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Brazilian media boycott Bolsonaro residence due to harassment

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s four largest news media outlets said they have withdrawn their reporters from coverage of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s official residence due to the lack of security to protect them from heckling and abuse by his supporters.

Organizações Globo, owner of the country’s largest network, TV Globo, as well as O Globo and Valor Economico newspapers, joined TV Bandeirantes and the large-circulation dailies Folha de S.Paulo and Estado de S.Paulo and decided on Monday night to suspend coverage for now at the Alvorada Palace.

Bolsonaro has made a habit of stopping at the residence’s entrance to speak to cheering supporters, take selfies with them and make comments to the journalists.

But in recent days his supporters at the gates have turned on the reporters with angry verbal attacks. On Monday, about 60 supporters heckled the reporters loudly, with shouts of “liars,” “scum” and “communists.”

The attacks on journalists have intensified as Bolsonaro’s political situation has deteriorated under criticism of mishandling the coronavirus crisis that has killed more than 20,000 Brazilians and paralyzed the economy. He is also under investigation for allegedly interfering in law enforcement and his supporters see the media as part of a plot to oust him.

On May 3, angry demonstrators at a pro-Bolsonaro rally in Brasilia knocked a photographer off his ladder and kicked and punched him on the ground.

Folha said it would resume coverage only when there were guarantees given to ensure the security of the journalists.

Globo said in a statement sent to Bolsonaro’s national security adviser, Augusto Heleno, that the “aggressions” have been increasing and its reporters would no longer go to the residence because it was not safe.

Heleno’s office said in a statement that it regularly studies the situation and has taken “sufficient measures to guarantee adequate security.”

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Isolation not enough to save Amazon indigenous village from COVID-19

TRES UNIDOS, BRAZIL (Reuters) – Tres Unidos, an indigenous village in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, locked out all visitors, hoping that isolation would keep it safe. And yet the new coronavirus still came.

It arrived, most likely up the Rio Negro, the giant snaking river that connects Tres Unidos with the Amazon’s largest city, Manaus – five hours away by boat.

The rivers, the lifeblood of these remote communities, are now also bringing disease. The dots of confirmed coronavirus deaths on a map published by Brazil’s government follow the rivers in these remote parts.

Waldemir da Silva, the village chief better known here as Tuxuau Kambeba, said the virus came quietly, as if carried on the wind.

“The virus is treacherous,” he said, wearing a white face mask and a wooden headdress.

“We started getting ill and thought it was a bad cold, but people got worse. Thank God the children did not get it,” the 61-year-old told Reuters.

The drama of the 35 families of the Kambeba tribe is repeated in indigenous communities across the Amazon, as the epidemic moves upriver from Manaus, one of the hardest hit cities in Brazil, where hospital have run out of intensive care units and cemeteries are using collective graves to bury the dead.

FEAR OF INFECTION

With the virus comes fear. For the inability to know who has the virus. For the poor quality healthcare. For the future of indigenous people.

A non-profit conservationist group, Fundacao Amazonia Sustentavel, based in Manaus, is trying to help.

It has donated test kits and the state government delivered 80 on Thursday to the Kambeba village.

Three people resulted positive when they were tested by the community’s nurse technician, Neurilene Kambeba, adding to 13 previous confirmed cases in the village of 106 people.

“We feared the whole village was infected because many people had symptoms and we had no way of knowing,” she said.

“We are fighting for that virus to disappear and no one dies, because Manaus is very far away and we might not get there in time to save a critical patient.”

The Kambeba, who originated in the upper reaches of the Amazon in the forests of Peru, are known for their mastery of archery. Two men from the village have won medals competing in Brazil’s national team.

The community is treating the sick with hot drinks of traditional herbs prescribed by the elder indigenous woman to cure ills, such as garlic and lemon for coughs, or mangarataia, the word for ginger in their language.

Virgilio Viana, head of the Fundacao Amazonia Sustentavel, said the villages nearest to Manaus were most vulnerable to infection by the coronavirus.

Brazil is far behind other countries in testing for the virus and the situation is even more challenging in the Amazon, he said. The government has said it had difficulties buying tests abroad but has now stepped up testing as it plans to open up the economy, despite surging deaths from COVID-19.

“The rapid tests are very important to be able to diagnose COVID-19 cases so that medical protocols of social distancing can then be followed to avoid contagion,” Viana said.

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Bolsonaro snaps photos with children at Brazil protest, defying health advice

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Wearing a face mask, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro posed for photographs with children plucked out of a crowd of supporters on Sunday, disregarding public health advice aimed at containing one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.

