Brazil’s president accuses actor DiCaprio of financing Amazon fires

Smoke rises from forest fires in Altamira of Brazil’s Amazon basin. Four people accused of starting fires in the Amazon rainforest to later receive international funds to combat them were arrestd on November 26. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2019

Brazil’s president accuses actor DiCaprio of financing Amazon fires

  • ‘This Leonardo DiCaprio is a cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon’
  • DiCaprio has been an outspoken advocate on behalf of combating climate change

SAO PAULO: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro claimed on Friday that Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio financed fires being set in the Amazon rainforest, without presenting any evidence, the right-wing leader’s latest broadside in casting blame over forest fires that have generated international concern.
Bolsonaro appeared to be commenting on social media postings claiming that the environmental organization the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) had paid for images taken by volunteer firefighters that it then supposedly used to solicit donations, including a $500,000 contribution from DiCaprio.
The WWF has denied receiving a donation from DiCaprio or obtaining photos from the firefighters.
“This Leonardo DiCaprio is a cool guy, right? Giving money to torch the Amazon,” Bolsonaro said on Friday during brief remarks in front of the presidential residence.
DiCaprio denied having donated to the WWF. In a statement, the actor lauded “the people of Brazil working to save their natural and cultural heritage.” But, he said, “While worthy of support, we did not fund the organizations targeted.”
DiCaprio has been an outspoken advocate on behalf of combating climate change, speaking frequently about environmental issues including the Amazon forest fires. His Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which is focused on projects that “protect vulnerable wildlife from extinction,” is part of the Earth Alliance.
Four members of the nongovernmental organization Alter do Chão Fire Brigade were arrested on Tuesday with police accusing them of purposefully setting fires in order to document them and drum up more donations. They were released on Thursday on a judge’s order.
Politicians and other NGOs fiercely criticized the arrest, saying it was part of a concerted attempt by Bolsonaro’s government to harass environmental groups.
Scientists and activists blame land speculators, farmers and ranchers for setting the fires to clear land for agricultural use, saying that deforesters are being emboldened by Bolsonaro’s rhetoric of promoting development and farming over preservation.
The Amazon rainforest is considered a bulwark against global climate change.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly lashed out at various factions in casting blame for the forest fires.
In a Facebook live post on Aug. 21, he said, “Everything indicates” that NGOs were going to the Amazon to “set fire” to the forest. When asked then if he had evidence to back up his claims, Bolsonaro said he had “no written plan,” adding, “that’s not how it’s done.”
One day later he admitted that farmers could be illegally setting the rainforest ablaze, but roughly a month later he attacked the “lying media” for saying that the rainforest was being devastated by the fires.
Bolsonaro talked about DiCaprio on Thursday during a live webcast. The president said the WWF paid the firefighting NGO to take pictures of forest fires in the Amazon.
“So what did the NGO do? What is the easiest thing? Set fire to the forest. Take pictures, make a video,” the president said. “(WWF) makes a campaign against Brazil, it contacts Leonardo DiCaprio, he donates $500,000.”
“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,” Bolsonaro said.


Jailed Wikileaks founder Assange no longer in solitary, health improving

Updated 19 February 2020

Jailed Wikileaks founder Assange no longer in solitary, health improving

  • Assange was moved from solitary confinement in the medical wing to a different part of the prison with 40 other inmates
  • WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson: He has improved thanks to the pressure from his legal team, the general public, and amazingly, actually from other inmates

LONDON: Jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is no longer being kept in solitary confinement and his health is improving, his spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told reporters on Tuesday.
Assange, 48, is in Belmarsh high-security prison in London, fighting an extradition request from the United States where he faces 18 counts including conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law. He could spend decades in prison if convicted.
His supporters had expressed concern about the state of his health after he appeared confused during a court hearing in October, struggling to recall his age and name and saying he was unable to think properly.
Assange was moved from solitary confinement in the medical wing to a different part of the prison with 40 other inmates after his legal team and prisoners complained that his treatment was unfair, Hrafnsson said.
“I saw him about 10 days ago — he has improved thanks to the pressure from his legal team, the general public, and amazingly, actually from other inmates in Belmarsh Prison to get him out of isolation,” Hrafnsson said ahead of an extradition hearing that starts next week.
Australian-born Assange made global headlines in early 2010 when WikiLeaks published a classified US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.
WikiLeaks later angered the United States by publishing caches of leaked military documents and diplomatic cables.
Assange has consistently presented himself as a champion of free speech being persecuted for exposing abuses of power. But his critics paint him as a dangerous figure complicit in Russian efforts to undermine the West.
He fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning about allegations of sex crimes which have since been dropped. He spent seven years holed up in the embassy until Ecuador decided to stop giving him refuge and he was dragged out last May.
Earlier, a group of doctors representing 117 physicians and psychologists from 18 nations called in a letter for an end to what they described as “the psychological torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange.”
His father, John Shipton, said Assange’s long confinement indoors had damaged his health and feared that sending his son to the US would be akin to a “death sentence.”
“His situation is dire, he has had nine years of ceaseless psychological torture where false accusations are constantly being made,” he told reporters.