Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro pushed back against his international critics on Thursday, as wildfires consume vast expanses of the Amazon rainforest while he has promised farmers more land to cultivate soybeans and raise cattle.
Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said that nearly 73,000 forest fires were recorded in the country between January and August 2019, which is a year-on-year increase of 45%. The smoke rising from the Amazon is spreading across Latin America to the Atlantic coast, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Brazilian prosecutors opened a formal investigation on Thursday to examine the cause of these fires.
Brazil is home to about 60% of the Amazon rainforest that generates 20% of the world’s oxygen.
Amid this international crisis, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres merely expressed his concern for the impact on climate change and biodiversity. Amnesty International and the World Wilde Fund blamed the Bolsonaro government for failing to see the magnitude of the damage, the challenge, and to take resolute action.
On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron was blunt, calling the Amazon wildfires an “international crisis” and “our house,” calling for the inclusion of the subject on the G7 agenda this weekend. Last week, Norway and Brazil withheld $60 million in aid, protesting on the absence of resolute action by the government to protect the rainforest.
Bolsonaro pushed back on criticism on Thursday.
While referring to wildfires as a natural phenomenon that has “always happened in the Amazon,” he turned against media “who want Brazil to end up like Venezuela” and “transnational bureaucrats and NGOs.” Finally, he lashed out against President Macron’s “colonial” mentality.
“The French president’s suggestion that Amazon issues be discussed at the G-7 without participation by the countries in the region evokes a colonialist mentality that is out of place in the 21st century,” Bolsonaro Twitted.
The Brazilian President has also told the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to mind her own country and pointed out that Norway hunts whales.
“Take your dough and reforest Germany, okay? It’s much more needed there than here,” he told Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Beyond political rhetoric, the economic stakes are rising. The deal between the European Union and the South American trading bloc Mercosur requires Brazil to abide by the Paris climate accord, which aims to end illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030. The agreement has been criticized precisely because it allows for greater beef import quotas, providing new incentives for deforestation.
Bolsonaro has made clear that he favours the economic exploitation of the Amazon, “reclaiming” the forest “for Brazilians.”