for agricultural purposes. In the Pantanal wetlands, the federal police are also investigating five farmers for allegedly starting fires illegally.
Environmental advocates blame Bolsonaro, who supports introducing more commercial farming and mining in the Amazon, for emboldening those who destroy the forest. The president says developing the Amazon will lift the region out of poverty.
Bolsonaro said on Wednesday the government was attempting to resolve the problem of fires via an initiative to issue land titles to those squatting on public land, in an effort the government has previously argued will allow them to be held accountable.
But without presenting any evidence, he accused non-governmental organizations of disrupting government efforts to grant these land titles.
Earlier this year, the government attempted to push through Congress a bill that would make it easier to issue land titles, but the effort failed after NGOS said it would increase deforestation and major European brands threatened to boycott Brazil.
The government has instead said it will boost efforts to title land at an administrative level under current laws.
(Reporting by Lissandra Paraguassu, writing by Sabrina Valle; Editing by Bernadette Baum)
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