By Lisandra Paraguassu
BRASILIA - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday called out French President Emmanuel Macron for the "provocation" of meeting with Brazil's leftist former leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva last week in Paris.
Macron hosted Lula, who was president from 2003 to 2010, at the Elysee palace in a rare honor signaling support for Bolsonaro's main rival in the October 2022 election.
Lula is leading Bolsonaro in opinion polls, though neither has officially declared their candidacy.
The encounter with Macron and its fallout show how Lula aims to capitalize on Bolsonaro's diplomatic isolation, worsened by backsliding on environmental commitments as deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has soared to a 15-year high.
"It does seem like a provocation," Bolsonaro said of the meeting in a radio interview. "(Macron) is more interested in having a passive, corrupt person like Lula - an ally of his - than someone like me (leading Brazil) in the future."
Lula was convicted in 2018 of taking bribes from engineering companies in return for public contracts and spent a year and a half behind bars before Brazil's Supreme Court overturned his convictions this year, opening the door for a presidential run.
Bolsonaro's split with Macron dates back to 2019, when the French president denounced surging fires in the Amazon and Bolsonaro responded by insulting Macron's wife and accusing him of disrespecting Brazilian sovereignty.
Those tensions and the concerns about Brazil's environmental commitments have stalled final approval of a trade deal between the European Union and the South American trade bloc Mercosur, agreed in 2019 after two decades of talks.
(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Writing by Gabriel Araujo; Editing by Stephen Eisenhammer, Brad Haynes and Daniel Wallis)