Brazilian president wants to privatize strategic economic sectors

Brasilia, September 10 (RHC)-- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is getting ready to implement an ambitious process of privatization of state-owned assets related to energy production, port infrastructures, gas extraction and natural resources. 

Brazilian independent outlets are warning that the Bolsonaro administration operates on three simultaneous fronts to destroy the Brazilian State: the privatization of state-owned companies, the cutting of social policies and spending and the depletion of institutions focused on knowledge production and planning.  

Observers say that among the most "desirable" economic activities for privatization are those in the electricity, oil and gas sectors.  Regarding the sale of Brazilian electricity companies, it is known that a possible buyer would be State Grid, a Chinese company which is the largest energy distributor in its country.

“One of its possible acquisitions could be the Minas Gerais Energy Company, which Governor Romeu Zema intends to sell despite it has recorded its best half-yearly balance,” Brasil de Fato reported.

Three other companies from China and one from Italy are also interested in the Brazilian sources of energy.  In oil-related assets, the main interested party is Equinor, a Norwegian company which already operates in Brazil.

"Bolsonaro has ways to stop fuel price hikes but what he is doing is privatizing Petrobras more and more, which will make cooking fuel, diesel and gas even more expensive. Stop privatizing Petrobras!"  The statement reads: "Gas is expensive because Bolsonaro wants it to be expensive."

To take a first "small" step towards privatizations, the far-right Brazilian president published a resolution earlier this week that allows private participation in Lenguas Maranhenses, Jericoacoara and Iguazu, three national parks which are part of the "National Program of Desestatization "(PND).

Privatization projects promoted by Bolsonaro are expressions of old-fashioned neoliberalism. From the beginning of the 21st century, the “reestatization” of the electricity sector is being imposed worldwide, part of a growing policy trend towards the repositioning of state-owned enterprises and utilities.

“What is being defended is basically the shrinking of the private sector,” the president of the Perseu Abramo Foundation, Marcio Pochmann, argued and explained that the 2008 financial crisis showed that the source of the management problem in capitalists economies lies in the private sector rather than in the public one, as opposed to to the current Bolsonaro plan.

"At this stage of capitalism, the country that does not control the largest company has no possibilities to control investment decisions in its national space," he said and recalled that while 1 out of 20 of the world's largest companies were state-owned in 2005, ten years later that share jumped to 1 in 4.

According to Brasil de Fato, 7 out of 10 Brazilians are currently against privatization. So far, however, “there is no organized or massive movement in the country to oppose this privatization agenda,” stated federal lawmaker Glauber Braga (Psol-RJ).

Edited by Ed Newman
  • Published in World

The devastation of the Amazon predates Bolsonaro

The recent fires that devastated the Amazon, burning over 20,000 hectares of forest, caused global outrage. Many were quick to blame Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, who since taking office has made it clear that protecting the environment is not really a priority of his government. 

Indeed, his policies and anti-preservation speech have played a major role. Earlier this year, the government cut the budget of various agencies responsible for fire prevention, including the environmental inspection agency IBAMA, the fire prevention system PrevFogo, and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), which inevitably affected the country's ability to cope with the fires.

In addition, Bolsonaro has taken measures that encourage deforestation and promote agribusiness and mining, at the expense of the rights of indigenous people and sustainability. His fiery rhetoric also incited farmers to start fires to show their support for the president in the face of international criticism.

While Bolsonaro's anti-environment policies should be condemned and countered, he is by far not the main factor behind the devastation of the Amazon.

At this point, it is important to separate facts from fiction. After news spread of the forest fires, social media was flooded with images and videos - most of them not of this year's fires - feeding into a wave of disinformation among both supporters and critics of Bolsonaro. Many celebrities and officials used these fake images to spread the word of the disaster.

While their concern is indeed welcome, as are pledges of funding - albeit rather modest - it is important to understand that these fires are an annual occurrence and this year's blaze was not necessarily that much worse than previous years.

