Brazil president rebuts European criticism over environment
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro salutes during the swearing-in ceremony for the newly-named Secretary of Government, Army General Luiz Eduardo Ramos, at the Planalto Presidential Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, July 4, 2019. He rebutted European criticism over his commitment to the environment on Thursday. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro rebutted European criticism over his commitment to the environment on Thursday, saying that foreign leaders have historically influenced decisions that are hindering Brazil's progress.
The far-right president said he had flown over Europe twice and hadn't seen "even a square kilometre of forest."
"They have no authority to discuss the environmental issue with us," Bolsonaro said during a breakfast with rural lawmakers at the palace of Planalto.
His comments came two days after French President Emmanuel Macron threatened to boycott a recently signed free trade agreement between Mercosur and the European Union if Brazil abandoned the Paris climate accord and his environment minister said the South American country must respect its commitments to protecting the Amazon rainforest.
The trade agreement needs the endorsement of each signatory country's congress.
Bolsonaro said after meeting with European leaders in Osaka at the G-20 summit last week that he had the impression "they thought they were dealing with previous administrations... They thought that they would come here, demarcate dozens of indigenous areas, expand protected areas and hinder our progress."
He dismissed a proposal by Macron to have a joint meeting with Raoni, an indigenous leader of the Amazon known for defending indigenous peoples' rights.
"I gave him a resounding no. I do not recognize him as an authority. (Raoni) is a citizen like any other," Bolsonaro said.
European criticism comes amid ongoing questions from members of Bolsonaro's administration over the effectiveness of the Amazon Fund, which was created in 2008 to contain deforestation.
Norway is the fund's main contributor, having given $1.2 billion between 2008 and 2018, and Germany is another major backer. But Brazil's environment minister has cited numerous alleged contract irregularities, challenging a belief among scientists and climate change experts that the fund efficiently contributes to anti-deforestation efforts.
In June, deforestation in the Amazon grew by 88% compared to the same month last year, according to data from the National Institute of Space Research.