Over 72,000 fires have been detected in the Amazon rainforest between January and August this year.
Fires allegedly started by NGOs because government funding has been reduced
Bolsonaro said that the NGOs were starting the blazes in an attempt to damage the reputation of the government, as a result of reduction in government funding.
Speaking at a steel industry congress in Brasilia, he said:
"On the question of burning in the Amazon, which in my opinion may have been initiated by NGOs because they lost money, what is the intention? To bring problems to Brazil."
He was also quoted as stating:
"Crime exists. These people are missing the money."
When pressed for evidence, Bolsonaro replied that he no written records and that it was just his feeling.
Season of flame
Bolsonaro also dismissed criticism over the spread of uncontrolled fires, noting that it was the season of "queimada"(burn), when farmers use fire to clear the land.
"I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame. But it is the season of the queimada."
He also added that his government was working to control the fires.
Environmentalists and politicians slam Bolsonaro
Bolsonaro has since been slammed by environmentalists and pro-environment politicians for his remarks.
Danicley Aguiar, of Greenpeace Brazil, said that the deforestation of the Amazon had been exacerbated the by anti-environment stance of Bolsonaro's government.
"Those who destroy the Amazon and let deforestation continue unabated are encouraged by the Bolsonaro government’s actions and policies. Since taking office, the current government has been systematically dismantling Brazil’s environmental policy."
His remarks were echoed by Brazilian politician Nilto Tatto, leader of the country's lower house environment caucus, who called Bolsonaro's "stunning" attack on NGOs as an attempt to hide his efforts to dismantle 30 years of Brazilian environmental protections.
Criticism also came from former presidential candidate and environment minister Marina Silva, who wrote on Twitter:
"The Amazon is on fire. The Minister of the Environment speaks in fake news and sensationalism. The president says NGOs may be behind this. The lack of commitment to the truth is a chronic pathology. This irresponsible attitude only aggravates an environmental disaster in Brazil."
A Amazônia está em chamas. O Ministro do Meio Ambiente fala em fake news e sensacionalismo. O presidente diz que ONGs podem estar por trás disso. A falta de compromisso com a verdade é uma patologia crônica. Essa postura irresponsável só agrava a emergência ambiental no Brasil.— Marina Silva (@MarinaSilva) August 21, 2019
Bolsonaro's blitheness has resulted in international consequences.
Germany and Norway have suspended donations to Brazil's Amazon fund, which supports multiple environmental NGOs and several governmental agencies.
"Isn’t Norway that country that kills whales up there in the north pole? Take that money and help Angela Merkel reforest Germany.”
More details on the fires in the Amazon:
Top image collage via Jair Bolsonaro Facebook and Mario Tama/Getty Images