According to Brazilian journalist Pedro Burgos, the Real-Time Deforestation Detection System (DETER), which was quoted to have showed an 82 percent increase in forest fires in June, is contested by experts, who warned that the method used is not the best for measuring deforestation.

Global warming is part of the problem; it is exacerbating droughts during the dry season which enables fires to spread faster and undermines efforts to put them out. But the real culprit is human action on the ground. Mining, infrastructure projects, agriculture and animal husbandry have been the main drivers of deforestation, which creates clearings and reduces the humidity of the forests, directly contributing to the spread of fires.

While under the first eight months of Bolsonaro's presidency, damaging activities have undoubtedly increased, the truth is, the devastation of the Amazon has been going on for decades under successive Brazilian governments, whether right-wing or left-wing.

They have sought to push the frontier of the Amazon further in, encouraging settlement under the excuse of securing borders, opening roads like the Trans-Amazon highway, constructing dams, and constantly cutting funds for its preservation.

President Dilma Rousseff's approach to the Amazon, for example, differed from Bolsonaro's more in terms of rhetoric than practice. When it came to the environment, Bolsonaro never denied his intentions of exploiting the forests; Rousseff, however, put on a front as though she cared.

Yet, it was during her term, that tens of thousands of indigenous people were forcibly removed from their native land in the Amazon to clear the way for the construction of hydroelectric plants, like Belo Monte, Jirau and Teles Pires, which apart from the devastating impact on local communities involved considerable deforestation.

Rousseff was so committed to unsustainable industrial development that she even flouted a decision by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asking for the suspension of the Belo Monte works and ignored Brazilian legislation that obliged the government to consult the affected populations before starting any construction.

During her first term, Rousseff cut 72 percent of the budget for the prevention of deforestation in the Amazon. In 2016, during her second term, deforestation spiked, marking a 75-percent increase from its historical low in 2012. In 2017, Michel Temer reduced the budget of the Ministry of Environment by 51 percent.

Bolsonaro has not only pushed forward with the anti-environment policies of his predecessors but also stopped paying any lip service to environmental concerns. His rhetoric has emboldened farmers, illegal miners and loggers who feel they can go about destroying forests with impunity and increased violence against indigenous people.

The international community is right to be outraged and to seek action against his government. Germany and Norway withdrew from the Amazon Fund, Finland urged the European Union to consider imposing sanctions on imports of Brazilian mean, and France threatened to kill the trade deal with South American Mercosur bloc. There have also been calls for divestment from business sectors that violate environmental codes, penalties for companies that employ "dirty supply chains", product boycotts, etc.

The political consequences for Brazil can be serious.

Boycotts and sanctions should always be the last resort, as they have devastating effects on the populations they are imposed on. But in some cases, such as the case of Brazil, they may be the only way to prevent a global catastrophe.

Sanctions can indeed force Bolsonaro's hand to take immediate action and take the ongoing fires under control. This, however, would only be a palliative measure.

Brazil is essentially an agricultural export economy. This is the main reason behind the rapid and large-scale conversion of the Amazon rainforest into agricultural land. Moreover, Brazil is following a development model that is destructive for the environment.

The Brazilian state is still investing in fossil fuels, demonstrating that it is unable to understand the importance of switching to environmentally sustainable energy sources and green technologies in the 21st century. It has also invested heavily in biofuels of plant origin, which experts warn could increase deforestation. Construction of hydroelectric plants in the Amazon, which also contributes to deforestation, is still ongoing. 

Sanctions on their own would not be able to change any of this. To protect the Amazon in the long term, Brazil urgently needs to rethink its development model and find ways to grow and prosper without destroying the lungs of the planet.

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Truths and Lies of the Cuban Medical Missions

The campaign of Donald Trump's government against Cuba reached levels verging on absurdity.

Now, Washington accuses Havana of earning money by "exploiting" and "enslaving" the Cuban doctors who work abroad. Paradoxes of politics: those who invented labor exploitation and founded their country on the pillars of pro-slavery laws, accusing others of practicing their methods. Therefore, it’s unknown if the United States accuses Cuba for the exploitation as such, or for apparent plagiarism of its government system.

