Brazil's Bolsonaro fuels spat with Macron over Amazon fires

A fire burns a tract of Amazon jungle as it is cleared by loggers and farmers near Porto Velho, Brazil, August 27.
A fire burns a tract of Amazon jungle as it is cleared by loggers and farmers near Porto Velho, Brazil, August 27.
Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday repeated a demand for French leader Emmanuel Macron to withdraw recent remarks, as he accused France and Germany of "buying" the Latin American country's sovereignty with Amazon fire aid.

Bolsonaro's latest comments come amid 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.

Far-fight Bolsonaro said Tuesday morning he was open to discussing the G7's offer only if Macron retracted his "insults" against him.

But by evening Bolsonaro appeared to have changed his tune and dropped the demand, with his spokesman telling 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 after holding talks with Chile's President Sebastian Pinera on the growing 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 G7's offer.

Macron and Bolsonaro have repeatedly locked horns in the past week, with the French leader accusing Bolsonaro of lying to him about his commitments on climate change and vowing 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 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."

Brazil's Vice President Hamilton Mourao also weighed in publicly for the first time on the growing row.

In an opinion piece published in the conservative Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, Mourao slammed an "international campaign" against Brazil and declared the forest belongs to Brazil.

"Brazil does not lie and nor does its president, its government and its institutions," Mourao said, in an apparent reference to Macron's accusation against Bolsonaro.

"Leaders of European countries come, individually or together, to take initiatives against free trade, looking to sabotage historic agreements like that signed between the European Union and Mercosur."

Bolsonaro's remarks come as 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 at least 2013 - 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.

Nearly 2 500 troops and 15 aircraft, including two C-130 Hercules, have been deployed, according to the defense ministry, which has published satellite data it says show a reduction in the number of fires in the nine states spanning the Amazon.

More than 43 000 troops were available to help put out fires, the government said previously.

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