Leonardo DiCaprio has publicly responded to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s claims that the actor — who has long been a committed environmentalist — funded the devastating wildfires in the Amazon.
“This Leonardo DiCaprio is a cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon,” the far-right politician, who has been called the “Trump of the Tropics” due to his numerous polarizing opinions and remarks, said on Friday, according to Reuters.
Bolsonaro, who did not offer any evidence to support his accusation, made similar allegations against DiCaprio on Thursday during a Facebook Live, also claiming that the World Wildlife Fund paid firefighters to take pictures of the blazes in order to solicit donations, according to the news organization.
“(WWF) makes a campaign against Brazil, it contacts Leonardo DiCaprio, he donates $500,000,” Bolsonaro said during the broadcast. “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.”
On Saturday, the actor — who set up a $5 million fund for the Amazon’s indigenous communities through his own organization over the summer — denied having made a donation to the WWF as he voiced his continued “support” for Brazilians fighting to save the rainforest, which produces 20 percent of Earth’s oxygen and is a key factor in combating climate change.
“At this time of crisis for the Amazon, I support the people of Brazil working to save their natural and cultural heritage,” DiCaprio wrote in a statement shared to Instagram. “They are an amazing, moving and humbling example of the commitment and passion needed to save the environment.”
“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,” the Oscar winner added. “I remain committed to supporting the Brazilian indigenous communities, local governments, scientists, educators and general public who are working tirelessly to secure the Amazon for the future of all Brazilians.”
WWF-Brasil has also issued a statement denying DiCaprio’s donation as well as all of “the lies involving its name,” according to Deadline.
At this time of crisis for the Amazon, I support the people of Brazil working to save their natural and cultural heritage. They are an amazing, moving and humbling example of the commitment and passion needed to save the environment. 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. I remain committed to supporting the Brazilian indigenous communities, local governments, scientists, educators and general public who are working tirelessly to secure the Amazon for the future of all Brazilians.
A post shared by Leonardo DiCaprio (@leonardodicaprio) on Nov 30, 2019 at 7:48am PST
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Bolsonaro’s allegations also coincided with the release of four volunteer firefighters, who were arrested after being accused of setting the fires to solicit donations, Deadline reported.
Several environmentalists have said cattle ranchers and farmers intentionally set the fires to clear the land for their own use.
“These forests are not burned by accident — they are made to clear land for cattle grazing and soy production,” Daniel Brindis, head of the forest campaign for Greenpeace, previously told PEOPLE. “The companies who profit off of these commodities are based in the U.S. We encourage consumers to demand companies not destroy the forests. There is enough land out there.”
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Amid these claims, many have condemned Bolsonaro, who vowed to explore the Amazon’s economic potential and condemned deforestation warnings that could interfere with trade negotiations. Activists have noted that the surge of fires began when he took office in January, Reuters previously reported.
Bolsonaro also famously fired Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research leader Ricardo Galvão after Galvão spoke out about high deforestation rates. At the time, Bolsonaro said that the findings were inaccurate.