But, it’s neither one nor the other.

What really happens is that the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, tweeted that they would reduce visas to Cuban officials related to the worldwide famous Cuban medical missions, on the grounds of the North American Law of Immigration and Nationality. Pompeo said that the Cuban President, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, benefits with money by exploiting the professionals of the Cuban medicine.

Pompeo’s narrative begins from the exit of more than fourteen thousand professionals Cuban doctors from Brazil, after the arrival of Jair Bolsonaro. The United States affirms that Cuba keeps more than the 80% of the salaries dedicated to the doctors, on behalf of the countries benefitted with the missions. The Brazilian president blackmailed with the story that the Cuban medical mission could remain in Brazilian territory provided they gave its members 100% of the earnings and they equalize their studies with the norm of that country.

On top of that a demand on Miami courtrooms (of course, it had to be in Miami) of two supposed Cuban doctors against the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) accusing it of facilitating the creation of a "human traffic network" and "slavery" on behalf of the Cuban State. But PAHO – a branch of WHO -, it’s bewildered because this accusation was placed on the capital of Florida and not in Washington where the organization has its headquarters.

What lies in the background is the intention of using the system in motion by those against Cuba in that city dominated by senator Marco Rubio, to reply the accusations against the medical missions of Cuba, in harmony with the narrative of Donald Trump's government.


But, then does Cuba exploit its doctors? Do the Cuban government keeps more than half of their salary?

The first thing to be noticed is that the United States uses concepts like "exploitation" or "slavery" without really fully understanding their meaning.

For example, professional exploitation is, anywhere in the world, the promise of obtaining economic success studying an university majoring, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange, with the threat that, if you don't pay that money, the bank will keep your house and all your assets. That is a type of exploitation that suffer millions of young people in the United States who don’t have access to University because, it they do so, they would have to take two or three jobs with a lousy pay the bills. That, furthermore, is slavery.

In Cuba, anyone can study whatever they wish free of charge. All graduates from the School of Medical Sciences or from the Latin American School of Medicine had to starve in order to study in the best medical classrooms in the American continent.

How is this possible, being Cuba a poor country?

The answer is simple. Health services provided by the company Cuban Medical Services S.A., branch of the Ministry of Health, pay for the dreams of thousands.

Everybody knows that the Cuban medicine is quite prestigious, and that is because health in Cuba is seen as a right, and not as a commodity. For that reason for Mike Pompeo is really hard to believe that those Cuban doctors lend their services without expecting any profits. They are heroes in their country, and both them as their families have everything they need. The wealth they earn stays with them, with their relatives and to keep the dream of thousands of Cubans who support them, and hundreds of youngsters coming from third-world nations who study for free in Cuban universities.

On the other hand, in Mexico, the cost for a university diploma can reach up to a thousand monthly dollars. What about in the United States?…

But let’s Return to Cuba.

Cuba has kept for fifty years more than six hundred thousand medical missions in a hundred and sixty four countries, in which more than four hundred thousand health workers have collaborated. If two doctors recently occupy the anti-Cuban structure of Miami to try to throw dirt on the system that gave them school and healthcare, it’s not for free, but surely for some payment in return.

Cuban medical missions have fought the Ebola outbreak in Africa, the blindness in Latin America and the Caribbean; cholera in Haiti and twenty-six Groups of Specialized Doctors in Disasters and large outbreaks have been created to fight natural disasters in Pakistan, Mexico, Indonesia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Venezuela and so many others.

How much would it cost the United States to pay for that service?

Today, thousands of indigenous in the Brazilian Amazon die of curable illnesses due to the departure of Cuban doctors; of course, to those faraway places never want to go those who only study medicine to become millionaires with the medicines and the business of death.

Cuban medical missions have always gone to remote places and of difficult access; they are moved by a solidary calling and they would assist even the children of Trump and Bolsonaro.

