Hours after leaders of some of the world’s wealthiest countries pledged more than $22 million to help combat fires in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s government angrily rejected the offer, in effect telling the other nations to mind their own business — only to later lay out potential terms for the aid’s acceptance.
President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil expressed his ire in a series of Twitter posts on Monday, and specifically criticised and taunted President Emmanuel Macron of France, who had announced the aid package at the Group of 7 summit meeting.
Their comments extended a verbal feud between the two leaders.
But early the next day, Bolsonaro offered possible terms for the acceptance of the aid package when he spoke to reporters in the capital, Brasilia.
He said that if Macron withdrew “insults made to my person,” and what Bolsonaro interpreted as insinuations that Brazil does not have sovereignty over the Amazon, he would reconsider.
“To talk or accept anything from France, even with their very best intentions, he will have to withdraw his words, and then we can talk,” Bolsonaro said. “First he withdraws them, then he makes the offer, and then I’ll answer.”
Bolsonaro, who has suggested earlier that Macron’s real motive is to shield France’s agriculture from Brazilian competition, had tweeted on Monday that the president “disguises his intentions behind the idea of an ‘alliance’ of the G7 countries to ‘save’ the Amazon, as if we were a colony or a no-man’s land”.
His chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, told the Globo broadcast network that the administration would be turning down the offer, and insulted Macron with a reference to the fire that gutted the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris in April. The Brazilian government later confirmed his comments, Globo reported.
“Thanks, but perhaps these resources are more relevant to reforesting Europe,” Lorenzoni told the news organisation. “Can Macron not even prevent a predictable fire in a church that is a World Heritage Site and wants to teach what for our country? He has a lot to look after at home and in the French colonies.”
More than 26,000 forest fires have been recorded in the Amazon rainforest this month, the highest number in a decade, setting off international outrage and calls for greater protections.
The forests absorb a significant share of the planet’s climate-warming carbon dioxide, are home to Indigenous peoples, and are a vital habitat for endangered species.
In an interview with the Brazilian television programme Roda Vida, the country’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, seemed to contradict Lorenzoni’s view.
He said he thought “it is important to accept the help that was offered”, because it would provide equipment to help combat the fires.
The environment secretary for the state of Amazonas said that a lack of resources has been hampering his state’s ability to fight the fire effectively. While he agreed that the terms of help should be negotiated, he also believed that resources from the G7 could be put to good use.