The Current

Brazil wary of foreign help with Amazon fires over fear region is 'ripe for invasion': writer

As fires rage across South America and the Amazon rainforest, we look at the public anger and pressure being directed at politicians to do more to save what's often called "the lungs of the Earth."

Politicians fear Brazil's sovereignty will be undermined, says Alexander Zaitchik

A tract of the Amazon jungle burns as it is cleared by loggers and farmers in Porto Velho, Brazil, on Saturday. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

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Aug. 27, 2019 update: Brazil appeared to reject an offer of $20 million US ($26.5 million Cdn) from the G7 countries, saying "maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe."

Political tensions over wildfires in the Amazon are being fuelled by a long-standing Brazilian fear that the West covets the region's natural resources, says a writer based in the country.

"The right-wing in Brazil has always feared that the Amazon was this soft underbelly that was ripe for invasion," said Alexander Zaitchik, a journalist who has travelled extensively through the Amazon, writing about the natural wonder and the Indigenous people who protect it.

"In the past it was just about territory or resources, and now they fear that an international agenda will be undermining Brazilian sovereignty under the banner of a climate emergency, or environmental concerns," he told The Current's guest host Matt Galloway.

Zaitchik said protecting the Amazon is an important factor in fighting climate change, but countries must also make efforts on their own home soil.

"Developed countries — which have destroyed their own forests — are now turning to Brazil and expecting to have a strong say in Brazilian forest management, which makes sense given the stakes," he said.

"But there is a certain hypocrisy that has to be admitted, and if these countries want to have leverage they're going to have to admit that their own behaviour has come into play here."

This Aug. 15 satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows a close-up view of a fire southwest of Porto Velho, Brazil. The country has seen 80 per cent more fires this year compared to the same period in 2018. (Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies/The Associated Press)

On Monday, world leaders at the G7 summit pledged $20 million US ($26.5 million Cdn) in emergency aid to fight the wildfires raging across South America.

Last week, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro rejected calls for any foreign involvement in the crisis, saying the country's military would be sent in to help battle the flames.

Canada has also offered to help with the firefighting efforts, but Brazilian officials have not yet accepted the offer, and are said to be "assessing their needs."

According to Brazil's space research centre, INPE, which has been recording wildfires since 2013, more than 75,000 fires are burning in Brazil, which is a more than 80 per cent increase over the same period of 2018, the agency told Reuters. 

In a statement to The Current, the Brazilian consulate said that "the Brazilian government is still investigating the causes of the forest fires. Up to now, there is no certainty about it. Even the numbers that have been publicized by the media are not consistent among themselves. What can be said is that the Brazilian government kept its commitments under the Paris Agreement and its overall policies to control deforestation." 

Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC News. Produced by Marc Apollonio, Ashley Mak and Ines Colabrese.


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