Some similar happened to the Chilean ultra-conservative politician, Andrés Allamand, related to Cuba and its health system when his little son, of only four years old, suffered a neurological accident after falling in a pool:

"My wife and I receive a direct call from Fidel Castro where he offered us help in the treatment and recovery of our boy", said Allamand to the newspaper Cooperativa. The offer of help on behalf of the Cuban Commander in Chief "impressed me a lot."

The Chilean politician said: "The first time I spoke to him I told him that if he knew who I was, I told him that I was a leader from the opposition and he replied: 'I have everything absolutely clear and this has nothing to do with that' ".

Fidel "took my boy's recovery as something personal and he dedicated him some time for many years" (…) "My family and I have but the greatest human appreciation", said Allamand.

Hence, when in year 2003 Andrés' son Allamand died, the family decided "as a token of appreciation, to take his ashes to Cuba."

That is, of course, the true impression of the Cuban medicine. Not the one that wants to sell Pompeo, and the propaganda machine at his service.

Amid Amazon Fires, Brazil President Weakens Environment Agency: Report

BRASILIA: As the world recoils at the sight of fires ravaging Brazil's Amazon jungle, the nation's far-right government is undermining the agency charged with protecting the rainforest, Reuters has learned from interviews with ten current and former employees, public records and a review of internal government reports.

Conservative President Jair Bolsonaro has made no secret of his disdain for the public body, known as Ibama, which he has publicly rebuked as an impediment to the nation's development.

Since he took office on January 1, Ibama's budget has shrunk by 25% as part of government-wide belt tightening, according to internal government data collected by the opposition PSOL party and shared with Reuters. Among the cuts: funding for prevention and control of forest fires was reduced 23%.

New leadership at Ibama also has made it tougher for the agency to crack down on illegal logging, farming and mining that have despoiled nearly 12,000 square kilometers (4,633 square miles) in the Amazon this year, all of the former and current employees told Reuters.

For example, field agents have seen new restrictions on their ability to destroy heavy equipment found at the scene of environmental crimes, a long-standing tactic to slow land-grabbers, five of the people said.

In addition, an elite corps of Ibama forest cops has not seen action in the Amazon this year, a first since the heavily-armed, highly-trained unit was launched five years ago, according to four of the people familiar with the matter. Instead, these special agents have been confined largely to desk duty, the people say, or assigned field tasks far from hot spots in the rainforest.

Punishment of environmental criminals has declined substantially on Bolsonaro's watch. Through August 23, the number of fines issued by Ibama fell 29% compared to the same period last year, while the collective value of those penalties tumbled 43%, government statistics show.

On Monday, 54 Ibama employees sent a letter to Eduardo Bim, the agency's president, expressing "our immense concern with how environmental policy is being conducted in Brazil." The letter, seen by Reuters, listed six changes the staffers said are needed at Ibama and other federal environmental bodies, including new hires, sufficient money for enforcement work and operational autonomy.

Brazil's Environment Ministry, which oversees Ibama, declined repeated requests for comment about budget cuts and other alleged changes at the agency. A spokesman told Reuters on Aug. 14 that previous governments were to blame for Ibama's challenges, which he said included shoddy equipment and poorly maintained field offices.

The spokesman said Ibama remains an important player in the administration's plans to battle the Amazon fires. The ministry has said previously that it takes its role in protecting the rainforest seriously, and that illegal deforestation continues to be treated as a criminal activity.

Bolsonaro's environmental policies have come under intense scrutiny in recent days as images of the burning Amazon have sparked international outrage and concern about the consequences for global warming.

Through July, destruction of Brazil's rainforest is up 67% compared to the same period a year ago, according to preliminary data released by the country's National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Nearly 80,000 fires have been recorded this year through Aug. 24, the highest level since at least 2013, INPE says.

Environmentalists say Brazilian ranchers and farmers are intentionally igniting the jungle canopy to expand their operations illegally, emboldened by Bolsonaro's pro-development, anti-regulation message. Reuters was unable to confirm this claim.

