- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has refused to accept $22 million in aid from the G7 countries until French President Emmanuel Macron apologizes to him for previous comments, as part of an ongoing feud.
- Shortly after the rejection, Brazil accepted an offer of $12 million from the British government.
- Although climate scientists say the fires are likely to worsen in the coming weeks and could affect global weather patterns, Bolsonaro said Tuesday, “We’re fighting the wildfires with great success.”
Bolsonaro Accepts British Aid
After rejecting a $22 million aid offer from the G7 countries on Tuesday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro accepted $12 million from Britain to help fight the fires raging through the Amazon rainforest.
“In a week where we have all watched horrified as the Amazon rainforest burns before our eyes, we cannot escape the reality of the damage we are inflicting on the natural world,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
“The planet faces two immense threats: climate change and biodiversity loss,” Johnson added. “These are two sides of the same coin — it is impossible to solve one challenge without fixing the other. We cannot stop climate change without protecting the natural environment and we can’t restore global nature without tackling climate change.”
The Canadian government has also offered Bolsonaro $11 million, though the Brazilian government has not yet announced whether it will accept or reject the offer.
Brazil Rejects $22 Million G7 Aid Package
The decision to reject the G7 aid package rests on two demands by Bolsonaro, the first being that French President Emmanuel Macron personally apologize as part of an ongoing feud.
Prior to this weekend’s G7 Summit — where leaders from the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, and Canada convened in France — Bolsonaro blasted the nations for discussing the Amazon rainforest without Brazil present.
“The French President’s suggestion that Amazonian issues be discussed at the G7 without the participation of the countries of the region evokes a misplaced colonialist mindset in the 21st century,” Bolsonaro said.
World leaders, however, still agreed to release the aid package immediately, leading to Bolsonaro’s rejection. That rejection stems from a feud where Macron claimed Bolsonaro lied to him about climate commitments during trade talks at the Osaka G20 Summit in June.
Tensions between Bolsonaro and Macron have recently escalated over the fires and ramped up against earlier this week when Balsonaro took a shoot at Macron’s wife. When the French president’s wife was compared to Bolsonaro’s wife on his Facebook page, Bolsonaro commented, “don’t humiliate the guy,” a comment that Macron called “disrespectful.”
On Monday, Bolsonaro doubled down, questioning Macron’s motives in addressing the fires by insinuating that he is trying to curb France’s agricultural competition with Brazil.
“We cannot accept that a President, Macron, would launch unreasonable and gratuitous attacks on the Amazon,” Bolsonaro tweeted, “nor disguise his intentions behind the idea of an ‘alliance’ of G-7 countries to ‘save’ the Amazon, as if we were a colony or a no-man’s land.
In addition to the apology, Bolsonaro also stipulated that Brazil will not accept aid where it does not have complete sovereignty over how to distribute the money.
Tuesday, Macron responded to Bolsonaro in a speech, saying the fires are a world issue.
“We respect your sovereignty,” he said. “It’s your country. The Amazon forest is a subject for the whole planet. We can help you reforest. We can find the means for your economic development that respects the natural balance. But we cannot allow you to destroy everything.”
The Amazon on Fire
The fires have been tearing through the Amazon Rainforest for about a month and are part of a massive 80% increase in fires from 2018. Experts estimate 430 square miles of land has been lost to the fires, with 3,500 square miles being scorched.
Smoke billowing from the fires has caused the state of Amazonas — where part of the forest is located — to declare a state of emergency. On the other side of the country, the smoke turned the midday sky black.
Experts believe the fires to be caused by humans. They said because the rainforest is so wet and humid, it would be unlikely the fires resulted from natural causes, especially since the region has not experienced any extreme weather.
Additionally, many are blaming Bolsonaro for rolling back environmental protections and promoting deforestation for efforts like mining, with one method for clearing forests being known as “slash and burn.”
Over the period from August 8 to August 22, a NASA infrared camera captured rising carbon monoxide levels resulting from the fire.
Climate scientists contend that one of the reasons why the fires are so critically important is because of the role the Amazon plays in trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
While Macron asserted on Twitter that 20% of the world’s oxygen comes from the Amazon, scientists argue the comparison is inaccurate because the Amazon recycles all but a small amount of the oxygen it generates; however, they said the better comparison is that of a sink, with the Amazon intaking massive amounts of carbon dioxide to regulate global temperature.
Now, they said that ability is being compromised and, worse, the fires create a feedback loop where the Amazon is losing crucial carbon-absorbing resources while the fires pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
While the world’s oxygen supply is not in danger, experts also warn many endangered species are.
