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Brazil Rejects G-7's Offer Of $22 Million To Fight Amazon Fires

G-7 nations pledged millions to help Amazon countries fight wildfires, but Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Tuesday that he's not interested unless he gets an apology from French President Emmanuel Macron.
Eraldo Peres
G-7 nations pledged millions to help Amazon countries fight wildfires, but Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Tuesday that he's not interested unless he gets an apology from French President Emmanuel Macron.

Brazil says it will reject an offer of at least $22 million from the rich countries in the Group of Seven to help fight fires sweeping through the Amazon rainforest. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he doesn't want the money — unless it comes with an apology from French President Emmanuel Macron.

Bolsonaro and Macron have engaged in a days-long spat after the French leader used the G-7 summit this week to call for action to protect the Amazon and said the fires are a world environmental crisis that Bolsonaro has allowed to worsen. He also said that Bolsonaro, a climate change skeptic, had lied about his effort to combat deforestation.

Bolsonaro responded angrily, saying Macron had insulted him and was trying to undermine Brazil's sovereignty by intervening in the Amazon.

"This squabble is infuriating Bolsonaro's critics," NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Rio de Janeiro. "They say he should fight the fires — not the French."

On Monday, Bolsonaro said in a tweet that he won't accept what he called Macron's "attacks." He also accused Macron of treating Brazil "as if we were a colony or no man's land."

In an interview on French TV, Macron later referred to the Amazon as "the lungs of the planet" and pledged that the G-7 countries would help Brazil balance its economic development with environmental concerns. In an aside addressed to Bolsonaro, he added, "But we cannot allow you to destroy everything."

On Tuesday morning, Bolsonaro said Macron would have to take back all the things he said about him before he would even consider the offer of monetary aid from members of the G-7: the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Bolsonaro made those remarks to reporters in Brasilia shortly after the website G1 reported that the president's chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, had rejected the offer outright.

"Thanks, but perhaps these resources are more relevant to reforesting Europe," Lorenzoni was quoted as saying. Referring to the recent Notre Dame blaze in Paris, he went on to suggest that if Macron cannot "avoid a predictable fire in a church," he might not have much to teach to Brazil.

President Trump came to Bolsonaro's defense on Tuesday, saying via Twitter, "He is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil — Not easy."

In reply, Bolsonaro thanked Trump and wrote, "The fake news campaign built against our sovereignty will not work."

Macron made the devastating fires in the Amazon a key point for the G-7 summit even before meetings began in Biarritz, France. "The ocean and the forest that burns in the Amazon call us. We have to answer them," he said, adding, "The time is no longer for words, but for deeds."

The offer of money from the G-7 nations also has drawn attention over its modest size — because it is coming from some of the world's largest economies and because of the task it is meant to accomplish.

"It's really only symbolic," Nigel Sizer, the chief program officer at the nonprofit Rainforest Alliance, told NPR. "It's less than Americans spend on popcorn in a typical day."

In that light, Sizer said, it's not surprising that Brazil has rejected the offer. And he added that the problem is partly political, as well.

"The fact is that Brazil has the resources and the expertise to address this challenge," Sizer said. "Since the Bolsonaro government came into power at the beginning of this year, they have systematically defunded their environmental protection agencies."

The shocking losses in the Amazon rainforest have prompted intense reactions globally. In addition to the formal G-7 offer, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has offered to send the affected nations 10 million pounds (around $12.2 million), and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered to send CA$15 million (around $11.2 million) and water bomber planes to fight the fires.

As awareness has spread on social media and elsewhere, donations have poured in from all over, Sizer said.

"The people of the world actually are pledging more resources than the G-7 has been committing," he said. "We've seen millions and millions of dollars coming in."

Actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio has also stepped in, with his Earth Alliance group creating a $5 million emergency Amazon fund to help indigenous communities and others who are working to protect the Amazon's prodigious biodiversity from being destroyed.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.