"Beyond inciting, he (Bolsonaro) has systematically dismantled all the state organs that enforce environmental protection," said Alfredo Sirkis, executive director of the Brazil Climate Center and co-founder of the country's Green Party.

ei59in0gTrucks loaded with tree trunks are burned by agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources. (Reuters)
 

Bolsonaro's Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, speaking at a real estate event on Monday, said drivers of deforestation, such as wildcat mining, have been around for decades and did not begin with the current administration. He said a lack of economic opportunity in the Amazon is what pushes people to act illegally.

"Poverty is the big problem of the environment," Salles said.

Salles did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

FEAR AND MISTRUST

Ibama attracted global acclaim for its role in curbing Brazil's deforestation by 80 percent between 2004 and 2012, utilizing a mix of satellite data and boots-on-the-ground operations to attack trouble spots.

Leftist President Dilma Rousseff began to roll back federal environmental enforcement in the name of economic development upon assuming office in 2011. Reuters reported that her government had shut 91 of 168 Ibama field offices as of 2012. Government austerity stemming from Brazil's deep 2015-16 recession saw further cuts at the agency.

"With the economic crisis we started having constraints due to the fiscal situation, but it wasn't just for the environmental area, it was everyone," said Izabella Teixeira, environment minister from 2010 to 2016.

The Bolsonaro administration has taken a particularly combative tone with Ibama, which sits under the Ministry of Environment and is responsible for enforcing its policies. On the campaign trail, Bolsonaro railed against Ibama for creating an "industry of fines."

The shift in environmental strategy makes it unlikely Ibama can bolster its dwindling enforcement ranks, which have dropped 45% since 2010, according to an excerpt of an internal agency report viewed by Reuters.

Ibama employs roughly 780 enforcement agents; that is one for every 11,000 square kilometers of Brazil's territory that must be policed, the figures show. Nearly one quarter of those agents are eligible to retire at any moment, according to the report.

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A tract of Amazon jungle is seen after a fire in Boca do Acre, Amazonas state, Brazil. (Reuters)

Ibama employees said they have also been hamstrung by new restrictions on their ability to destroy logging and mining equipment found in illegally deforested areas.

Setting earthmovers, chainsaws and other machines ablaze in the jungle prevents criminals from returning to business as usual once agents leave the scene. Under previous administrations, such requests by field agents were routinely approved by Ibama's director of enforcement, five people familiar with the situation told Reuters.

Bolsonaro, however, denounced this practice in April, after Ibama set fire to trucks and tractors in the Amazon state of Rondonia.

"It's not right to burn anything, nothing," Bolsonaro said in a widely shared TV clip. "That is not the procedure, that is not our guidance."

Since then, Bolsonaro's new director of enforcement at Ibama, Olivadi Azevedo, has not approved any requests to destroy equipment, according to five people familiar with the matter.

Reuters was unable to ascertain exactly how many such requests have been submitted this year, how many are pending and how many have been rejected. In an April 22 letter to Bim, Ibama's president, which was viewed by Reuters, some 25 Ibama division chiefs, superintendents and analysts sought clarity on the toughened policy. They have yet to receive a response, three of the people who spoke to the news agency said.

Azevedo declined to comment, directing questions to the Environment Ministry press office. Bim directed Reuters to Ibama's press office, which in turn said it had passed the request to the Environment Ministry.

ELITE FORCE FROZEN

Another change is the grounding this year of Ibama's Special Enforcement Unit by Bolsonaro government appointees, according to four people with direct knowledge of the matter. Ibama has relied on this elite force to carry out operations in areas of the rainforest that are dangerous and difficult to reach.

Known by the Portuguese acronym GEF, the team currently is comprised of 13 agents who met rigorous military-style endurance standards for selection, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. Ibama's operating plan provides for GEF to be sent into the field roughly 10 times in 2019, the person said.

Ibama staffers have requested at least twice this year that GEF be deployed on raids that almost always target the Amazon, but Azevedo, the enforcement director, has not signed off on their deployment, according to the four people with direct knowledge of the situation.

In the meantime, Brazil is losing the equivalent of one and a half soccer fields of rainforest every minute in the Amazon.

