November 28, 2019 / 1:01 AM / 14 days ago

Brazilian cosmetics company backs NGO after firefighters arrested

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian cosmetics company Natura Cosmeticos SA said on Wednesday that it was concerned about a state police raid against a nongovernment organization (NGO) that it has partnered with on sustainably developing the Amazon rainforest region.

On Tuesday, police in the northern Amazon rainforest state of Para raided the Health and Happiness Project, as part of a probe into the causes of a recent rash of forest fires in the region. Police also arrested four volunteer fireman working for a separate NGO on accusations of purposefully setting the fires in an effort to boost donations.

The arrests triggered an uproar from politicians and NGOs who condemned it as a move to unjustly persecute environmental groups.

Natura, which makes many products using natural additives from the Amazon, said the Health and Happiness Project was part of a partnership it formed last year involving several organizations to provide ingredients. In a statement on social media, Natura only addressed the Health and Happiness Project raid and did not mention the firefighters.

“Natura expresses solidarity with the Health and Happiness Project,” the statement said.

“Regarding the operation against the NGO, Natura is concerned by the means employed to address an issue as sensitive as the future of the Amazon.”

Health and Happiness works closely with fire prevention efforts in the same region as the Alter do Chao Fire Brigade, whose members were arrested.

On Wednesday, a judge denied the release of the four firefighters, ruling that they could remain jailed for 10 days as a preventive measure as police continue to carry out their investigation, according to Michell Durans, a lawyer representing the firefighters.

Durans said in a phone interview they would appeal the decision and that he expected an injunction against the arrests to be ruled on by Friday.

Brazilian right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has been fiercely critical of NGOs, saying they act on behalf of foreign interests to undermine the country’s sovereignty. As forest fires in Brazil’s Amazon surged to their highest point since 2010 in August, Bolsonaro suggested that NGOs were to blame for setting the blazes.

Greenpeace and other groups claim that the raid was part of a larger campaign to criminalize NGOs and social movements.

“It’s a decision I see as nothing more than an attempt to realize the anti-democratic political discourse that has been promised in Brazil,” Durans said of the arrests.

Reporting by Jake Spring; Additional reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by Leslie Adler

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