Experts also expect the fires to become more intense in the coming weeks, despite Bolsonaro and his defense minister claiming the situation is “returning to normal.” Climate scientists also fear that could disrupt global weather patterns.
Tuesday night, Bolsonaro doubled down, saying, “We’re fighting the wildfires with great success” after President Donald Trump backed Bolsonaro on Twitter.
“I have gotten to know President @jairbolsonaro well in our dealings with Brazil. He is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil – Not easy,” Trump said. “He and his country have the full and complete support of the USA!”
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CNN) (CBC)
Brazil’s Secretary of Culture Fired Over Speech Reminiscent of Nazi Rhetoric
- Brazil’s Secretary of Culture Roberto Alvim was fired on Friday after he appeared to paraphrase Nazi propaganda in his announcement of a national arts initiative.
- Several of Alvim’s sentences were strikingly similar to those of Joseph Goebbels, who served as the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany.
- Additionally, the music playing in the background of Alvim’s address was from an opera that Adolf Hitler found imperative in his life.
- After much backlash and call for the culture secretary’s termination, President Jair Bolsonaro announced that he dismissed Alvim from his position.
Brazil’s Secretary of Culture was terminated from his role on Friday after an official video was released of him seeming to paraphrase Nazi propaganda remarks.
Roberto Alvim, who was appointed to his position by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, announced a new initiative for increased funds dedicated to national art awards. In the 6-minute video, which has now been deleted from all Brazilian government official pages, Alvim was seen sitting at a desk beneath a portrait of Bolsonaro, a wooden cross to his side.
“The Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and national,” he said to the camera in Portuguese. “It will be endowed with great capacity for emotional involvement, and it will also be imperative since it will be profoundly connected to the urgent aspirations of our people — or it will be nothing.”
Parts of Alvim’s phrasing was almost identical to those of Joseph Goebbels, who served as the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany. The similarities can be seen in a speech of Goebbels’, quoted in a biography by historian Peter Longerich.
“German art of the next decade will be heroic, steely but romantic, factual without sentimentality,” Goebbels said in 1933. “It will be nationalistic, with great depth of feeling; it will be binding and it will unite, or it will cease to exist.”
The music playing in the background of Alvim’s address was also noteworthy. It came from Richard Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin,” which Adolf Hitler described in his autobiography, Mein Kampf, as being decisive in his life.
Reactions to Alvim’s Speech
It wasn’t long before people began to notice the likeness of Alvim’s rhetoric with the Nazi propaganda, and individuals across the political spectrum expressed outrage. Some — including prominent Brazillian politicians — publicly called for Alvim’s immediate professional termination.
Alvim first defended his speech in a Facebook post, saying, “what the left is doing is a remote association fallacy.” He called his controversial sentences a “rhetorical coincidence.”
But a few hours later, Alvim softened his defensive stance with an apology to the Jewish community. In another post, he claimed that the speech was brought to him by advisors who pulled various ideas tied to national art and that he had no idea of the fascist origin of those few lines. Alvim called the criticized phrases an “involuntary mistake” and said he was sorry from the bottom of his heart.
President Jair Bolsonaro announced on his official Twitter page that he had dismissed Alvim from his position on Friday. Bolsonaro wrote that despite Alvim’s apology, his remarks made his tenure “unsustainable.”
The Brazilian leader emphasized his “rejection of totalitarian and genocidal ideologies” and expressed full support for the Jewish community.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (BBC) (Washington Post)
Pope Francis Names First Woman to Senior Vatican Diplomatic Role
- Pope Francis appointed a woman to a management role in the Vatican’s most powerful department for the first time on Wednesday.
- Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, a Vatican official of 27 years, will now serve as the undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State.
- Among other duties, Di Giovanni will oversee the coordination of the Vatican’s relationships with multilateral organizations, including the United Nations.
- While several other women hold high-ranking positions in the city-state, Di Giovanni’s leadership role in the Vatican’s most powerful branch is unparalleled.
Appointment of Di Giovanni
Pope Francis made an unprecedented move on Wednesday by appointing a woman for the first time to a managerial position in the Secretariat of State, the most powerful department of the Vatican.
Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, an Italian lawyer and Vatican official of 27 years, was named the undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State. Among other responsibilities, Di Giovanni will oversee a division that coordinates the Vatican’s relations with multilateral organizations, including the United Nations.
“The Holy Father has made an unprecedented decision, certainly, which, beyond myself personally, represents an indication of an attention towards women,” Di Giovanni told the Vatican’s in-house media.