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Warplanes Dump Water On Amazon As Brazil Military Begins Fighting Fires

Brasilia/Porto Velho: Brazilian warplanes are dumping water on the burning forest in the Amazon state of Rondonia, responding to a global outcry over the destruction of the world's largest tropical rain forest.

As of Sunday, President Jair Bolsonaro had authorized military operations in seven states to combat raging fires in the Amazon, responding to requests for assistance from their local governments, a spokeswoman for his office said.

Reuters accompanied a firefighting brigade near the state capital of Porto Velho, where there were areas larger than football fields that had been charred, but active fires were contained to small areas of individual trees.

The dozen or so yellow clad firefighters from environmental enforcement agency Ibama easily cleared brush from around a burning stump with a leaf blower, doused it with jets connected to water packs mounted on their backs and covered it in earth.

A video posted by the Defense Ministry on Saturday evening showed a military plane pumping thousands of liters (thousands of gallons) of water out of two giant jets as it passed through clouds of smoke close to the forest canopy.

7uqhvp6oThe Brazilian military has been tasked with fighting wildfires in the Amazon rainforest (Reuters)

The response comes as leaders of countries in the Group of Seven (G7) nations currently meeting in France expressed grave concerns over the fires.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday said the G7 was nearing a deal to provide "technical and financial help" to countries affected by the Amazon fires.

Nearly 80,000 fires have been registered across Brazil through Aug. 24, the highest since at least 2013, according to space research agency INPE.

Bolsonaro announced the military would be sent in on Friday after several days of criticism from the public and world leaders that Brazil's government was not doing anything to fight the fires.

He also said on Twitter he had accepted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer of a plane and specialized support for the firefighting operations, following a call between the two leaders.

But outside of Rondonia, the government had yet to provide any operational details for other states. The Defense Ministry said in a briefing on Saturday that 44,000 troops were available in Brazil's northern Amazon region but did not say how many would be used where and what they would do.

Military personnel around Porto Velho appeared to be largely coordinating firefighting efforts, according to a Reuters witness.

Asked for additional details, the Defense Ministry told Reuters in a statement that in all seven states that have asked for help, the military is planning operations to support firefighting initiatives already underway.

Justice Minister Sergio Moro had also authorized a force of military police to assist in fighting the fires, with 30 set to be sent from Brasilia to Porto Velho. The president's office posted to Twitter a photo of police officers on a plane bound for Rondonia set to arrive at noon.

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles posted a video showing a caravan of yellow fire prevention trucks and other government vehicles, saying they were on the ground responding in Rondonia.

Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Sunday he would seek a conservation pact with other Amazonian countries - first in bi-lateral meetings in Peru this week and then at the United Nations General Assembly.

"Colombia wants to lead a pact, a conservation pact, between the countries that have Amazon territory," Duque said after meeting with an indigenous community in the Amazonian city of Leticia in southern Colombia. "We must understand the protection of our Mother Earth and our Amazon is a duty, a moral duty."

The Amazon is the world's largest tropical rain forest and is seen as vital to the fight against climate change because of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide that it absorbs.

The Amazon, which provides 20% of the planet's oxygen, is home to an estimated one million indigenous people from up to 500 tribes as well some three million species of plants and animals, including jaguars, sloths, giant otters, river dolphins, howler monkeys, toucans, reptiles, frogs and insects.

Brazilian climate scientist Carlos Nobre said he worries if 20-25% of the ecosystem is destroyed that the Amazon could reach a tipping point, after which it would enter a self-sustaining period of dieback as the forest converts to savannah. Nobre warned that it is not far off with already 15-17% of the rain forest having been destroyed.

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Brazilian troops begin deploying to fight Amazon fires

Backed by military aircraft, Brazilian troops on Saturday were deploying in the Amazon to fight fires that have swept the region and prompted anti-government protests as well as an international outcry.

President Jair Bolsonaro also tried to temper global concern, saying that previously deforested areas had burned and that intact rainforest was spared. Even so, the fires were likely to be urgently discussed at a summit of the Group of Seven leaders in France this weekend.

