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Brazil leader wants an apology before accepting $22 million fund to fight Amazon fires

Key Points
  • President Jair Bolsonaro reportedly says he may accept the aid if France's Macron withdraws his "insults" regarding the issue.
  • The Brazilian and French leaders have since been embroiled in a spat that was sparked by Macron's calls.
  • The Amazon rainforest covers land in Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. According to the World Wildlife Fund, it makes up half of the world's remaining tropical forests.
Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's president, speaks during a Brazil Day conference at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., on March 18, 2019.
Alex Edelman | Bloomberg | Getty Images

President Jair Bolsonaro said Brazil may accept the G-7's offer of $22 million for help with fires in the Amazon if France's Emmanuel Macron withdraws his "insults" regarding the issue.

"Macron has to take back his insults of me," he said, according to Reuters, appearing offended by previous comments made by the French leader on the issue.

"He called me a liar. Before we talk or accept anything from France ... he must withdraw these words then we can talk." He later told reporters that Brazil had nothing against the G-7, but rather against the president of a G-7 country.

Last week, Macron threatened to block an EU trade agreement with Brazil and its neighboring countries over Bolsanaro's lack of action to control the surge in Amazonian forest fires. "Given the attitude of Brazil over the last weeks, the president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka (G-20) summit," a presidential official said in a statement at the time.

French criticism

The French president has publicly pushed for international action in the Amazon, after satellite data from Brazil's space agency showed last week that fires are burning in the Amazon at a record rate. The number of forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon so far this year surged by 84% from the same period in 2018.

The Brazilian and French leaders have since been embroiled in a spat that was sparked by Macron's calls. Bolsonaro attacked Macron last week for displaying what he called a "misplaced colonialist mindset."

On Monday, Bolsonaro said on Twitter that Brazil could not accept Macron's "unreasonable attacks" on the Amazon, adding that "the idea of an 'alliance' of the G-7 countries to 'save' the Amazon" treated Brazil like a colony.

The dispute has also involved the wives of both heads of state. Bolsonaro commented on a Facebook post comparing the appearances of his own wife, Michelle Bolsonaro, and French first lady Brigitte Macron, telling a supporter: "Do not humiliate (him)... man, ha ha."

Macron said in response at a news conference during the G-7 summit: "He said very disrespectful things about my wife. I have great respect for the Brazilian people and can only hope they soon have a president who is up to the job."

$22 million fund

Macron announced on Monday that the G-7 countries — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. — would pledge $22 million to help reduce the fires in the Amazon. However, Brazil later said it would reject the fund.

Speaking to Brazilian news website G1 on Monday, Bolsonaro's Chief of Staff Onyx Lorenzoni accused Macron of hypocrisy over his stance on the Amazon fires. "Thanks, but perhaps these resources are more relevant to reforesting Europe," Lorenzoni said. "Macron cannot even prevent a predictable fire in a church (Notre Dame Cathedral) that is a World Heritage Site, and (he) wants to teach lessons to our country?"

He added that Brazil could teach "any nation" how to protect their native forests, according to a translation of the interview. France's iconic Notre Dame Cathedral was severely damaged in a fire in April, causing the landmark's roof and spire to collapse. Macron then pledged to rebuild the cathedral within five years.

VIDEO1:5001:50
New video shows Brazil's charred Amazon rainforest as emergency efforts ramp up

Sympathy

Bolsonaro claimed that other heads of state sympathized with Brazil, and that Colombian President Ivan Duque agreed with him that the countries making up the Amazon needed a joint plan on the crisis to "guarantee our sovereignty and natural wealth."

President Donald Trump defended Bolsonaro Tuesday, saying in a tweet that he had "gotten to know" the Brazilian leader well. "He is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil — not easy," he said. "He and his country have the full and complete support of the USA."

Bolsonaro, who has faced criticism for his environmental policies, previously said it was difficult to curb increasing deforestation with limited resources. However, on Saturday, he said he would send the army to fight the fires, sharing a video of the air force extinguishing flames in the Amazon.

The Amazon rainforest covers land in Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. According to the World Wildlife Fund, it makes up half of the world's remaining tropical forests.