Brazil's president said Wednesday after a meeting with his Chilean counterpart that they are coordinating a gathering of regional leaders to discuss ways of tackling raging Amazon wildfires.
Jair Bolsonaro said during a brief press conference with Sebastian Piñera that the meeting will take place on Sept. 6 in the Colombian Amazon city of Leticia and will be attended by the presidents of all of the Amazon region countries except Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro.
In the press conference, Bolsonaro reiterated that he will only accept a $20 million aid package offered by the G7 group of advanced industrialized countries if French President Emmanuel Macron apologizes for calling him a liar.
The Brazilian president said Macron had sought to take advantage of the fires to "present himself before the world as the only person interested in protecting the environment" and had tried to "minimize" Brazil's sovereignty over the majority of the Amazon region.
"He also offended the democratically elected president of Brazil," Bolsonaro said of Macron, who accused the Brazilian leader of lying about his country's environmental commitments and said that because of that he would oppose a recently agreed trade deal linking the European Union and South American trade bloc Mercosur.
The Brazilian president said Macron's attitude had "awakened the patriotic sentiment of the Brazilian people and other countries that are part of the Amazon region."
The feud between the two men escalated further when Bolsonaro endorsed a Facebook post making fun of the looks of Macron's 66-year-old wife. Macron, 41, responded by saying Bolsonaro's behavior was "sad" and that he hoped Brazil soon would have a new president.
Chile's Piñera, who was a guest at the recently concluded G7 summit in France, also alluded to Macron's proposal to place the Amazon under a form of international management, saying that all aid the international community may provide to combat the wildfires is welcome as long as it is offered with full respect for the sovereignty of the region's countries.
Piñera, who is heading back to Santiago on Wednesday, said he would help coordinate the gathering aimed at bringing together the leaders of seven countries of the Amazon region - Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru and Suriname - on Sept. 6.
Separately, Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles was hospitalized on Wednesday.
The 44-year-old, who is rumored to have suffered a heart attack, was admitted to the Armed Forces Hospital in Brasilia with "malaise" and his situation was described as stable.
Brazil's Environment Ministry has come under fire in recent weeks from environmental groups over its decision to cut funds for Amazon protection.
Bolsonaro, however, says Amazon fires are normal in the months of August and September and that this year's blazes are not the biggest registered in that region.
Even so, his administration recognized the seriousness of the situation last week and decided to deploy nearly 45,000 troops to fight the fires across the nine Amazon states.
On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry said the situation was "under control" but that operations involving the use of military planes are continuing.
Brazil's most prominent environmentalist said Monday that the failure to protect the environment and an outdated approach to economic development are the main factors behind the fiery "holocaust" raging in the Amazon region.
Marina Silva, who served as Brazil's environment minister from 2003-2008, said ahead of sustainable development conference in Quito that Bolsonaro's administration was partly responsible for the situation because it has rolled back environmental regulation and called for expanding both agriculture and extractive industries in the region.
But above all, she said, it is "climate change that threatens the planet's equilibrium," made worse by "populist" politicians who encourage settlers in the Amazon to persist in outmoded practices such as using fires to clear land for planting. EFE-EPA