Some 44,000 troops will be available for "unprecedented" operations to put out the fires, and forces are heading to six Brazilian states that asked for federal help, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo said. The states are Roraima, Rondonia, Tocantins, Para, Acre and Mato Grosso.

The military's first mission will be carried out by 700 troops around Porto Velho, capital of Rondonia, Azevedo said. The military will use two C-130 Hercules aircraft capable of dumping up to 12,000 liters (3,170 gallons) of water on fires, he said.

An Associated Press journalist flying over the Porto Velho region Saturday morning reported hazy conditions and low visibility. On Friday, the reporter saw many already deforested areas that were burned, apparently by people clearing farmland, as well as a large column of smoke billowing from one fire.

The municipality of Nova Santa Helena in Brazil's Mato Grosso state was also hard-hit. Trucks were seen driving along a highway Friday as fires blazed and embers smoldered in adjacent fields.

The Brazilian military operations came after widespread criticism of Bolsonaro's handling of the crisis. On Friday, the president authorized the armed forces to put out fires, saying he is committed to protecting the Amazon region.

Azevedo, the defense minister, noted U.S. President Donald Trump's offer in a tweet to help Brazil fight the fires, and said there had been no further contact on the matter.

Despite international concern, Bolsonaro told reporters on Saturday that the situation was returning to normal. He said he was "speaking to everyone" about the problem, including Trump, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and several Latin American leaders.

Bolsonaro had described rainforest protections as an obstacle to Brazil's economic development, sparring with critics who say the Amazon absorbs vast amounts of greenhouse gasses and is crucial for efforts to contain climate change.

The Amazon fires have become a global issue, escalating tensions between Brazil and European countries who believe Bolsonaro has neglected commitments to protect biodiversity. Protesters gathered outside Brazilian diplomatic missions in European and Latin American cities Friday, and demonstrators also marched in Brazil.

"The planet's lungs are on fire. Let's save them!" read a sign at a protest outside Brazil's embassy in Mexico City.

The dispute spilled into the economic arena when French leader Emmanuel Macron threatened to block a European Union trade deal with Brazil and several other South American countries.

"First we need to help Brazil and other countries put out these fires," Macron said Saturday.

The goal is to "preserve this forest that we all need because it is a treasure of our biodiversity and our climate thanks to the oxygen that it emits and thanks to the carbon it absorbs," he said.

In a weekly video message released Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Group of Seven leaders "cannot be silent" and should discuss how to help extinguish the fires.

Bolivia has also struggled to contain fires that swept through woods and fields. A U.S.-based aircraft, the B747-400 SuperTanker, is flying over devastated areas in Bolivia to help put out the blazes and protect forests.

On Saturday, several helicopters along with police, military troops, firefighters and volunteers on the ground worked to extinguish fires in Bolivia's Chiquitanía region, where the woods are dry at this time of year.

Farmers commonly set fires in this season to clear land for crops or livestock, but sometimes the blazes get out of control. The Bolivian government says 9,530 square kilometers (3680 square miles) have been burned this year.

The government of Bolivian President Evo Morales has backed the increased cultivation of crops for biofuel production, raising questions about whether the policy opened the way to increased burning.

Similarly, Bolsonaro had said he wants to convert land for cattle pastures and soybean farms. Brazilian prosecutors are investigating whether lax enforcement of environmental regulations may have contributed to the surge in the number of fires.

Brazil's justice ministry also said federal police will deploy in fire zones to assist other state agencies and combat "illegal deforestation."

Fires are common in Brazil in the annual dry season, but they are much more widespread this year. Brazilian state experts reported nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018.

More than half of those fires occurred in the Amazon region.

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Bolivia Orders World's Largest Air Tanker to Combat Amazon Fires

“We are no longer forced to submit to ‘international aid’...we can respond ourselves immediately’

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales announced on Wednesday that Bolivia had purchased a Boeing 747 ‘Supertanker’ to help extinguish huge forest fires in the Amazon have that spilled over from Brazil. By Wednesday evening, the government confirmed that the tanker is arriving in the country and will be operational on Friday.

