Brazilian governors are urging President Jair Bolsonaro to accept foreign aid to help combat the raging fires in the Amazon rainforest after he criticized such donations and said he'd think about accepting the money if French President Emmanuel Macron apologized to him following a spat.
Flávio Dino, the governor of Maranhão state in northeastern Brazil, said he and his counterparts have urged Bolsonaro to take the donations — a combined $40 million from the Group of Seven Nations, including $20 million from the group, $12 million from the United Kingdom and $11 million from Canada.
"It's not the moment to turn down money," Dino said the governors told the president, according to the BBC.
After the governors' comments, presidential spokesperson Rego Barros said Bolsonaro and his government are "open to receiving financial support from organizations and countries. … This money, when it enters the country, will have the total governance of the Brazilian people."
Brazil initially said they would not accept foreign aid, as Bolsonaro's government saw it as "interference." Brazil's ambassador to France, Fernando Serra, told French media, "[It’s] help we didn’t ask for. The G-7 help was decided without Brazil.”
At the G-7 summit in Biarritz, southwest France, over the weekend, heads of state and government pledged tens of millions of dollars to help fight the fires. France's Macron said the Amazon, while mostly spread over Brazil, is a worldwide issue, and that the world cannot allow Bolsonaro to ruin the entire globe.
“We respect your sovereignty. It’s your country," he said, noting the Amazon is "the lungs of the planet."
“The Amazon forest is a subject for the whole planet. We can help you reforest. We can find the means for your economic development that respects the natural balance. But we cannot allow you to destroy everything," Macron said.
Bolsonaro called the remarks "unreasonable attacks on the Amazon" — and said the French president is hiding behind the idea of an "alliance" among the G-7 countries, "as if [Brazil] were a colony or a no man's land."
He then said he'd be open to accepting the foreign aid if Macron apologized to him.
In addition to the $40 million offered by G-7 nations, and firefighting aid offered by Ottawa, other groups are also contributing support for the region. Earth Alliance, a new environmental foundation backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, is pledging $5 million in aid, saying the Amazon is one of the “best defenses” against climate change.
Bolsonaro says he is committed to protecting the Amazon and prosecuting anyone involved in illegal fires, many of which appear to be to have been set in already deforested areas to clear land for farming.
About 60 percent of the Amazon region is in Brazil. The vast forest also spans parts of Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru and Suriname.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.