Brazil’s President Has Gone Loco, Blames Leonardo DiCaprio for Amazon Fires

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest saw the loss of millions of acres in 2019 due to fires and according to the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, actor Leonardo DiCaprio holds part of the blame. 

According to CNN, Bolsonaro accused the actor on a webcast of deliberately bankrolling the fires. “Take photo, film, send it to an NGO (non-governmental organizations), the NGO spreads it out, does a campaign against Brazil, gets in touch with Leonardo DiCaprio and Leonardo DiCaprio donates $500,000 to this NGO. Leonardo DiCaprio, you are assisting with the burning of the Amazon,” the president said.

The president’s son, who is also a politician, similarly attacked the actor on Twitter and said the money the actor had donated was used to start fires that were then used for photographs to be sold to the World Wildlife Fund. A day later, Bolsonaro hit the actor again with accusations and told his supporters “This Leonardo DiCaprio’s a cool guy, isn’t he? Giving money for the Amazon to be torched.” 

Now before you vow to never watch another Leo movie again, it’s important to note that these claims are completely false and frankly, not just damaging, but pretty looney as well. DiCaprio has pledged $5 million to help protect the Amazon rainforest. 

It’s not like Bolsonaro had a photo of DiCaprio holding a lighter to some dry leaves on the rainforest floor — he offered up zero evidence. He merely made false and damaging claims against the actor who is known for his environmental activism.

Leonardo DiCaprio called out Bolsonaro on his false claims.

Obviously, DiCaprio wasn’t going to simply sit on his hands and allow his name to be tied to the Brazilian president’s mistruths. The actor responded on Instagram shortly after saying, “The future of these irreplaceable ecosystems is at stake and I am proud to stand with the groups protecting them. While worthy of support, we did not fund the organizations targeted.”

It wasn’t just DiCaprio who took issue with Bolsonaro’s false claims either. Without mentioning him by name, Global Wildlife Conservation and IUCN Species Survival Commission — two prominent groups working to save the rainforest — released statements refuting the accusations. 

“The Amazon rainforest is in crisis. Brazil has historically made impressive progress towards protecting its unique ecosystems,” read a statement from GWC. “In the past few days, false accusations have been made to undermine environmental defenders and distract the general public from policies that directly lead to environmental disasters like those across the Amazon earlier this year.”

The IUCN also rebuffed the president’s claims with a statement that partially read: “As an umbrella organization committed to biodiversity conservation, we are concerned that there are increasing and targeted attacks on people and groups working to protect nature in the Amazon.” Brazilian congressman Ivan Valente took aim at Bolsanor’s claims, writing on Twitter, “Bolsonaro’s delirium knows no bounds. Accusing Leonardo DiCaprio of paying for the Amazon to be ‘torched’ is pathetic.”

This wasn’t the first time Brazil’s president has spread lies

Bolsonaro has been combative with both environmental campaign groups and foreign leaders who have criticized his government’s handling of the rainforest. 

In 2018, Bolsonaro told the press  “This cowardly business of international NGOs like WWF and so many others from England sticking their noses into Brazil is going to end! This tomfoolery stops right here!”

The president lashed out in August of 2019, when the fires were at their peak, and suggested non-governmental organizations may have started the fires for financial reasons. “The NGOs lost money, the money that came from Norway and Germany to here. They’re unemployed. What do they need to do? Try to overthrow me,” Bolsonaro said

The president seems to be blind to the fact that his own policies have largely been a contributor to the fires. While he’s claimed to have “love” for the Amazon, his actions haven’t backed that up.

Upon taking office, he gave the Agricultural Ministry the responsibility for certifying the country’s indigenous lands. This was essentially a beneficial move for farmers and cattle ranchers who use slash-and-burn land clearing techniques. Indigenous groups called the move an act of “violence against indigenous people.” 

Not surprisingly, Bolsonaro defended his actions by citing that “Less than a million people live in these places.” He went on to say that indigenous peoples were being manipulated by NGOs and should be integrated into Brazilian society. That’s more or less what the United States government did to the plains Native Americans in the 19th century.

Brazil has some bizarre right-wing controversies that take aim at Hollywood stars.

It’s not just Brazil’s president who believes Hollywood actors are to blame for the country’s wildfires. There’s even a Brazilian right-wing webpage that tries to pin some of the country’s other social ills on Hollywood.

For example, it’s apparently Kate Winslett’s fault that the country’s education system is in crisis. Johnny Depp is a cause of deforestation and Penelope Cruz is the reason for Brazil’s unemployment woes. 

Perhaps even the most outlandish claim — Hollywood nice guy Tom Hanks has a guilty hand in Brazil’s high taxes. Around six percent of Earth’s oxygen supply comes from the Amazon rainforest — and it’s on fire.

Photos via Wikimedia Commons, Instagram, Ellsworth AFB