Brazil's Bolsonaro says he will accept aid to fight Amazon fires

/ cbs/AFP

Indigenous Amazon tribes threatened by fires

A day after Brazil rejected aid from G-7 countries to fight wildfires in the Amazon, the Brazilian leader has said Tuesday that his government will accept all foreign aid from organizations or countries — as long as it can decide how to use the assistance. President Jair Bolsonaro originally said he would only accept help if French President Emmanuel Macron apologized to him personally for perceived insults first.

"Brazilian sovereignty is not negotiable," said Bolsonaro's spokesperson, according to the Reuters news agency. The president also said dialog with France isn't off the table.

Politics and feelings aside, forest fires have charred and continue to char the Amazon in Brazil. Just over half of the blazes have hit the massive Amazon basin, which regulates part of Earth's carbon cycle and climate.

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The crisis is fueling concerns that further damage from the fires could disrupt global weather patterns. CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez reported about 15% of the Earth's fresh water is in the Amazon. There's so much moisture, scientists say it actually helps cool the entire planet.

With the fires burning a lot of that away, there's fear it could eventually cause irreversible damage to the world's climate. It is estimated that more than 3,500 square miles of Amazon forest have been scorched by fire this year. That's an area about the size of Yellowstone National Park.

G-7 countries made the $20 million aid offer to fight the blazes at the Biarritz G-7 summit hosted by Macron, who insisted they should be discussed as a top priority.

Brazil's president says tens of thousands of troops mobilizing to fight Amazon fires

"We appreciate (the offer), but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe," Onyx Lorenzoni, chief of staff to President Jair Bolsonaro, told the G1 news website.

"Macron cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site," he added, referring to the fire in April that devastated the Notre-Dame cathedral. "What does he intend to teach our country?"

Brazilian environment Minister Ricardo Salles had earlier told reporters they had welcomed the G-7 funding to fight the fires that have swept across 2.3 million acres and prompted the deployment of the army.

But after a meeting between Bolsonaro and his ministers, the Brazilian government changed course.

Why the Amazon could be at risk of "collapsing"

Personal spat, global crisis

"Brazil is a democratic, free nation that never had colonialist and imperialist practices, as perhaps is the objective of the Frenchman Macron," Lorenzoni said.

Bolsonaro — a climate-change skeptic — has faced criticism over his delayed response to the fires at home and thousands have taken to the streets in Brazil in recent days to denounce the destruction.

The blazes have also fueled a diplomatic spat between Bolsonaro and Macron, who have locked horns repeatedly over the past week. The French president has threatened to block a huge new trade deal between the European Union and Latin America unless his Brazilian counterpart takes serious steps to protect the fast-shrinking forest from logging and mining.

Bolsonaro reacted by blasting Macron for having a "colonialist mentality," and days later endorsed vicious personal comments about the French president's wife posted online, driving their relationship to a new low.

On Tuesday, Bolsonaro said his government would consider taking the aid from the G-7 if Macron retracted "insults" to the Brazilian leader. Macron has called Bolsonaro a liar, and suggested Brazilian women were likely ashamed of having him as their leader.

"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 according to the Reuters news agency. "First he withdraws, then offers (aid), then I will answer."

Although about 60 percent of the Amazon is in Brazil, the vast forest also spreads over parts of eight other countries or territories. Hundreds of new fires have flared up in the Brazilian part of the forest, data showed Monday, even as military aircraft dumped water over hard-hit areas.

Pictures from the Amazon rainforest fires 30 photos

First published on August 27, 2019 / 2:41 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.

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