Brazil's Bolsonaro causes global outrage over Amazon fires
Porto Velho (Brazil): Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has insulted adversaries and allies, disparaged women, blacks and homosexuals, and even praised his country's 1964-1985 dictatorship.
Yet nothing has rallied more anger at home and criticism from abroad than his response to fires raging in parts of the Amazon region.
The far-right populist leader initially dismissed the hundreds of blazes and then questioned whether activist groups might have started the fires in an effort to damage the credibility of his government, which has called for looser environmental regulations in the world's largest rainforest to spur development.
In response, European leaders threatened to end a trade deal with Brazil and other South American nations.
Thousands of people have demonstrated in cities across Brazil and outside Brazilian embassies around the world.
#PrayforAmazonia became a worldwide trending topic.
Pope Francis added his voice to the chorus of concern, warning that the "lung of forest is vital for our planet."
Bolsonaro finally took a less confrontational approach Friday and announced he would send 44,000 soldiers to help battle the blazes, which mostly seem to be charring land deforested, perhaps illegally, for farming and ranching rather than burning through stands of trees.
Some say it's not enough and comes too late.
"No democratic government has suffered such international criticism as Bolsonaro is going through," said Mauricio Santoro, an international relations professor at Rio de Janeiro State University.
"By breaching international environmental agreements, Brazil has been discredited, blurred and unable to exercise any type of leadership on the international stage."
Brazilian military planes began dumping water on fires in the Amazon state of Rondonia over the weekend, and a few hundred of the promised troops deployed into the fire zone.
But many Brazilians again took to the streets in Rio de Janeiro and other cities Sunday to demand the administration do more. Some held banners that read: "Bol onaro is burning our future."
Bolsonaro has previously described rainforest protections as an obstacle to Brazil's economic development. Critics say the record number of fires this year has been stoked by his encouragement of farmers, loggers and ranchers to speed efforts to strip away forest.
Although he has now vowed to protect the area, they say it is only out of fear of a diplomatic crisis and economic losses.
"The international pressure today has a bigger impact than the demonstrations by Brazilians on the streets," Santoro said.