(CBS News) — Leonardo DiCaprio on Saturday said his organization is not funding nonprofit groups that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has falsely claimed helped start devastating wildfires in the Amazon. Bolsonaro, who has previously made disputed claims that nonprofit groups are setting fires in the Amazon, told a group of supporters in the nation’s capital that the actor gave “money to set the Amazon on fire.”
“DiCaprio is a cool guy, isn’t he? Giving money to set the Amazon on fire,” Bolsonaro said in Brasilia on Friday, the Associated Press reported.
Thousands of wildfires burned across Brazil this summer, destroying large parts of the vital rainforest. Many of the fires are believed to have been intentionally set by farmers clearing land, a practice that has been deregulated by Bolsonaro’s relaxed environmental laws.
Bolsonaro’s far-right government has promoted economic expansion in protected natural areas of the rainforest, arguing that environmental nonprofits and laws have prevented this development. He called the global alarm over the fires “sensationalist” and warned foreign governments not to intervene in Brazil.
“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,” he wrote. “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,” DiCaprio wrote, along with statements from Wes Sechrest, CEO and Chief Scientist of the Global Wildlife Conservation, and Jon Paul Rodriguez, Chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission.
“We stand by those falsely accused of starting forest fires in the Amazon, and reaffirm our support to those who are dedicated to protecting one of our planet’s most vital and imperiled ecosystems,” Sechrest wrote.