Brazil's president accuses actor DiCaprio of financing Amazon fires

SAO PAULO, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro claimed on Friday that Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio financed fires being set in the Amazon rainforest, without presenting any evidence, the right-wing leader's latest broadside in casting blame over forest fires that have generated international concern.

Bolsonaro appeared to be commenting on social media postings claiming that the environmental organization the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) had paid for images taken by volunteer firefighters that it then supposedly used to solicit donations, including a $500,000 contribution from DiCaprio.

The WWF has denied receiving a donation from DiCaprio or obtaining photos from the firefighters.

"This Leonardo DiCaprio is a cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon," Bolsonaro said on Friday during brief remarks in front of the presidential residence.

DiCaprio denied having donated to the WWF. In a statement, the actor lauded "the people of Brazil working to save their natural and cultural heritage." But, he said, "While worthy of support, we did not fund the organizations targeted."

DiCaprio has been an outspoken advocate on behalf of combating climate change, speaking frequently about environmental issues including the Amazon forest fires. His Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which is focused on projects that "protect vulnerable wildlife from extinction," is part of the Earth Alliance.

Four members of the nongovernmental organization Alter do Chão Fire Brigade were arrested on Tuesday with police accusing them of purposefully setting fires in order to document them and drum up more donations. They were released on Thursday on a judge's order.

Politicians and other NGOs fiercely criticized the arrest, saying it was part of a concerted attempt by Bolsonaro's government to harass environmental groups.

Scientists and activists blame land speculators, farmers and ranchers for setting the fires to clear land for agricultural use, saying that deforesters are being emboldened by Bolsonaro's rhetoric of promoting development and farming over preservation.

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Fire tears through Amazon rainforest
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Fire tears through Amazon rainforest
A tract of Amazon jungle is seen burning as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
A man works in a burning tract of Amazon jungle as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
An tract of Amazon jungle burning as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
A tract of Amazon jungle is seen burning as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
An aerial view of a tract of Amazon jungle burning as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers near the city of Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil September 23, 2013. Picture taken September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Nacho Doce
A charred trunk is seen on a tract of Amazon jungle that was recently burned by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
A man works in a burning tract of Amazon jungle as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
An tract of Amazon jungle burning as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
A charred trunk is seen on a tract of Amazon jungle that was recently burned by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
Charred trees stand as a forest fire sweeps through the Vila Nova Samuel region, along the road to the Jacunda National Forest near the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Experts from the country's satellite monitoring agency say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland, but the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Fire consumes a field along the BR 070 highway near Cuiaba, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Experts say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland, but the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Cattle stand near a wooded area smoldering in the Alvorada da Amazonia region in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they are preparing to help Brazil battle fires burning across the Amazon region and repair the damage as tens of thousands of soldiers got ready to join the fight against blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
A fire burns in highway margins in the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
A fire burns in highway margins in the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Firefighters walk across charred land to another area as they work to put out fires along the road to Jacunda National Forest in the Vila Nova Samuel region, near the city of Porto Velho in Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they were preparing to help Brazil fight the fires burning across the Amazon rainforest and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers were being deployed to fight the blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Cattle stand in the field as a fire burns an area in the Alvorada da Amazonia region in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they are preparing to help Brazil battle fires burning across the Amazon region and repair the damage as tens of thousands of soldiers got ready to join the fight against blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Moacir Cordeiro, who works in a local cattle farm, looks on after digging grooves with a tractor in an attempt to keep the flames from spreading to the pasture, as a fire burns an area in the Alvorada da Amazonia region in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. "The problem is that the fire is everywhere. Every place you look there are spot of fire and burn", says the 55-year-old worker. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Fire consumes an area in the Alvorada da Amazonia region, in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. The country's satellite monitoring agency has recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year, with more than half of those coming in August alone. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
An area smolders in the Alvorada da Amazonia region in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Trees are destroyed after a fire in the Alvorada da Amazonia region, in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. The country's satellite monitoring agency has recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year, with more than half of those coming in August alone. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Trees are destroyed after a fire in the Alvorada da Amazonia region in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. The country's satellite monitoring agency has recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year, with more than half of those coming in August alone. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Fire consumes a field along the BR 070 highway near Cuiaba, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Experts from the country's satellite monitoring agency say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland, but the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Trees are destroyed after a fire in the Vila Nova Samuel region, along the road to the Jacunda National Forest near the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Experts from the country's satellite monitoring agency say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland, but the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Embers from a wildfire smolder along BR 070 highway near Cuiaba, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Experts from the country's satellite monitoring agency say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland, but the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
The sun sets amid smoke from forest fires that is leaving behind charred trees in the Vila Nova Samuel region, along the road to the National Forest of Jacunda, near the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they were preparing to help Brazil fight the fires burning across the Amazon rainforest and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers were being deployed to fight the blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Fire consumes a field along the BR 070 highway near Cuiaba, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they were preparing to help Brazil fight the fires burning across the Amazon rainforest and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers were being deployed to fight the blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Mario Lobao)
Firefighters work to put out forest fires along the road to Jacunda National Forest near the city of Porto Velho in Rondonia state, in the Vila Nova Samuel region, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they were preparing to help Brazil fight the fires burning across the Amazon rainforest and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers were being deployed to fight the blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Firefighters work to put out forest fires along the road to Jacunda National Forest near the city of Porto Velho in Rondonia state, in the Vila Nova Samuel region, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they were preparing to help Brazil fight the fires burning across the Amazon rainforest and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers were being deployed to fight the blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Firefighters work to put out fires in the Vila Nova Samuel region, along the road to the National Forest of Jacunda, near to the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they were preparing to help Brazil fight the fires burning across the Amazon rainforest and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers were being deployed to fight the blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
A line of fire fighting vehicles advance through smoke from forest fires in the Vila Nova Samuel region, along the road to the National Forest of Jacunda, near to the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they were preparing to help Brazil fight the fires burning across the Amazon rainforest and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers were being deployed to fight the blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Trees burn in a wildfire in highway margins in the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
A fire burns in highway margins in the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Trees burn during a fire in the highway margins in the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Trees are destroyed after a fire in the Alvorada da Amazonia region, in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
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The Amazon rainforest is considered a bulwark against global climate change.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly lashed out at various factions in casting blame for the forest fires.

In a Facebook live post on Aug. 21, he said, "Everything indicates" that NGOs were going to the Amazon to "set fire" to the forest. When asked then if he had evidence to back up his claims, Bolsonaro said he had "no written plan," adding, "that's not how it's done."

One day later he admitted that farmers could be illegally setting the rainforest ablaze, but roughly a month later he attacked the "lying media" for saying that the rainforest was being devastated by the fires.

Bolsonaro talked about DiCaprio on Thursday during a live webcast. The president said the WWF paid the firefighting NGO to take pictures of forest fires in the Amazon.

"So what did the NGO do? What is the easiest thing? Set fire to the forest. Take pictures, make a video," the president said. "(WWF) makes a campaign against Brazil, it contacts Leonardo DiCaprio, he donates $500,000."

"A part of that went to the people that were setting fires. Leonardo DiCaprio, you are contributing to the fire in the Amazon, that won't do," Bolsonaro said.

 

 

(Reporting by Eduardo Simões and Marcelo Teixeira Editing by Jake Spring and Leslie Adler)

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