ARIQUEMES: President Jair Bolsonaro said Friday that Europe has “nothing to teach" Brazil about preserving the environment, as data showed thousands of new fires were ignited on the first day of a ban on burning.
The far-right leader's comments are likely to fuel a diplomatic row between Brazil and Europe over the worst fires in years in the Amazon basin. Offers have come in from overseas to help put them out.
It comes as a Brazilian delegation, which includes Bolsonaro's third son and hopeful ambassador to the United States, is set to meet with senior US administration officials at the White House on Friday, after President Donald Trump offered to assist with the Amazon crisis.
Bolsonaro has accused Germany and France of “buying" Brazil's sovereignty after the G7 offered $20 million in Amazon fire aid and he initially rejected the money unless his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron withdrew insults made against him.
Bolsonaro later said Brazil would accept bilateral aid to fight the fires, but has insisted the Latin American country must control the money.
The Brazilian president told reporters he would talk to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, without specifying when, and repeated a demand that “our dear Macron" retract remarks relating to Brazil's sovereignty of the Amazon before he would speak to him.
“Europe has nothing to teach us about preserving the environment," Bolsonaro said, reiterating his plan for “sustainable exploitation" of the Amazon.
“It will happen," he added.
The visit by Bolsonaro's son Eduardo and Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo to Washington was to thank Trump for his support during the crisis over the Amazon fires, the Brazilian leader said Thursday.
A senior US administration official said the men would visit the White House. There was no confirmation they would meet with Trump.
– More fires –
On the eve of the G7 summit last week, Macron declared the forest fires, which are also affecting Bolivia, an “international crisis" and put it on the agenda of the gathering of the rich democracies.
Macron also accused Bolsonaro of lying to him about Brazil's climate change stance.
Bolsonaro reacted furiously, accusing Macron of having a “colonialist mentality."
Under growing pressure to do more, Bolsonaro issued a nationwide 60-day ban on burning that took effect Thursday.
Activists quickly doused hopes that the prohibition would work in the remote Amazon region where deforestation has surged this year as agencies tasked with monitoring illegal activities were weakened.
On the same day as the ban took effect, 2,300 new fires were detected — most of them in the Amazon basin — taking the total number for this year to 87,257, the latest figures from the National Institute for Space Research show.
Nearly 1,500 of the new fires were in the vast Amazon basin.
This year's total is the highest since 2010 when 132,106 fires were detected across the country.
Para was the hardest hit state on Thursday, with 587 new blazes — up 67 percent from the previous day.
Some 464 fires were started in Mato Grosso, a rise of 274 percent.
In Rondonia, where firefighting efforts were initially concentrated, 67 new fires were registered, nearly three times the previous day.
Police on Thursday arrested three people for burning more than 5,000 hectares (12,350 acres) in a conservation area in Para.
Thousands of troops and firefighters have been deployed since the weekend to combat the fires, along with two C-130 Hercules and other aircraft that are dumping water over affected areas in the country's north.
The defense ministry says the fires are under control.
Bolsonaro claimed in a live broadcast on Facebook on Thursday that “this year's fires are below the average of recent years."