Latin America’s Amazon countries will meet in September to discuss protecting the rainforest and developing the region, according to Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who continued Wednesday to escalate a dispute with French President Emmanuel Macron, who led criticism of Brazil’s environmental practices at the recent Group of Seven summit, as fires rage in the Amazon region.
Leaders of countries that contain Amazon rainforest, except Venezuela, will meet on 6 September in Colombia “to come up with our own unified strategy for preserving the environment, and also for exploration sustainable in our region,” Bolsonaro said after meeting Wednesday with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia.
In a statement, Bolsonaro and Piñera said environmental challenges must be met while respecting “national sovereignty”, and that each country should have control over the “rational and sustainable use of their natural resources, in line with their environmental obligations and needs of their citizens, including indigenous peoples.”
Brazil has about 60 per cent of the Amazon, which also spans parts of Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana, Suriname and the French overseas department of Guiana.
Speaking to reporters after their meeting, Pinera said the new regional bloc Prosur could contribute to efforts to create regional infrastructure to fight increasing forest fires in South America.
Bolsonaro went back to his dispute with France, and accused Macron of trying to buy Brazil’s sovereignty with his announcement of a $20 million aid package from G7 nations.
“Germany and in particular France are buying our sovereignty,” Bolsonaro told reporters, adding that Brazil’s sovereignty had “no price, not even $20 trillion”.
Bolsonaro said Brazil would accept bilateral aid to fight the fires, and on Wednesday accepted Chile’s offer of four aircraft to fight the blazes.
He said he would not speak with the French government until it “has recanted what it said about my person, which represents Brazil”, making reference to Macron’s accusing him of lying to him about his commitments on fighting climate change.
The dispute became personal this week when Bolsonaro made comments about Macron’s wife, Brigitte Macron. On Wednesday Boslonaro’s spokesperson Otavio Rego told reporters that the comment had been removed from social media to avoid misinterpretation.
Meanwhile, in Brazil, six former environment ministers met Wednesday with the president of the lower house of congress, Rodrigo Maia, to demand stronger environmental protections. The ministers said Brazil should accept international aid to fight the fires and accused Bolsonaro’s government of dismantling environmental institutions.
The latest official figures show 1,044 new fires were started Monday and Tuesday, more than half in the Amazon basin, bringing the total to 83,329 this year, the highest since 2010.
Brazi’s defense ministry says the fires are under control, and it has published satellite data that it says show a reduction in the number of fires in the nine states spanning the Amazon.