Brazil rejects G7 offer of €20m aid to fight Amazon fires

Brazil rejected aid from G7 countries to fight wildfires in the Amazon, with a top official telling French President Emmanuel Macron to take care of "his home and his colonies."

"We appreciate (the offer), but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe," Onyx Lorenzoni, chief of staff to President Jair Bolsonaro, told the G1 news website. Lorenzoni was referring to a €20 million pledge made at the G7 summit in France to fight the rainforest blaze.

Lorenzoni suggested to Brazil's Globo news website that "perhaps these resources are more relevant to reforesting Europe".

"Macron cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site. What does he intend to teach our country?" He continued, referring to the fire in April that devastated the Notre-Dame cathedral.

The presidency later confirmed the comments to AFP.

Brazilian environment Minister Ricardo Salles had earlier told reporters they had welcomed the G7 funding to fight the fires that have swept across 950,000 hectares (2.3 million acres) and prompted the deployment of the army. But after a meeting between Bolsonaro and his ministers, 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," Lorenzoni said.

Tensions have risen between France and Brazil after 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. Bolsonaro reacted by blasting Macron for having a "colonialist mentality."

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday during a G7 summit in Biarritz that the group - comprising the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Britain and Canada - would donate €20m to help tackle the blazes. Separately, Britain and Canada also pledged $12m and $11m in aid respectively. Macron said the funds would be made available immediately and that France would also offer military support in the region.

Brazilian officials gave no official reason for rejecting the group's offer, while it was not immediately clear if Britain and Canada's offers of aid had also been declined.

Amid the apparent u-turn, new data released on Monday showed that hundreds of new fires have flared up in Brazil's portion of the Amazon rainforest in recent days. Some 1,113 new fires were ignited across Saturday and Sunday, according to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which monitors deforestation. Despite the rise, Brazil's Defence Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva claimed on Monday that the fires in the Amazon were "under control."

"It has been exaggerated a little that the situation was out of control - it wasn't," he said.

About 60% of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil; the vast forest also spans parts of Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru and Suriname. Fires are common during Brazil's dry season, but the numbers have surged this year.

INPE has spotted more than 77,000 wildfires in Brazil since the beginning of January, a record since the institute began keeping track in 2013 and a more than 80 percent bump on the number for the same period last year.

Environmentalists and non-governmental organisations have attributed the spike in blazes to farmers setting the forest alight to clear land for pasture and to loggers razing the forest for its wood, with INPE itself ruling out natural phenomena being responsible for the surge. Critics say Bolsonaro's weakening of Brazil's environmental agency, IBAMA, and push to open up the Amazon region for more commercial activity has emboldened such actors and created a climate of impunity for those felling the forest illegally.

 

 

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