Brazil said it will now accept millions of dollars in international aid to help fight fires blazing through the Amazon rainforest – but only if it can determine how it’s spent.
The comments by presidential spokesman Rego Barros on Tuesday came after governors of states in the Brazilian Amazon told President Jair Bolsonaro they needed assistance to help fight the record wildfires scorching the world’s largest tropical rainforest.
“The Brazilian government, through its president, is open to receiving financial support from organisations and countries,” Barros said.
“This money, when it enters the country, will have the total governance of the Brazilian people,” he added.
On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a pledge by G7 nations to donate more than $20m to help fight the fires and protect the Amazon. Britain and Canada offered a separate $12m and $11m, respectively.
Macron said the funds would be available immediately – primarily to pay for more fire-fighting planes – and France would also offer military support in the region, where tens of thousands of troops have already been deployed by Bolsonaro’s government to tackle the unprecedented blazes.
Bolsonaro’s administration initially suggested it would rebuff the G7’s offer, suggesting the money wasn’t needed while accusing foreign powers of wanting control of the Amazon.
Bolsonaro later said he would consider accepting the funds if Macron retracted “insults” made against him.
Turn down money?
The pair have become involved in a deeply personal and public war of words in recent days, with Bolsonaro mocking Macron’s wife and accusing the French leader of disrespecting Brazil’s sovereignty.
Macronaccused Bolsonaro of “lying” about efforts to tackle global climate change, and said Brazilian women are “probably ashamed” of him.
Brazil’s president is finding himself increasingly isolated on the global stage over his response to the Amazonian blazes, which threaten what many view as a key bulwark against the climate emergency.
His far-right government’s response could threaten Brazil’s trade deals and powerful agribusiness sector, which is a crucial driver of its recession-plagued economy.
“We think that it’s not the moment to turn down money,” Flavio Dino, the governor of Maranhao state, told reporters after a meeting in which Bolsonaro pledged to agree on a package of legislative measures with the states by September 5 to help prevent a surge in forest fires happening again.
“The anti-environment rhetoric could expose Brazil to international sanctions,” Dino said.
Analysts said the government’s initial suggestion it would reject the funds also pointed to a lack of coordination between Bolsonaro’s administration and “other members of the Brazilian government and state”.
“A few days ago Bolsonaro himself said there wasn’t enough money to monitor and combat these fires in the Amazon, so although Brazil is a very wealthy country, the allocation of money is a very bureaucratic procedure and in this particular area there wasn’t enough money,” Thiago de Aragao, director at the Brasilia-based political consultancy Arko Advice, told Al Jazeera.
Trump backs Bolsonaro
The number of blazes in Brazil has skyrocketed by 80 percent in the year to date compared with the same period in 2018, according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research. Most of the more than record-high 77,000 blazes recorded were in the Amazon.
Environmentalists and non-governmental organisations said increased activity by farmers and loggers, who they suggested were emboldened by Bolsonaro’s repeated pledges to bring increased development to the Amazon, was behind the spike.
Brazil’s government blamed the blazes on a range of factors, including the weather.
Bolsonaro also made unfounded claims that NGOs had started the fires in an attempt to undermine his administration after it slashed their funding.
US President Donald Trump on Tuesday offered his support for Bolsonaro, an ideological ally on the environment.
I have gotten to know President @jairbolsonaro well in our dealings with Brazil. He is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil – Not easy. He and his country have the full and complete support of the USA!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2019
Bolsonaro responded: “We’re fighting the wildfires with great success. Brazil is and will always be an international reference in sustainable development.”
Widespread rain that could snuff the fires out is likely to be weeks away.
The fires in the Amazon are not limited to Brazil with at least 10,000sq km burning in Bolivia near its border with Paraguay and Brazil.
About 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil although the vast forest also spans parts Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru and Suriname.