Bolsonaro accuses state agency of lying on Brazil deforestation

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro looks on during a National Soccer Day Cerenomy in Brasilia, Brazil July 19, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday accused the state body responsible for tracking deforestation levels of disclosing false data, after preliminary numbers showed a dramatic rise in July.

“I am convinced that the data is a lie, and we will ask the president (of the organization) to come here and talk about it,” Bolsonaro said Friday morning during a meeting with foreign journalists.

The remarks come a day after Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, Inpe, published preliminary satellite data showing deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest accelerated in the first half of July to more than 1,000 square kilometers (400 square miles), a jump of 68% from the entire month of July 2018.

Inpe said in a statement on Friday that it constantly monitors the quality of its deforestation data, which currently presents an accuracy rate of over 95 percent.

Last week, a group of seven scientific institutions, including the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, defended Inpe last week in an open letter to Bolsonaro and top officials, saying it was of essential strategic importance that the deforestation numbers not be subject to interference.

But the Brazilian president said the data does not correspond to the truth, repeating that he believes Brazil suffers from an “environmental psychosis.” He angrily replied to one European journalist: “The Amazon is ours, not yours.”

Asked on the rise of inequality in the country, Bolsonaro denied the existence of hunger in Brazil, saying even among the poor there are no “people on the streets with skeletal physique as seen in other countries.”

Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), showed 5.2 million people suffered from hunger in Brazil in 2017 compared to 5.1 million people in 2014.

Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu, additional reporting by Jake Spring, Writing by Gabriela Mello; Editing by Steve Orlofsky