“But the responsibility is connected to the job, rather than to the fact of being a woman,” she added.
Milestone for Women in Catholic Church
Several women hold leadership positions in other Vatican offices, but the Secretariat of State is the most powerful branch, making Di Giovanni’s career shift extra significant.
Pope Francis’ appointment of Di Giovanni is the latest development in his ongoing open support of women having more say in the Roman Catholic Church. Currently, women cannot be ordained as priests and the Church’s leadership is almost entirely male-dominated.
On New Year’s Day, the pope expressed praise for womankind.
“Women are givers and mediators of peace and should be fully included in decision-making processes,” Pope Francis said. “Because when women can share their gifts, the world finds itself more united, more peaceful. Hence, every step forward for women is a step forward for humanity as a whole.”
Di Giovanni referenced these words in her interview with the Vatican News calling them the pope’s “tribute” to the role of women.
“A woman may have certain aptitudes for finding commonalities, healing relationships with unity at heart,” Di Giovanni said. “I hope that my being a woman might reflect itself positively in this task, even if they are gifts that I certainly find in my male colleagues as well.”
See what others are saying: (Vatican News) (NPR) (BBC)
Protests Erupt in Iran After Military Admits to Shooting Down Plane
- Protests broke out across Iran over the weekend after the military admitted that it shot down a Ukrainian airline’s passenger jet, killing 176 people when mistaking it for a hostile aircraft.
- Officials originally said there was no evidence of the plane being struck down by one of their missiles but ultimately admitted fault three days later.
- Protesters are demanding leaders be held accountable.
- There are reports of tear gas and gunfire being used against demonstrators, but Tehran’s head of police has denied claims of shots being fired.
Backlash from the Plane Strike
Monday marked the third straight day of Iranian protests since Iran’s military admitted it shot down a passenger jet last week, mistaking it for a threat and killing all 176 people on board.
Videos emerged on Sunday of protesters running from tear gas and in others, which could not be immediately verified, gunfire could be heard.
It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for Iranians—last week, hundreds of thousands were rallying in the streets to publicly mourn Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s Quds Force commander who was killed by a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3.
During those rallies, cries of hate against the United States and Donald Trump—who ordered the strike— were heard. This week there is a sharp contrast, as protesters seem to be targeting the Iranian government and military.
According to The Washington Post, demonstrators were filmed late on Sunday in at least two locations ripping down posters of Soleimani. In Iran’s capital, Tehran, a billboard mourning the victims of the plane crash replaced one of the deceased military leader.
In retaliation for Soleimani’s death, Iran fired missiles at an Iraqi military base that houses American troops on Wednesday. The plane was shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps just hours later after taking off from Tehran.
After maintaining for days that there was no evidence the aircraft was struck down by one of their missiles, Iran admitted that its military had shot down the jet by mistake.
The military initially claimed in a statement that the plane took an unexpected turn that brought it close to a sensitive military base, but an Iranian official later backtracked on that notion.
“The plane was flying in its normal direction without any error and everybody was doing their job correctly,” Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ airspace unit, said on Saturday. “If there was a mistake, it was made by one of our members.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the incident an “unforgivable mistake” and said that investigations are continuing to “identify and prosecute this great tragedy.”
A mix of individuals from multiple countries was onboard the aircraft, including dozens of Canadians. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident “a national tragedy” and publicly called for further investigation.
“I want to assure all families and all Canadians: We will not rest until there are answers,” he said at a memorial event on Sunday.
Protesters are demanding that leaders be held responsible for the fatal mistake. Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported that up to 1,000 people were protesting at various points in the capital city. Some videos posted to social media show crowds demanding the resignation of Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader.
One of the scenes of protest was the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, which said that 13 of its students and alumni were killed in the plane crash. Iranian security forces stepped in and escalated the demonstration.
They “started dragging people away. They took a number of people and put them in cages in police vans,” said 35-year-old Soudabeh told The Washington Post, keeping her full name anonymous.
“At one point, the protesters freed one of the men who was detained. I saw his face and it was covered in blood — his family carried him away,” she told the news outlet.
Iran’s security forces have a history of taking extreme action to contain protesters. In November, after protests broke out in response to the spike in Iran’s gas prices, about 1,500 demonstrators were killed by security forces, according to the Trump administration.
Iranian media quoted Brig. Gen. Hossein Rahimi as saying “Police treated people who had gathered with patience and tolerance,” according to reports by the Associated Press.
Rahimi denied claims that police were shooting at protesters and said that tear gas was only being used in certain areas.