The Amazon rain forest—the lungs of the world—have been on fire for several weeks, and Brazil's right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro suggested Wednesday, without evidence, that the fires were started by non-governmental organizations.
"Maybe—I am not affirming it—these [NGO people] are carrying out some criminal actions to draw attention against me, against the government of Brazil," Bolsonaro said in a video posted on his Facebook account, The Associated Press reported. "This is the war we are facing.”
"The fires were lit in strategic places," said Bolsonaro. "All the indications suggest they went there to film and start fires. That's what I feel."
Greenpeace Brazil shot back, with its public policy coordinator Marcio Astrini calling the president's statement "sick" and "pitiful."
"Increased deforestation and burning," said Astrini, "are the result of his anti-environmental policy."
In a video that's gone viral, a Pataxó woman expressed anguish as she pointed to the destruction the fires have brought, which she blamed on deforestation for cattle ranching—a practice Bolsonaro has actively encouraged. The video was shared by the U.S. based Sunrise Movement, which said in a tweet: "We cannot tolerate political agendas of deforestation. We will not watch our future burn away."
While the country has been experiencing "epochal deforestation" driven by agriculture—and with it, trampling of indigenous rights—the deforestation has gone into overdrive since Bolsonaro's election. The development prompted Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg earlier this summer to say, "We are literally sawing off the branch we all live on."
The extent of the deforestation was recently laid out by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Data released by the agency showed that deforestation in June was 88 percent higher than it was in June of last year. Bolsonaro responded by calling the data a "lie" and firing the agency's head.
INPE also said Tuesday that the country had already seen over 72,000 fires this year, which marks an unprecedented high. Roughly half the fires, the agency said, have been in the Amazon .
"The fire that we're seeing today is a fire that's directly related to deforestation," Ane Alencar, scientific director of Institute of Environmental Research in Amazonia, said Tuesday.
Despite the raging fires—which can be seen from space—the administration appears to be doubling down on climate destruction, prompting the vocal ire of environmental campaigners.
Brazil's environmental minister was in Salvador in the state of Bahia on Wednesday for the Latin America and Caribbean Climate Week and was greeted by loud boos.
As he took the stage, activists held signs reading "Amazonia in flames" and "Against environmental deforestation."
The activists, said 350.org, stood up "for what is right," and urged "him to take action to keep fossil fuels in the ground."