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Brazil’s President Says He Won’t Save the Amazon Unless He Gets an Apology from Macron

The "lungs of the planet" are on fire, and a dispute between Jair Bolsonaro and Emmanuel Macron has reached new levels of pettiness.

by Tim Hume
27 August 2019, 3:21pm

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Tuesday that he’ll only accept the G7’s offer of millions of dollars to help fight Amazon wildfires if French President Emmanuel Macron retracts calling him a liar, as the dispute between the leaders reaches new levels of pettiness.

World leaders at the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz pledged $22 million Monday to help Brazil fight the record number of fires burning in the Amazon, after summit host Macron highlighted the issue as an urgent crisis harming “the lungs of the planet.”

But far-right leader Bolsonaro, who has been locked in a vicious war of words with Macron in recent days, said Tuesday that the French president first had to retract some of his comments — including a remark from a French presidential official that Macron believed Bolsonaro was a liar: “Then we can speak.”

Bolsonaro also accused the French president of attempting to undermine Brazilian sovereignty over the Amazon amid the bitter and increasingly personal debate over the wildfires — which has also seen Macron condemn the Brazilian leader for insulting his wife’s looks. The global concern over the fires has riled Bolsonaro, who insists the blazes are a domestic issue and has Macron of adopting a “colonialist mindset” towards his country.

READ: The Amazon is on fire, but Trump still skipped the G7 climate meeting

As the battle between the pair raged last week, a French presidential official told reporters that Bolsonaro was a liar for having pledged a commitment to fight global warming at June’s G20 summit in Osaka.

“Given the attitude of Brazil... the president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka summit,” said the official.

Macron has yet to respond to Bolsonaro’s ultimatum, but said earlier Tuesday that he regretted Brazil’s rejection of the offer, which had been made out of friendship.

Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, said Monday the government would not take up the offer, telling Brazil’s G1 news website that “maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe.”

“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 a 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.

READ: Brazilian warplanes are trying to soak the burning Amazon

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 attempted to spin the fires in to a “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 France’s 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 greenlit 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 manmade, 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 to tackle the problem, 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)