After a very public back and forth with French President Emmanuel Macron, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is now close to accepting $22 million in aid from the G7 to combat the fires blazing at unprecedented rates across the Amazon Rainforest.
Bolsonaro said on Tuesday that he will accept the aid, as long as Brazil's government is allowed to determine how the funds will be used.
The donation from the G7 — an international economic governmental organization made up of seven of the world's largest economic powers — is largely intended to expand the fleet of firefighting planes working to contain the fires and would be made readily available, according to Macron, who also offered additional military support from France. The UK and Canada also made independent pledges of millions in assistance.
The offers of aid did not initially appear to be welcomed by Brazilian officials. Statements from several government officials earlier this week implied a high likelihood that Brazil would formally reject the international gesture in the coming days.
“We are thankful, but maybe those resources would be more relevant to reforest Europe,” Onyx Lorenzoni, the nation’s current chief of staff, told news site G1 Globo on Monday.
"Macron is unable to avoid a 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," Lorenzoni added, alluding to the fire that ripped through the famed Notre Dame Cathedral earlier this year.
Brazil’s foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, also criticized the gesture in a tweet, calling the aid package part of an international effort to initiate control over the Amazon. Bolsonaro has routinely made similar statements, specifically against European governments, accusing them of taking interest in the country's natural resources for their own purposes. He has also said that the international concern for the Amazon is a reflection of foreign powers' desire to gain control in the region.
However, when talking to reporters just a few hours after government officials appeared to shy away from the aid offer, Bolsonaro said that he would consider accepting the aid — under certain conditions.
"First of all, Macron has to withdraw his insults. He called me a liar. Before we talk or accept anything from France ... he must withdraw these words then we can talk," Bolsonaro said. "First he withdraws, then offers [aid], then I will answer,” he added.
Critics have called out Bolsonaro for his lack of urgency in addressing the Amazon fires, even putting his personal feud with Macron ahead of addressing the disaster. Environmentalists and organizations like the World Wildlife Fund say that if the fires are not able to be contained in a timely manner, they could cause irreversible damage to the Amazon and the global environment. The fires could, in fact, add fuel to the climate crisis, as the burning forest could begin to emit large amounts of carbon into the atmostphere.
Bolsonaro's reconsideration of the offer came after a meeting, during which he received pressure from governors of nine highly affected regions of Brazil to accept the aid.
"It's not the moment to turn down money," Flávio Dino, governor of Maranhão state, said the group told Bolsonaro.
The president has previously stated that Brazil does not have enough funding to tackle the fires in the Amazon. However, Yadvinder Malhi, professor of ecosystem science at the University of Oxford, told the BBC that it's not that the government doesn't have funding; the larger problem is how it prioritizes that funding.
"The funding for Brazil's environment agency has gone down by 95% this year, it [has] essentially gutted [a] large part of the actions that have been put in by the agricultural ministry. So the real thing is to look at the political direction of governance in the Amazon that's changing under the new Brazilian government,” he said.
Critics have said that the weakened environmental agency and the president’s promises to capitalize on the Amazon and its surrounding areas has allowed for destruction of the environment with little consequence. Environmentalists have also accused Bolsonaro of encouraging deforestation since he took office. The region has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of fires, while, at the same time, fines for offenses against the environment were drastically reduced, the BBC reported.
Other countries had questioned Brazil’s commitment to protecting the environment, even before the recent massive fires. Germany, which had previously donated $68 million to Brazil’s Amazon fund, suspended its aid earlier this month due to a lack of confidence in Brazil’s efforts to address the rampant deforestation in the region.
While Bolsonaro has yet to make a formal decision on the G7 offer, he has accepted aid from countries like Britain and Chile. Bolsonaro is also planning to work more closely with other South American countries. A meeting to discuss a strategy to contain the fires while maintaining national sovereignty has been set for Sept. 6 in Leticia, Columbia, among countries that contain part of the Amazon Rainforest, excluding Venezuela.