By Rodrigo Viga Gaier and Gabriel Stargardter
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron offended his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s foreign minister told Reuters on Wednesday, adding he believed Brazilians support their far-right leader in his spat with Paris.
The sharp jump in the number of fires in the Amazon rainforest, which have contributed to climate change by emitting carbon into the atmosphere, has created a lurching international crisis for Bolsonaro. It risks undermining his efforts to ignite long-lagging lagging growth in Brazil and better integrate Latin America’s No. 1 economy into global commerce.
As international outrage over the fires has escalated, Bolsonaro, a nationalist former army captain, has chafed at what he views as foreign interference on domestic issues. He waded into a particularly nasty spat with Macron, who led criticisms of Brazil’s environmental practices at the recent Group of Seven wealthy nations summit.
Bolsonaro mocked Macron’s wife and accused him of disrespecting Brazil’s sovereignty. Macron called Bolsonaro a liar, adding Brazilian women were “probably ashamed” of him.
In an interview with Reuters in Rio de Janeiro about the Amazon fires, Ernesto Araujo said he believed Brazilians supported their president in his fight with France’s leader.
“I think President Bolsonaro reacted in the way he needed to react,” Araujo said. “We lament the fact that there was this type of behaviour and offence by the president of France, but I’m certain the Brazilians are comfortable with the position of President Bolsonaro.”
On Wednesday, Bolsonaro said South American countries would meet to determine a common policy in defence of the Amazon, and took another swipe at France for an offer of $20 million in aid.
In an indication that Bolsonaro is forging closer ties with neighbouring countries than European nations, he also accepted Chile’s offer of four aircraft to help fight the fires.
Araujo said the world had a distorted view of his government’s environmental policies, and that Brazil is fighting forest fires like never before.
“This has gained a lot of notoriety without corresponding to reality. We have an environmental policy with full commitment to the environment and the rational use of natural resources,” he said. “We are convinced that our agriculture is entirely sustainable and one of the most sustainable in the world.”
Ultimately, he hoped Brazil’s actions would change minds.
“I hope … people who legitimately care about the environment see that Brazil is the hero and not the villain,” he said.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier and Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Richard Chang)