Amazon Fires: Bolsonaro Demands Macron ‘Withdraw Insults’ Before Accepting Aid

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has hit back at reports accusing the government of devastating the Amazon
EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro suggested on Tuesday that his nation may still accept a $20 million donation organized by French President Emmanuel Macron for combating fires in the Amazon Rainforest, but only if the French leader “withdraws the insults he has hurled against me.”

Bolsonaro and Macron have been exchanging sharp words after Macron insisted on French intervention in Brazil to stop the ongoing fires, an annual occurrence that has, in some areas, appeared to destroy more foliage than the local farmers intended. The Brazilian government has referred to Macron’s attitudes as “colonialist” and assured the world that it is handling the situation, preparing a potential deployment of up to 44,000 soldiers to fight the fires.

An infuriated Macron expressed hope Brazilians would vote Bolsonaro out of office on Monday after the Brazilian leader left a comment laughing at a supporter’s meme appearing to insult French First Lady Brigitte Macron’s appearance. On Tuesday, Bolsonaro told reporters he did nothing of the sort and that he only warned his supporters not to “talk bullshit” about the Macrons.

The $20 million donation is officially an offer from the G7 member states, which Macron, the host of this year’s G7 summit, called for. The Brazilian Foreign Relations Ministry rejected the money on Monday. O Globo, a national Brazilian newspaper, reported that Bolsonaro is working to coordinate Amazon fire response with South American neighboring countries and Israel.

“First of all, Mr. Macron has to retire the insults he has hurled against me,” Bolsonaro told reporters outside Planalto, Brazil’s presidential palace, on Tuesday. “He called me a liar.”

“First withdraw, then offer, then I respond,” Bolsonaro said.

Bolsonaro also rejected the idea that he had offended Brigitte Macron. Bolsonaro commented on a meme posted to his page that read “Now you understand why Macron is persecuting Bolsonaro?” featuring a flattering photo of his third wife, Michelle Bolsonaro, and an unflattering one of the Macrons.

“Don’t humiliate the guy, lololololol,” Bolsonaro wrote.

“I didn’t post that picture,” Bolsonaro told reporters on Tuesday, insisting he was scolding the user who posted the meme, not applauding him. “Someone put the picture there and I told them not to talk bullshit. I don’t want to go there. Personal matters, family, I don’t go there.”

“I respect the guy [Macron] to not go there,” Bolsonaro added.

Macron made clear on Monday that he took the posting as a personal insult.

“He made extraordinarily disrespectful comments about my wife,” Macron said of the post on Monday. “What can I say? It’s sad. But it’s sad, above all, for him and the Brazilians. I think that Brazilian women, without a doubt, are ashamed of their president.”

“[Brazilians] expect that, when one is the president, that one behave well in relation to others. And as I have much respect and admiration from the Brazilian people, I expect that very soon they will have a president that behaves up to their expectations,” Macron added.

Bolsonaro’s demand for an apology for Macron’s insults was much more tempered than the response from his foreign ministry or his chief of staff. The former accused Macron of not paying Brazil the money the Paris Agreement entitles it to for reducing CO2 emissions; the latter mocked France for allowing the Notre Dame Cathedral to erupt into flames.

“When the Paris Agreement was approved in 2015, developed countries pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year in climate financing for developing countries by 2020, a commitment that is not being met even remotely,” the foreign ministry noted in a statement Monday. Brazil’s emission reductions, the foreign ministry claimed, were worth $30 billion and “are still pending payment by France and other developed countries.”

Onyx Lorenzoni, Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, called Macron “colonialist.”

“We are grateful, but maybe these resources would be more relevant to use to reforest Europe,” Lorenzoni told the Brazilian blog G1. “Macron couldn’t even prevent a foreseeable fire in a church that is a World Heritage Site and he wants to teach our country, what [exactly]?”

“He has a lot to take care of at home and in the French colonies,” Lorenzoni added. “Brazil is a democratic, free country, and never had colonialist and imperialist practices like the Frenchman Macron perhaps would like.”

President Donald Trump entered the Amazon fire fray on Tuesday with a comment applauding Bolsonaro.

The Brazilian president “is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “He and his country have the full and complete support of the USA”:

Trump did not mention Macron.

August is the beginning of spring in the Southern Hemisphere, a time when local farmers around the Amazon begin burning down shrubbery to plant crops. The Amazon Rainforest spans nine countries, including France via its colony of French Guiana, which Lorenzoni hinted at in his comments to Macron. French Guiana is not currently experiencing significant fires, however.

The current fires appear to be concentrated in Brazil and Bolivia, where last month President Evo Morales approved a law making it easier for farmers to burn forest plants to grow crops. At the moment, scientists have expressed concerns that the fires in Brazil have taken up double the space they had at this time in 2018, but remain significantly lower than the sizes of fires in the early 2000s.

“It is not unusual to see fires in Brazil at this time of year due to high temperatures and low humidity. Time will tell if this year is a record breaking or just within normal limits,” a NASA report citing satellite images of the fires concluded last week.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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