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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

High-level Brazilian envoys in US to discuss Amazon fires

A lush forest sits next to a field of charred trees in Vila Nova Samuel, Brazil, on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. The current fires in the Amazon were set by those who are clearing the forest for cattle ranching and crops. About 60% of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil. (Victor R. Caivano / AP)
By Anna Jean Kaiser Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Friday that his son and the country’s foreign minister are in the United States to discuss possible U.S. aid amid devastating fires in the Amazon region.

Bolsonaro said he had asked U.S. President Donald Trump for “help” and that Trump had said “he couldn’t make a decision without hearing from Brazil.”

Son Eduardo Bolsonaro, who is a congressman, and Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo are in the U.S. for a conversation with Trump, according to the Brazilian leader. Bolsonaro is considering appointing his son to be ambassador to the U.S., though the posting would need to be approved by the upper house of the Brazilian congress.

Trump’s complimentary remarks about Bolsonaro and his handling of the Amazon fires contrast with criticism from French President Emmanuel Macron and some other European leaders.

A $20 million offer of aid from the Group of Seven nations to help fight fires and protect rainforest stalled after Bolsonaro said Macron would have to apologize for remarks he had made. Macron had questioned Bolsonaro’s trustworthiness and commitment to environmental safeguards in a sharply personal dispute between the two leaders.

“All of Europe, together, doesn’t have any lessons to pass to us when it comes to preservation of the environment,” the Brazilian president said.

Bolsonaro, who has said he is open to “bilateral” offers of aid, said he expected to speak by telephone to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Journalists asked him about the possible resumption of donations to a Brazilian government fund for the Amazon. The Norwegian donations, amounting to tens of millions of dollars, were suspended this 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,” Bolsonaro said. “Usually it goes in part to NGOs, which gives no return. In part it goes to good things … but it’s a lot of money for little preservation.”

Bolsonaro also said that past allocations of land to indigenous people, many of whom live in the Amazon rainforest, had been excessive. About 14 percent of Brazil is indigenous territory, a huge area for a relatively small population, Bolsonaro said.

Some indigenous leaders say their communities are under pressure from farming and ranching expansion and that authorities are doing little to enforce environmental law.

Without offering evidence, Bolsonaro initially suggested that non-governmental organizations 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.

On Thursday, Brazil banned most legal fires for land-clearing for 60 days in an attempt to stop the burning. Many fires were set in already deforested areas to open land for farming and pasture.

About 60 percent of the Amazon region is in Brazil. The Amazon’s rainforests are a major absorber of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.