Bolsonaro’s latest flouting of social-distancing guidelines came after he lost two health ministers in a month, both of whom resisted his fight against quarantines. Brazil’s confirmed cases of the virus passed those of Spain and Italy on Saturday, making it the site of the world’s fourth-largest outbreak.

Health Ministry figures released on Sunday evening showed that 7,938 new cases were recorded in the past 24 hours, bringing the total above 241,000, while the death toll increased by 485 to 16,118.

In an online video, Bolsonaro said he welcomed the demonstration at the presidential palace in what has become a nearly biweekly affair, with the president and supporters defying quarantines that have the support of most Brazilians.

“Above all (the people) want freedom, they want democracy, they want respect,” he said, adding that Brazilians want to get the economy back up and running as quickly as possible.

An opinion poll released last Tuesday showed two-thirds of Brazilians agreed with the need for social distancing to contain the outbreak, which governors and health experts recommend, while Bolsonaro tries to open gyms, hair salons and other businesses.

On Friday, Nelson Teich resigned as health minister as he and the president showed themselves increasingly out of step, with Bolsonaro calling for a rollback of state quarantines and for the widespread use of unproven drugs, such as chloroquine, to fight the virus.

“Chlo-ro-quine! Chlo-ro-quine!” chanted Bolsonaro’s supporters outside the presidential palace in Sunday, as well as “We want to work!”

Banging drums, blowing horns and letting off fireworks, the crowd created a carnival atmosphere.

Wearing a white face mask and flanked by ministers, security and friends, including a child at his side dressed head to toe in army fatigues, Bolsonaro approached his supporters, waving, smiling and giving the thumbs up.

He mingled with the crowd less than during other recent demonstrations, but he did pose for photographs with at least three young children.

Vice President Hamilton Mourao, who went into isolation on Saturday after the diagnosis of a public servant near him last week, tested negative for the coronavirus, his office said on Sunday.

Nationwide testing in Brazil still lags far behind European nations. Brazil had processed nearly 338,000 novel coronavirus tests in official labs by the beginning of last week, according to the Health Ministry. An additional 145,000 tests were under analysis or waiting in line.

By contrast, Italy and Spain have each run some 1.9 million official diagnostic tests for the virus.

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Economy

Moody's affirming Brazil rating, outlook is a vote of confidence – official

BRASILIA, May 16 (Reuters) – Credit rating agency Moody’s decision to maintain its “Ba2” rating on Brazil’s sovereign debt and “stable” outlook is a vote of confidence in the country’s long-term fiscal stability, Privatization Secretary Salim Mattar said on Saturday.

The affirmation from Moody’s on Friday comes as the Brazilian government’s deficit and debt are set to blow out to record levels due to the coronavirus crisis, and follows recent outlook downgrades from Fitch and S&P.

“In a demonstration of confidence in Brazil, credit rating agency Moody’s has affirmed Brazil’s sovereign rating,” Mattar tweeted on Saturday.

“(Economy) Minister Guedes is committed to continuing reforms and fiscal adjustments to maintain confidence in the country. After the pandemic, we will fix the (public) accounts,” he said.

The main reasons Moody’s is looking through the sudden surge in indebtedness are record low interest rates making it easier to service the debt, post-crisis fiscal consolidation, limited exposure to external debt, and strong foreign currency reserves.

Treasury Secretary Mansueto Almeida said last week that the government’s record primary budget deficit this year could exceed 9% of gross domestic product, while debt could rise past 90% of GDP.

The economy is expected to shrink at its fastest pace this year since records began over a century ago, according to the government and a growing number of economists. On top of that, the country’s political and health crises are intensifying.

Brazil’s “Ba2” credit rating from Moody’s is two notches below investment grade. (Reporting by Jamie McGeever; editing by Diane Craft)

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Brazil launches military operations in the Amazon rainforest

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil launched a military deployment to protect the Amazon rainforest on Monday, Vice President Hamilton Mourao said, in response to surging deforestation this year with the high season for forest fires still approaching.

The military – along with environmental authorities, police and other government agencies – began with an operation to stop illegal environmental destruction in a national forest in the state of Rondonia near the Bolivian border, Mourao said at a press conference alongside other government ministers.

Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva said authorities are establishing bases of operation in three Amazon cities, with 3,800 troops mobilized to begin raids against illegal logging and other crimes, with initial operational costs of 60 million reais ($10.32 million).