RELATED: Bolivia's Evo Morales Visits Fire-Affected Eastern Region

The ‘Supertanker’ can carry more water than any other aircraft in the world, capable of flying with 115, 000 litres, equivalent to a 100 regular air tankers. Prior to the tankers arrival, the military will fly planes over the region to assess where exactly the tanker should focus. 

There will also be three new helicopters, working with the three already in operation, working to extinguish the fires. Other measures include the creation of an ‘emergency cabinet’ and the dispatch of an extra 500 troops on Thursday morning, as reinforcement for the firefighters on the ground. There will also be around 10 light aircraft, putting out fires by fumigation.

On the first day of the fires spreading to Bolivia, President Evo Morales visited the areas and brought two helicopters to evacuate affected communities, along with large shipments of emergency food aid. 

The new measures by the government come amid calls by right-wing opposition candidate Carlos Mesa to allow foreign aid to help put out the fires. 

Nevertheless, Bolivia’s government has long rejected calls for outside intervention for natural disasters, arguing that Bolivia’s economy has developed enough to provide sufficient resources to cope, and must deal with issues internally to protect sovereignty. Speaking earlier in the year when flash floods hit the Department of Beni, Vicepresident Alvaro Garcia Linera said “Bolivia has the resources...the era of begging [to outsiders] has passed, leave that to Carlos Mesa”.

Some have pointed to how international ‘emergency aid’ from the US often leads to militarization and occupation, such as that which took place in Haiti, following devastating earthquakes. There, relief operations were led by the US military’s Southern Command, and scholars have illustrated the subsequent role of USAID in working with US corporations in creating patterns of dependency in the country. One academic has described it saying. "USAID used the occurrence of the January 2010 earthquake tragedy to accelerate in Haiti the implementation of a neoliberal agenda congenial to the business promotion of multinational investors, particularly US multinational corporations."

Hoping to avoid such a scenario, President Morales reiterated on Wednesday that “We are no longer forced to submit to ‘international aid’...we can respond ourselves immediately’

The recent fires in the Amazon started in Brazil, though exact causes are unclear, organizations in the Amazon blame loggers and landed elites allied to President Bolsonaro, for deliberately starts fires to clear land for cattle ranching. The European Union's satellite program, Copernicus, showed how the fire then spilled over into Bolivia and Peru. The fire has devastated almost half a million hectares of Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest, largely affecting the historic Chiquitania area.

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Bolsonaro may be Forced to Reveal Everything about Political Prisoner

The Brazilian Prosecutor's Office assesses Jair Bolsonaro's statement about the disappearance of political prisoner Fernando Augusto de Santa Cruz Oliveira, whereby the president could be forced to reveal everything he knows about the case.

'It is extremely serious not only because of the friction with the ethical and moral decorum that is expected of all citizens and public authorities, but also because of its legal implications,' the Federal Attorney General's Office of Citizen Rights, in a public note to the Public Ministry.

Bolsonaro unleashed the controversy when he told reporters on Monday that he would tell Felipe Santa Cruz, president of the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB), how his father died during the military dictatorship (1964-1985).

Felipe is the son of the late Fernando Augusto Santa Cruz de Oliveira, killed by the Armed Forces in 1974, as evidenced by a secret Aeronautical document.

However, Bolsonaro dared to say that Fernando was executed by an armed group of the left and not by the military.

'Who is that OAB? If one day the president of the OAB wants to know how his father disappeared in the military period, I tell him. He will not want to hear the truth. I tell you, 'said the politician of the extreme right.

Signed by the federal prosecutor for Citizens' Rights, Deborah Duprat, and deputy Marlon Weichert, the note notes that 'rare situations cause as much suffering as the disappearance of a loved one.'

In Brazil, more than 80 thousand families face the disappearance situation each year from different sources: social, health and violent disappearances.

'Everyone suffers, almost always in silence, this perennial pain, which does not cease until the whereabouts of the loved one are discovered. Respect for this pain is a sign of humanity and dignity, practiced by different civilizations and all religions', details the Prosecutor's text.

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