• Press Release

Bolivian Government Must Suspend Presidential Decree and Investigate Causes of Forest Fires

September 9, 2019

View of a fire near Charagua in Bolivia, on the border with Paraguay, south of the Amazon basin, on August 29, 2019. - Fires have destroyed 1.2 million hectares of forest and grasslands in Bolivia this year, the government said on Wednesday, although environmentalists claim the true figure is much greater. (Photo by Aizar RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)
In an open letter published today, Amnesty International called on the government of President Evo Morales to suspend the July decree that authorized “controlled burns” to extend the agricultural frontier, until it is certain that the decree has not contributed to the forest fires that are causing an environmental and human rights crisis in Chiquitanía, a region close to the Amazon and the Brazilian border.

On August 30, after announcing the detention of people suspected of causing the fires, President Evo Morales stated that the fires had been started intentionally “for political reasons,” while the Minister of the Presidency asserted that “the fire is almost a natural child of agriculture” that is being exacerbated by high temperatures and strong winds associated with “global warming.”

“Brazil is not the only country suffering from the terrible forest fires in the Amazon; Bolivia also faces this threat to the ecosystem, biodiversity and the communities of the Chiquitano forest. Instead of making contradictory and baseless public declarations, Bolivian authorities must scientifically and independently investigate the origin of this serious crisis,” said María José Veramendi Villa, South America researcher for Amnesty International.

Through Supreme Decree 3973 of July 10, 2019, President Morales authorized “controlled burns” for agricultural activities in the provinces of Santa Cruz and Beni, which have been affected by the forest fires since August of this year.

In its open letter, Amnesty International stresses that the causes of the fires must be investigated and that, if appropriate, those responsible must be identified and sanctioned. Moreover, the government must provide urgent assistance to the people and communities affected, while consulting them and respecting their human rights.

The organization also expresses its solidarity with the people and communities affected and maintains that the protection of biodiversity and the environment is necessary for the full enjoyment of human rights, like the rights to life, health, food, water and culture.