Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he will think about accepting offers of international aid to fight raging fires in the Amazon region if French President Emmanuel Macron apologizes for comments he deemed offensive.
Bolsonaro said Tuesday that Macron called him a liar, and accused the French president of questioning Brazil’s sovereignty amid tensions over fires in the region — which Macron described as an issue “for the whole planet.”
During the Group of Seven nations summit in Biarritz, southwest France, over the weekend, heads of state and government pledged $40 million — $20 million from the group, $12 million from the United Kingdom and $11 million from Canada — to help fight the fires.
But the chief of staff to Bolsonaro, a climate change skeptic with a pro-agrobusiness agenda, initially said Brazil wouldn’t accept donations from other countries.
In reference to the massive fire that broke out at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in April, he added: “Macron cannot even avoid a predictable fire in a church that is part of the world’s heritage, and he wants to give us lessons for our country?”
“We refuse because we see interference,” Brazil’s ambassador to France, Fernando Serra, echoed to French television network BFM TV. “[It’s] help we didn’t ask for. The G-7 help was decided without Brazil.”
At the G-7 summit on Monday, Macron said the Amazon, while mostly in Brazil, is a worldwide issue, and that the world cannot allow Bolsonaro to ruin the entire globe.
“We respect your sovereignty. It’s your country,” he said,” but noted the Amazon is “the lungs of the planet.”
“The Amazon forest is a subject for the whole planet. We can help you reforest. We can find the means for your economic development that respects the natural balance. But we cannot allow you to destroy everything.”
Bolsonaro responded on Twitter Monday, calling Macron’s remarks “unreasonable attacks on the Amazon” — and said the French president is hiding behind the idea of an “alliance” among the G-7 countries, “as if [Brazil] were a colony or a no man’s land.”
“Other heads of state sympathized with Brazil, after all respect for the sovereignty of any country is the least that can be expected in a civilized world,” the Brazilian president tweeted.
But on Tuesday, Bolsonaro said, “we can speak” if Macron apologizes.
In addition to the $40 million offered by G-7 nations, and firefighting plans offered by Ottawa, other groups are also contributing support for the region. Earth Alliance, a new environmental foundation backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, is pledging $5 million in aid, saying the Amazon is one of the “best defenses” against climate change.
Bolsonaro says he is committed to protecting the Amazon and prosecuting anyone involved in illegal fires, many of which appear to be to have been set in already deforested areas to clear land for farming.
He initially questioned whether activist groups might have started the fires as part of a coordinated effort to damage his government’s credibility. Bolsonaro’s administration has called for looser environmental regulations in the world’s largest rainforest to spur development.
About 60 percent of the Amazon region is in Brazil. The vast forest also spans parts of Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru and Suriname.
Bolsonaro has announced he would send 44,000 soldiers to help battle the blazes, and military planes have started dumping water on fires in the Amazon state of Rondonia — which some critics welcomed, but others said is too late.
Fires are common during Brazil’s dry season, but the numbers surged this year. The country’s National Space Research Institute, which monitors deforestation, has recorded more than 77,000 wildfires in Brazil this year, a record since the institute began keeping track in 2013. That is an 85 percent rise over last year, and about half of the fires have been in the Amazon region — with more than half of those coming just in the past month.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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