Macron and Bolsonaro in Escalating War of Words Over Amazon Fires, Wife Insult

The French president hit back sharply at Brazil's Bolsonaro who claimed G-7 'alliance' to 'save' the Amazon was treating Brazil as if it we were a colony

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Smoke billowing from fires in the forest in the Amazon biome in the municipality of Altamira, Para State, Brazil, August 23, 2019
Smoke billowing from fires in the forest in the Amazon biome in the municipality of Altamira, Para State, Brazil, August 23, 2019Credit: AFP

G7 leaders are dedicating 20 million dollars to urgent firefighting efforts in the Amazon rainforest, but the initiative has provoked an angry response from Brazil.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced the funding on Monday at a meeting at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France. The allies will also back a broader initiative for the Amazon region to be presented at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose laissez-faire position on climate change has caused concern internationally, responded to the news by warning foreign powers against interfering in his country's internal affairs.

"We cannot accept that a president, Macron, unleashes unreasonable and gratuitous attacks on the Amazon, nor that he disguises his intentions behind the idea of a G-7 'alliance' to 'save' the Amazon, as if we were a colony or a no-man's-land," Bolsonaro tweeted.

Instead, he stressed a regional solution, adding that he had spoken to Colombian President Ivan Duque "about the need to have a joint plan between the majority of the countries that make up the Amazon to guarantee our sovereignty and natural wealth."

The French president hit back sharply at Bolsonaro, with whom he has clashed in recent days on the issue.

Bolsonaro "did not tell me the truth" about his plans for the rainforest during talks at June's G20 summit that led to the approval of a trade agreement between the European Union and the South American trade bloc Mercosur, Macron said.

France says it will now oppose the agreement because of the situation in the Brazilian Amazon.

Macron also accused Bolsonaro of making "extraordinarily disrespectful remarks about my wife," in an apparent reference to comments the Brazilian president made on Facebook.

In a Facebook post that compared photos of the two leaders' wives with the caption: "Now do you understand why Macron is persecuting Bolsonaro?", Bolsonaro wrote: "Don't humiliate the guy. Hahaha."

"I think that the Brazilians, who are a great people, are a bit ashamed to see this behaviour," Macron said, adding: "I hope that they can soon have a president who behaves in an appropriate way."

Macron said France was itself ready to provide military aid for Amazon firefighting within hours.

"I just want to recall the figures here: The Amazon stores 14 per cent of world CO2 [carbon dioxide]," Macron said. "So the loss of the world's main lung is a problem for the world."

Macron, speaking alongside Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, said that the initiative for the Amazon at the UN would be launched "with all the countries of the region."

It would include reforestation measures as well as "concrete projects that have to be carried out with the agreement and for the good of local populations, for sustainable development and ecological agriculture."

US President Donald Trump, a sceptic of man-made climate change, was not at the leaders' climate session, sending an official instead, but Macron and a White House official said that was because he had bilateral meetings scheduled with other leaders.

Macron said there had already been "long, rich, and entirely positive" discussions with Trump on the Amazon.

Trump "shares the objectives I am pursuing and that are reflected in this initiative," the French president insisted.

A recent spate of Amazon fires follows moves by the Brazilian government to open more of the rainforest to mining and agriculture, with satellite data indicating that the pace of deforestation is increasing rapidly.

Environmental groups and researchers say the fires have been intentionally lit by farmers to clear land, while Bolsonaro has implied that non-governmental organizations may have been behind them, without giving any evidence.