Brazil to France on Amazon Fire: ‘Colonialist’ Macron Couldn’t Even Save Notre Dame

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AP/Christophe Ena

The government of Brazil issued a stern rejection on Monday of attempts by French President Emmanuel Macron to involve Europe in the nation’s response to sprawling fires in the Amazon Rainforest, scolding France to pay its share into the Paris Agreement on climate change and branding Macron a “colonialist.”

In remarks to Brazil’s G1 blog, affiliated with the national newspaper O Globo, President Jair Bolsonaro’s Chief of Staff Onyx Lorenzoni dismissed Macron, noting that France failed to prevent significant fire destruction at a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Notre Dame cathedral, “and he wants to teach us, what?”

The Brazilian Foreign Relations Ministry used a similarly scathing tone in its official rejection of $20 million in funds from the G7 countries to fight the Amazon fires. The fires are raging in Brazil and Bolivia but primarily taking a political toll on Bolsonaro, despite aggressive deforestation encouraged by socialist Bolivian President Evo Morales. The ministry noted that mechanisms for international aid to solve issues like the Amazon fire already exist and urged France to stop wasting time on “redundant” projects.

The statements follow growing personal tensions between Bolsonaro and Macron, exacerbated by Bolsonaro leaving a comment laughing on an online meme that appeared to denigrate the appearance of French First Lady Brigitte Macron.

“The Brazilian Government has been following news reports of a supposed launch of new initiatives related to the Amazon, which would have the stated objective of supporting reforestation activities in the Amazon Rainforest,” the foreign ministry’s statement began. “The Brazilian Government reminds those who are considering launching such initiatives that there are already several instruments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to finance deforestation reduction and reforestation activities.”

“France – and other countries that may support its ideas – are expected to engage seriously in these discussions within the UNFCCC, rather than launching redundant initiatives, with amounts well below their international commitments, and ambiguous innuendo regarding the principle of national sovereignty,” the statement continued, adding that France and other European countries have failed to live up to Paris Agreement commitments.

“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 contrast, Brazil has met CO2 reduction commitments that should trigger payments from Paris Agreement signatories, including France. “These reductions, estimated at $30 billion, are still pending payment by France and other developed countries,” the foreign ministry revealed.

While the foreign ministry attacked France for promising money for environmental programs in the past and not paying up, Bolsonaro’s chief of staff Lorenzoni personally attacked Macron for being “colonialist” and appearing to believe European leaders know how to face South American problems better than the natives do. He also mocked Macron’s track record on fighting fires.

“We are grateful, but maybe these resources would be more relevant to use to reforest Europe,” Lorenzoni told 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.”

Macron began irritating the Brazilian government last week, posting an image allegedly of the Amazon fires on Twitter calling them an “international crisis” and urging the G7 to act. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) revealed that the photo, later shared by a host of celebrities online, was taken by a photographer who died in 2003 and thus could not have been of the current Amazon Rainforest fires.

Macron later held a press conference about the Amazon fires at the G7 with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera. Chile is not a G7 member nation nor does any of its territory overlap with the Amazon Rainforest.

Macron’s attempted involvement in the fires and criticism of Bolsonaro led to Brazilian conservatives mocking the French president online. Bolsonaro outraged Macron this week by responding to a post from one of his fans featuring a photo of Bolsonaro and his third wife, Michelle, alongside Macron and his longtime spouse, Brigitte, reading, “Now you understand why Macron persecutes Bolsonaro?” The implication of the post was that Macron was jealous of Bolsonaro’s wife.

Bolsonaro himself commented on the post, “Don’t humiliate the guy lolololol.”

“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.

Despite personal tensions with Macron, Bolsonaro’s government is working on an international effort to put out the fires. According to O Globo, Bolsonaro is planning to accept “only the help of South American neighbors and Israel” in fighting the fires. Bolsonaro himself announced on Twitter Monday morning that he had spoken to Colombian President Iván Duque on creating a joint plan to preserve the rainforest “that guarantees our sovereignty and natural riches.”

“We cannot accept that a president, Macron, hurl unerasonable and gratuitous attacks on the Amazon, nor that he disguise his intentions behind the idea of an ‘alliance’ of G7 countries to ‘save’ the Amazon, as if we were a colony or a no-man’s land,” he wrote.

Bolsonaro has prepared 44,000 Brazilian troops for what is being described as an “unprecedented” operation to put out the fires.

Fires in the Amazon Rainforest are not natural occurrences but have become an annual tradition for farmers seeking to clear land to plant crops. The current fires were preceded by Bolivia’s Morales passing a law permitting expanded manmade fires in the region for growing more crops, according to the BBC. Morales initially won his nation’s presidency on a platform of empowering indigenous farmers and taking back the capital from Bolivia’s wealthy elite.

Bolivia’s Catholic leaders have implored Morales to impose an “ecological pause” on fires in the Amazon given the current crisis.

Macron’s G7 initiative also offered money to Morales, who accepted it from the “brother president” Macron on Monday. Macron has not vocally condemned Bolivia as he has Brazil, nor has Morales made any public comments on the French First Lady.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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