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Brazil will reject an offer of $22 million in emergency aid from G7 countries to help fight wildfires raging through the Amazon, according to a top presidential aide, who branded the gesture as “imperialist” and said the funds should be used to “reforest Europe” instead.
World leaders at the G7 summit in Biarritz pledged $22 million Monday to help Brazil fight the record number of fires burning in Brazil, after summit host Macron highlighted the issue as an urgent crisis harming “the lungs of the planet.”
But the global concern over the fires has riled Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who insists the blazes are a domestic issue and has accused Macron of adopting a “colonialist mindset” toward his country. On Monday, Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, said the government would not take up the offer.
“We appreciate [the offer], but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe,” Lorenzoni told Brazil’s G1 news website.
“Brazil is a democratic, free nation that never had colonialist and imperialist practices, as perhaps is the objective of the Frenchman Macron.”
In a barbed reference to the fire that gutted Paris’s historic Notre Dame cathedral in April, Lorenzoni said: “Macron cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a World Heritage site. What does he intend to teach our country?”
The comments represent the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter spat between the climate-skeptic Brazilian leader and his French counterpart that has escalated since Macron called for international action over the Amazon fires last week, and threatened to block a proposed trade deal between the EU and South American countries over Brazil’s inadequate response to the fires.
Announcing the G7’s offer Monday, which he suggested could be spent on firefighting planes and a reforestation program, Macron said he respected Brazil’s sovereignty but that the Amazon fires were a global issue. As the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon acts as a vital carbon store to slow the pace of global warming.
While fires in the Amazon are a regular occurrence during the dry season, they have reached a record level this year, spreading across 950,000 hectares (2.3 million acres) and prompting Brazil to deploy its military to battle the blazes.
“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,” said Macron Monday.
“But we cannot allow you to destroy everything.”
Despite having claimed last week that Brazil lacked the resources to fight the fires, Bolsonaro has chafed at the international community’s attempts to involve itself in the crisis.
“These countries that send money here, they don’t send it out of charity. … They send it with the aim of interfering with our sovereignty,” he said during a Facebook Live broadcast.
His foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, repeated the claim Monday, tweeting that it was “very evident” that the G7 was attempting to spin the fires into “a fabricated ‘crisis’ as a pretext for introducing mechanisms for external control of the Amazon.”
The dispute took an ugly, personal turn Sunday after Bolsonaro posted a comment on a picture unfavorably comparing the appearance of French first lady Brigitte Macron to that of Bolsonaro’s wife, Michelle Bolsonaro.
Under a caption that read: “Now do you understand why Macron persecutes Bolsonaro?” the Brazilian leader responded: “Don’t humiliate the guy. Ha ha.”
The comment drew a sharp response from Macron at a press conference Monday, calling Bolsonaro out for having “made some extraordinarily rude comments about my wife.’
“What can I say? It’s sad for him, firstly, and for Brazilians,” he said.
Environmentalists accuse Brazil’s government of having effectively green-lit the crisis with policies favoring development over conservation of the Amazon. Since coming to power in January, Bolsonaro has relaxed the enforcement of existing laws against deforestation, and encouraged mining and farming throughout the Amazon. Scientists say the fires are man-made, mainly caused by ranchers and farmers setting the forest alight to clear land for pasture.
The G7’s offer of emergency assistance to tackle the fires had already been widely dismissed by environmentalist groups as insufficient, and environmentalists noted that the G7 package failed to address the commercial forces driving deforestation of the rainforest.
“The offer of $20M is chump change,” said Richard George, head of forests for Greenpeace UK.
Cover: A fire burns along the road to Jacunda National Forest, near the city of Porto Velho in the Vila Nova Samuel region which is part of Brazil's Amazon, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. The Group of Seven nations on Monday pledged tens of millions of dollars to help Amazon countries fight raging wildfires, even as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro accused rich countries of treating the region like a “colony.” (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)