Amazon fires under control: Brazil

WASHINGTON • Brazil's foreign minister said his country is successfully extinguishing the fires in the Amazon region that have generated global concern after discussing the situation with US President Donald Trump on Friday at the White House.

Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo and President Jair Bolsonaro's son had headed to Washington to discuss possible US aid in fighting the fires.

No concrete steps to deal with the blazes were announced.

Mr Araujo told reporters after meeting Mr Trump that the fires "are not an excuse to promote ideas of international management of the Amazon", though he said the South American country is open to cooperation with other countries.

"The fires that exist today are already being fought and we are being successful in extinguishing most of the fires," he said.

Mr Araujo said the fact that Mr Trump hosted both him and Mr Bolsonaro's son, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, at the White House even though they are not heads of state "shows how far we are in building a very special relationship with the United States".

The compliments about the relationship with the Trump administration contrast with criticism of Brazil's government from French President Emmanuel Macron and some other European leaders.

A US$20 million (S$27.8 million) offer of aid from the Group of Seven nations to help fight fires and protect the rainforest stalled after President Bolsonaro said Mr Macron would have to apologise for remarks he had made. Mr Macron had questioned the Brazilian President's trustworthiness and commitment to environmental safeguards in a sharply personal dispute between the two leaders.

Norwegian donations, amounting to tens of millions of dollars, were suspended last month because of concerns about Brazil's commitment to the environment. Germany has also suspended a separate line of funding for Amazon projects.

"We want to know where this money will go," President Bolsonaro said. "Usually it goes in part to NGOs, which give no return. In part, it goes to good things... but it's a lot of money for little preservation."

Without offering evidence, the Brazilian leader had initially suggested that non-governmental groups started the fires to try to damage the credibility of his government, which has called for looser environmental regulations in the world's largest rainforest to spur development.

Critics say the President's policies and promises have motivated ranchers and loggers to move into the Amazon, sometimes setting fire to open land for farming and pasture.

Last Thursday, Brazil banned most legal fires for land-clearing for 60 days in an attempt to stop the burning. Many of the current fires were set in areas already cleared of trees.

Meanwhile, the federal police and agents of the environmental enforcement agency Ibama raided illegal wildcat miners in the Amazon state of Para on Friday in a dramatic example of how Brazil has stepped up environmental enforcement in the wake of the rainforest fires.

Ibama had largely rolled back its field operations in Para state this year, over failure to reach an agreement with the police at the state-level to offer support.

Following days of public outcry when news broke last week that fires in the Amazon had surged to their highest level since 2010, President Bolsonaro authorised the military to support firefighting efforts.

A decree allowing the federal police to support environmental operations was also issued. That support has allowed for Ibama-organised raids like the one on Friday. The raid was not directly related to the fires.

About 60 per cent of the Amazon region is in Brazil.

ASSOCIATED PRESS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 01, 2019, with the headline 'Amazon fires under control: Brazil'. Print Edition | Subscribe