Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday rejected an aid from G7 countries to fight raging wildfires in the Amazon.
Brazil has been gripped by massive blazes ravaging the world’s largest rainforest, prompting countries from across the world to express sympathy and support to combat the crisis.
Although other South American countries within Amazon paths are also fighting wildfires, Brazil alone has seen over 72,000 fire outbreaks in 2019, with an 84% increase on the same period a year earlier, the country’s National Institute for Space Research said. More than half of the wildfires were in the Amazon, which falls mostly in Brazil.
Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most-populous city and commercial centre, has also been challenged by the fires, raising concerns that the rainforest is giving way to land-clearing operations and other activities intended to transform the land for agricultural use.
Experts at the University of Maryland in the United States said farmers clearing land for next year’s farming searching had contributed to the inferno, which is now affecting over three million species of plants and animals and one million indigenous people.
Mr Bolsonaro deployed 44,000 soldiers to fight the fires on Friday, insisting the country was capable of handling the crisis.
As part of efforts to combat the crisis, leaders of the G7 — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US — meeting in Biarritz, France, announced a $22m donation on Monday to procure new fire-fighting planes and other equipment for Brazil.
But Brazil has not shown its willingness to accept the support, with a top official saying Europe would have a better need for the fund.
“We appreciate (the offer), but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe,” Onyx Lorenzoni, chief of staff to Mr Bolsonaro, told Brazil G1 news website.
“Macron cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site. What does he intend to teach our country?” Mr Lorenzoni added, in an apparent jibe at France over the fire in April that devastated the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
The Brazilian presidency later confirmed the position of Mr Lorenzoni, the Associated Press reported. But the rejection contradicted an earlier statement by Brazilian environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who previously told reporters they had welcomed the G7 funding to fight the fires that have swept across 950,000 hectares.
But after a cabinet meeting, the Brazilian government changed course. “Brazil is a democratic, free nation that never had colonialist and imperialist practices, as perhaps is the objective of the Frenchman Macron,” Mr Lorenzoni said.
Tensions have risen between France and Brazil after Mr Macron tweeted that the fires burning in the Amazon basin amounted to an international crisis and should be discussed as a top priority at the G7 summit.
The Brazilian president dismissed his French counterpart’s suggestion as a display of “colonialist mentality.”
Amazon is widely dubbed as the “lungs of the world” for its role in absorbing carbon dioxide which it then turns into oxygen.