Tuesday 17 September 2019

Aid is 'friendship' - Macron

French president shrugs off 'colony' jibe from Brazilian leader

Global crisis: Fires have spread rapidly in recent weeks in the Amazon. AP Photo/Eraldo Peres
Global crisis: Fires have spread rapidly in recent weeks in the Amazon. AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

Dean Gray

Emmanuel Macron yesterday shrugged off Brazil's rejection of international aid to fight the wildfires laying waste to the Amazon, saying the money was a sign of friendship - not "aggressiveness."

The French president put the Amazon fires high on the agenda of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, where some $40m (€36m) was pledged to fight the fires and plant new trees because of the Amazon's importance to the global environment.

But Jair Bolsonaro, the nationalist strongman leader of Brazil, rejected the offer of aid and accused France and other rich countries of treating the region like a "colony".

In a diplomatic speech yesterday, Mr Macron called that interpretation a "mistake". He said: "We would happily accept international solidarity, it's a sign of friendship."

He added that the gesture was not just aimed at Brazil but at nine countries in the Amazon region, including Colombia and Bolivia. France also considers itself an Amazon country via its overseas region of French Guiana.

Later, Brazil signalled it may accept the offer of aid but only if Mr Macron withdraws his "insults".

Mr Bolsonaro and Mr Macron have become embroiled in a deeply personal and public war of words in recent days, with the Brazilian president mocking Mr Macron's wife on Facebook, as well as accusing the French leader of disrespecting his country's sovereignty.

"Macron has to take back his insults of me. He called me a liar. Once he does that, then we can talk," Bolsonaro said yesterday.

Meanwhile firefighters equipped with hoses connected to rubber backpacks raced in a truck along dirt roads toward plumes of smoke after a spotter in a military helicopter directed them to a fast-spreading fire.

The smoke-shrouded scene near the lush Jacunda national forest in the Amazonian state of Rondonia showed the enormity of the challenge: putting out a multitude of blazes and safeguarding - in the long term - a vast region critical to the health of the planet.

Brazil's National Space Research Institute, which monitors deforestation, has recorded that the number of fires in the country has risen by 85pc to more than 77,000 in the last year, a record since it began keeping track in 2013. About half of the fires have been in the Amazon region, with many in just the past month.

The international pledges of aid came despite Mr Bolsonaro's accusation that the west is angling to exploit Brazil's natural resources.

But the funds, which are widely seen as critical support, are still a relatively meagre amount for dealing with an environmental crisis that threatens what Mr Macron has called "the lungs of the planet".

Yesterday, firefighters drove for hours at a stretch outside the Rondonia capital of Porto Velho without seeing any major fires, suggesting many had been put out or burned themselves out.

Still, smoke billowed from charred fields and scrub, shrouding the sky.

Under international pressure to act, Mr Bolsonaro said he might visit the region this week to check on firefighting efforts. He also pledged that he would make 44,000 troops available to fight the blazes.

However, the military presence in the area seemed scarce on Monday, with only a few soldiers seen patrolling roads and lending a hand.

Some locals seemed torn between knowing that the fires were devastating the environment and needing to extract the Amazon's rich resources to make a living.

"We have many problems with the fires. But we also depend on the wood for our economy," said one, Darcy Rodrigo de Souza. "It's true that the Amazon has to be protected, but this president is going to protect it. The Americans want us to protect Brazil. But why don't they protect their stuff?"

Irish Independent

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