Brazil’s Bolsonaro fuels word war with Macron over Amazon fires
by Jordi Miro, with Allison Jackson in Rio de Janeiro
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday repeated a demand for French leader Emmanuel Macron to withdraw recent remarks, accusing France and Germany of “buying” the Latin American country’s sovereignty with Amazon fire aid.
Bolsonaro’s latest comments came during an escalating diplomatic spat between Brazil and Europe that threatens to torpedo a major trade deal. They also throw into doubt whether Brazil is still willing to accept the G7’s offer of $20 million to help combat fires raging in the world’s largest rainforest.
Bolsonaro said Tuesday morning he was open to discussing the offer from the G7 only if Macron retracted his “insults” against him.
But by evening Bolsonaro appeared to have changed his tune and dropped the demand. His spokesman told reporters that Brazil would accept foreign aid on the condition that it controlled the money.
“Only after he withdraws what he said… we can talk again,” Bolsonaro told reporters Wednesday, referring to Macron, after holding talks with Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera on the Amazon crisis.
“Germany and in particular France are buying our sovereignty,” Bolsonaro said.
“It seems that $20 million is our price. Brazil doesn’t have a price of 20 million or 20 trillion — it’s the same thing for us.”
Bolsonaro said Brazil would accept bilateral aid to fight the fires, raising doubts over whether the country would take up the offer from the Group of Seven, which consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States.
He accepted Chile’s offer of four aircraft to fight the blazes. “We all love the Amazon, but the nine Amazon countries… have sovereignty” over it, Pinera said.
Bolsonaro’s latest remarks make him and his government appear “increasingly unhinged,” said Robert Muggah, from a Rio de Janeiro think tank, the Igarape Institute.
“There don’t appear to be any adults left in the room with the ability or inclination to restrain his worst impulses,” Muggah said.
– No liars –
Macron and Bolsonaro have repeatedly clashed in the past week.
The French leader accused Bolsonaro of lying to him about his commitments on climate change and vowed to block the EU-Mercosur trade deal involving Brazil that took decades to negotiate.
On Monday, Macron rebuked the “extraordinarily rude” Bolsonaro after the Brazilian leader personally expressed approval for a supporter’s Facebook post implying that Brigitte Macron was not as attractive as his own first lady, Michelle Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro has hit back, accusing Macron of treating Brazil like “a colony or no-man’s land.”
The Brazilian leader has since removed the comment from social media to avoid misinterpretation, his spokesman Otavio Rego Barros told reporters Wednesday.
Vice President Hamilton Mourao — widely considered to be a moderate voice in Bolsonaro’s government — also weighed in publicly for the first time.
In an opinion piece published in the conservative Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, Mourao criticized an “international campaign” against Brazil and said the country “does not lie and nor does its president, its government and its institutions.”
The global outcry sparked by the Amazon fires has alarmed industries in Latin America’s largest economy. They fear potential boycotts of their products.
Global shoe and clothing brands have threatened to suspend leather purchases from Brazil over the country’s environmental policies in the forest, according to a document sent by the Brazil Tanneries Industry Center to the government.
Fires are also ravaging neighboring Bolivia where President Evo Morales and his rival in upcoming elections have suspended campaigning to deal with the blazes.
Bolsonaro on Wednesday supported Peru and Colombia’s proposal for an emergency Amazon summit in September so regional countries could coordinate a strategy to protect the vast rainforest.
The latest official figures show 1,044 new fires were started Monday and Tuesday, taking the total this year to 83,329 — the highest since 2010 — even as military aircraft and troops help battle the blazes.
More than half of the fires are in the massive Amazon basin.
In the hard-hit northwestern state of Rondonia, thick smoke has choked the capital Porto Velho as fires blacken swaths of the rainforest.
But the defense ministry insists the fires are under control. It has published satellite data it says show a reduction in the number of fires in the nine states spanning the Amazon.