Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is rejecting an international aid package of $22 million to fight the fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest, citing issues of sovereignty—unless France's President withdraws critical comments about his government.
As Brazil struggles to keep devastating fires in the Amazon rainforest at bay, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro angrily said he would reject international aid in the form of $22 million coming from a major global pledge to help the jungle from being further destroyed—unless France's president apologized to him, that is.
Bolsonaro's immoral gambit
During this year's G7 summit meeting, French President Emmanuel Macron took special interest in climate change as a global issue to address sooner rather than later, and one of the first items in that agenda is to help fight the distressing fires that have ravaged the Amazon rainforest for more than three weeks now.
In order to do so, Macron announced an aid package of $22 million, which the world's wealthiest countries pledged to deal with a disaster that affects us all. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, angrily rejected the offer, essentially suggesting to other countries that what goes on in the Amazon was none of their business. Bolsonaro aimed his verbal attacks specifically at Macron in a series of troublesome tweets, in which he claimed that the latter “disguises his intentions behind the idea of an ‘alliance’ of the G7 countries to ‘save’ the Amazon, as if we were a colony or a no-man’s land.”
Due to international backlash, however, Bolsonaro changed his tune after speaking to reporters in Brasilia the next day. He said he would consider accepting the aid, but only if Macron apologized to him for "insults to my person" and for trying, as Bolsonaro sees it, to take sovereignty away from Brazil. In his own words,
“To talk or accept anything from France, even with their very best intentions, [Mr. Macron] will have to withdraw his words, and then we can talk. First he withdraws them, then he makes the offer, and then I’ll answer.”
The Brazilian government
Not everyone in Bolsonaro's team is on the same page, though. Ricardo Salles, the country’s environment minister, said he thought “it is important to accept the help that was offered.” The environment secretary, Eduardo Taveira, shared a similar sentiment about international aid, arguing that “From a technical point of view, it would be very welcome. Obviously the states hope, at this moment, resources will come in to help finance the operations that are being organized.”
Elizabeth Uema, a representative of public servants in the country, backed them, claiming that Brazil "is not in a position to reject help." The environment secretary for the Amazonas specifically suggested that the country's ability to fight the fires effectively has been hindered by a lack of resources.
Unfortunately (though unsurprisingly) other Brazilian high-ranking officials share the president's concerning worldview. Bolsonaro's chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, was quoted saying that the aid shouldn't be directed at Brazil at all. "We are thankful, but maybe those resources would be more relevant to reforest Europe," he said.
Lorenzoni further attacked Macron by referring to the Notre Dame Cathedral fire back in April, claiming that "Macron is unable to avoid preventable fire in a church that is at a World Heritage Site and he wants to show us what is for our country? He has a lot to look after at home and the French colonies," and later added that "Brazil is a democratic nation, free and never had colonial or imperialistic practices which might be (the) objective of Frenchman Macron."
The problem with today's nationalism
The suggestion that colonialism is at stake here is unfortunately a cheap and short-sighted political diversion which is certainly not appropriate when the entire planet's fate is hanging in the balance. As I said in another article, the sovereignty of a given country stops where the survivability of the whole human race is at stake.
Remember that what happens in the Amazon rainforest affects us all, since it alone produces 20% of the world's oxygen and is a major carbon sink—essential to fight the ongoing climate crisis. Losing as little as 1% more of the Amazon could trigger a cascading effect that would inevitably result in the whole area turning into a barren savannah, which would release over 140 billion tons of C02 into the atmosphere and seal the fate for most species on the planet—including us.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons
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