Brazil’s leader may be eager to speak about the ongoing Amazon fires that have drawn the world's attention, but he will have to wait, because surgery is forcing him to skip the summit of regional leaders called for this weekend to discuss the matter.
An aide for President Jair Bolsonaro revealed that the far-right leader would undergo surgery to treat a hernia, his fourth operation since he was stabbed in the stomach during the presidential campaign in 2018.
The spokesman said Brazil may send a representative in Bolsonaro’s place or ask for the summit – scheduled for Friday in Colombia – to be postponed.
Bolsonaro has drawn intense domestic and international criticism for his reaction to the ongoing fires raging in parts of the Amazon rainforest, with environmentalists blaming his government’s approach to environmental issues and its pro-business agenda.
The Brazilian Amazon saw more than 30,900 fires in the month of August, the highest for the month since 2010, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.
Bolsonaro told reporters in Brasilia on Monday that he was eager to speak about the fires at the next U.N. General Assembly later this month. He said he wanted to speak “with patriotism” about the Amazon, a region he said was ignored by previous administrations.
"I will not accept alms from any country in the world under the pretext of preserving the Amazon when it is being divided into lots and sold," the far-right president said.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres last week suggested holding a meeting to address the fires.
The fires also seem to be eroding Bolsonaro’s popularity at home.
Polling institute Datafolha reported Monday that 38 percent of Brazilians disapproved of the government's actions – the worst since coming to power on Jan. 1 – with just 29 percent of the population backing it.
Datafolha interviewed 2,878 people Aug. 29-Aug.30; the survey has a 2-percentage point margin of error.
Bolsonaro, who has accused other nations of colonialism for offering $40 million to help tackle the fires, was elected to the presidency in October 2018, a month after he was stabbed in the abdomen during a campaign rally.
His surgery is scheduled for Sunday and he must start a liquid diet on Friday – the date of the regional conference. Doctors said he would need 10 days of rest after the surgery, the BBC reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.