Stockholm (NordSIP) – The last week has seen the Amazon enter international politics in bizarre, controversial and even personal ways that have strained relations between Brazil and France while endangering an upcoming trade deal.
But how did we go from Norway withholding funds to Bolsonaro insulting Macron’s wife and undermining the biggest trade deal ever negotiated?
Dissolving the Amazon Fund
Following the dissolution of the Amazon Fund last week continued media reports and Brazilian posturing caused France and Ireland to tie the ratification of the EU-Mercosur trade deal to action against deforestation.
The Amazon Fund, which funded projects to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, was effectively dissolved on August 16th, after Norway perceived Bolsonaro to be too lax with anti-deforestation law enforcement and following attempts from Brazil reshuffle the funds towards farmers expropriated from illegally deforested land.
The “Day of Fire”
The issue gained further prominence when smoke from the fires darkened the skies of Sao Paulo at 2 o’clock in the afternoon on Thursday, August 21st, bringing the plight of the rain forest to the doorstep of urban elites.
The situation had been steadily worsening since August 10th, a day dubbed the “Day of Fire” as fires increased uncontrollably through the state. The situation was out of control in the subsequent days, leading the state of Amazonas to declare a state of emergency on August 12th. The scale and abnormality of the problem is patent in figures from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) daily total fire radiative power analysis for the Amazon during the month of August.
Blaming the NGOs and Weaponising Trade Deals
As attacks mounted, the Brazilian President added to his initial posturing against Norway and Germany, by lashing out against NGOs, which he suspected of having set the fires in retaliation for the lost funding on Friday, August 22nd. Acknowledging that farmers could have also ignited the fires, he reiterated that NGOs were the most plausible culprit while admitting to having no proof.
The attack on the NGOs fuelled outrage around the world. European leaders in France and Ireland, in particular, made good on their environmentalist credentials. Seeing an opportunity to increase pressure on Brazil the two European leaders tied the successful completion of the recently agreed EU-Mercosur Free Trade deal with increased protection of the Amazon.
“There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments,” Leo Varadkar, Prime Minister of Ireland said on Friday August 23rd, according to the Irish Times.
On the same day, an official from the Elysee Palace commented to the press regarding the inaction of Brazilian authorities that the French president “can only conclude President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka summit” regarding Brazil’s deforestation commitments. “France will oppose the Mercosur deal as it is,” the official added.
The accusation of dishonesty triggered the Brazilian President and his entourage, as would subsequently become clear. On Monday, August 26th, the issue to take a bizarre personal turn. The Brazilian Education Minister, Abraham Weintraub, took to twitter to call Macron a “cretin” and a “despicable opportunist seeking the support of the French agricultural lobby”.
Os franceses elegeram esse Macrón, porém, nós já elegemos Le Ladrón, que hoje está enjauladón…Ferro no cretino do Macrón, não nos franceses…
— Abraham Weintraub (@AbrahamWeint) August 25, 2019
A França é uma nação de extremos. Gerou homens como Descartes ou Pasteur, porém também os voluntários da Waffen SS Charlemagne. País de iluministas e de comunistas. O Macron não está a altura deste embate. É apenas um calhorda oportunista buscando apoio do lobby agrícola francês.
— Abraham Weintraub (@AbrahamWeint) August 25, 2019
Then, responding to a post on Facebook which compared the 34-year-old wife of Bolsonaro with the 65-year-old wife of Macron, captioned “Now you understand why Macron is attacking Bolsonaro?” Bolsonaro responded: “Do not humiliate the guy, ha ha,” referring to Mr Macron.
The comment then led to Macron replying it was “sad” to see a Brazilian minister and his President attack the French president and voice “extremely disrespectful comments” about the first lady of France, adding that “Brazilian women must be very ashamed of their president.”
Funds, Honour and an Investigation
Still on August 26th, it became public knowledge that Raquel Dodge, a Brazilian Federal Public Prosecutor opened an investigation together with the Federal Police based on suspicions that a group of farmers from the North of Brazil may have conspired to set in motion the August 10th’s “Day of Fire”.
Meanwhile, at the margins of the last day of the G7 summit, the group came together to offer US$ 20 million in aid to fight the Amazon fires, which Bolsonaro promptly rejected. “Thanks, but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe,” Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, told Brazilian news site Globo, according to Forbes. The Brazilian chief of staff went on to add that “Macron cannot even prevent a predictable fire in the country that’s part of the world’s heritage, and he wants to give us lessons for our country?”
In the latest development in the saga between Brazil and the world, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro announced he would accept foreign aid against Amazon deforestation if President Macron of France would apologise for remarks he made earlier in the week. “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 told reporters on August 27th.
So this is the Gordian knot that leaders of the world now need to disentangle. The Amazon is on fire and aid is held up by the pride of the Brazilian and French presidents who feel their honour was attacked by the other.
Image of Sao Paulo from Euronews and Rede Globo, taken from Youtube
CAMS Graph from Copernicus
Featured image from Palacio do Planalto via Flikr