Like his far-right rival President Jair Bolsonaro in neighboring Brazil, Bolivia‘s leftist leader Evo Morales is facing mounting fury from environmental groups over voracious wildfires in his own country.
While the Amazon blazes in Brazil have attracted worldwide attention, the blazes in Bolivia‘s forest and grassland have raged largely unchecked over the past month, devastating more than 9,500 square kilometers (3,600 square miles).
Morales, under fire for policies his critics say favor greater deforestation, suspended his re-election campaign Sunday to direct the government‘s response to the disaster, which now threatens the world‘s largest wetlands.
Morales said he would halt campaigning for the October 20 election “for at least one week, to look after all of the Chiquitania,” a region of tropical grasslands, and “all the Bolivian Amazon” threatenedby the wildfires.
Bolivia is one of nine South American countries to share the Amazon rainforest. Environmental groups blame the disaster on government land-clearing policies designed to expand the country’s agricultural footprint.
“We are talking about a state policy that has been agreed with the businessmen of eastern Bolivia to expand the area for intensive agriculture, GM soybeans, cane plantation and grazing land for livestock,” said Leonardo Tamburini, head of the Center for Legal Studies and Social Research (CEJIS), a Bolivian NGO.
Environmentalists are outraged by a decree last month allowing farmers to increase the area of forested land they can clear by controlled burning from five to 20 hectares, a policy they say has fueled the fires.
Bolivia’s Catholic bishops on Monday denounced the decree as “reckless” and called for it to be repealed.