Government data released on Friday showed that deforestation rose 55% in the first four months of the year, compared to the same period a year ago, to 1,202 square kilometers (464 square miles). That comes on top of last year’s destruction rising to an 11-year high, provoking international outcry that not enough was being done to protect the world’s largest rainforest.

President Jair Bolsonaro issued a decree last week deploying the military to the region, repeating a move he made last year to send in the armed forces after forest fires and deforestation surged. This year troops are being sent in three months earlier than in 2019.

($1 = 5.8160 reais)

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Brazil launches military operations in the Amazon rainforest

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil launched a military deployment to protect the Amazon rainforest on Monday, Vice President Hamilton Mourao said, in response to surging deforestation this year with the high season for forest fires still approaching.

The military – along with environmental authorities, police and other government agencies – began with an operation to stop illegal environmental destruction in a national forest in the state of Rondonia near the Bolivian border, Mourao said at a press conference alongside other government ministers.

Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva said authorities are establishing bases of operation in three Amazon cities, with 3,800 troops mobilized to begin raids against illegal logging and other crimes, with initial operational costs of 60 million reais ($10.32 million).

Government data released on Friday showed that deforestation rose 55% in the first four months of the year, compared to the same period a year ago, to 1,202 square kilometers (464 square miles). That comes on top of last year’s destruction rising to an 11-year high, provoking international outcry that not enough was being done to protect the world’s largest rainforest.

President Jair Bolsonaro issued a decree last week deploying the military to the region, repeating a move he made last year to send in the armed forces after forest fires and deforestation surged. This year troops are being sent in three months earlier than in 2019.

($1 = 5.8160 reais)

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Brazil plans to activate military to fight Amazon deforestation, fires: VP

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil intends to activate the military to fight Amazon deforestation and fires, the country’s vice president said on Wednesday, as part of wider plans to protect the world’s largest rainforest where destruction surged last year.

Vice President Hamilton Mourão said the country would invoke the same measure that permitted the military to fight forest fires last year, a so-called Guarantee of Law and Order (GLO) decree that must be signed off on by President Jair Bolsonaro.

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Economy

Brazil govt's primary fiscal measures to fight coronavirus now 3.5% of GDP – Economy Ministry

BRASILIA, April 8 (Reuters) – The Brazilian government’s fiscal measures taken so far to minimize the economic damage from the coronavirus crisis have a primary budget impact of 3.5% of gross domestic product, special secretary to the Economy Ministry Waldery Rodrigues said on Wednesday.

That compares with an emerging market average of around 1.6% of GDP, Rodrigues told a virtual news conference, while the ministry also said that new measures this week will allow over 60 million Brazilian workers to withdraw up to 36.2 billion reais ($7 bln) from so-called ‘FGTS’ workers’ funds. (Reporting by Marcela Ayres Writing by Jamie McGeever; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Brazil-China diplomatic spat escalates over coronavirus supplies

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Renewed attacks on China by a member of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s inner circle soured diplomatic relations again on Monday as the education minister accused Chinese medical equipment makers of profiteering from the coronavirus pandemic.

Brazil’s Education Minister Abraham Weintraub suggested in a Twitter post, which he later deleted on Sunday, that the disease would help China “dominate the world.” He referenced a cartoon character with a speech impediment to mock Chinese accents.

The Chinese embassy in Brazil, which had traded barbs last month with Bolsonaro’s son for comparing China’s handling of the disease to the former Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster, denounced the minister in a statement on Monday.

“These completely absurd and despicable declarations, with their racist character and unspeakable objectives, have caused negative influences in the healthy development of bilateral relations,” the Chinese embassy tweeted early on Monday.

Brazil’s Education Ministry declined comment on the matter, and Weintraub did not respond to a request for comment.

In a radio interview, the minister said he was not racist. He also redoubled his attacks on China for its handling of the pandemic, accusing Chinese manufacturers of profiteering.

Weintraub said he would only apologize in exchange for a bargain on mechanical ventilators for university hospitals.

“Have them deliver 1,000 ventilators to my hospitals and I’ll go down to the embassy and say, ‘I’m an idiot,’” he told Radio Bandeirantes on Monday morning.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put renewed pressure on Brazil’s relationship with China, its largest trading partner and the world’s main producer of medical supplies, underscoring deep fault lines in Bolsonaro’s government.

Weintraub is among advisers to Bolsonaro, including his sons and Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo, who call for closer alignment with the United States and caution towards China, the main buyer of Brazil’s farm goods and iron ore.

Last week, Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said that China had ditched some Brazilian equipment orders when the U.S. government sent more than 20 cargo planes to the country to buy the same products.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly played down the COVID-19 respiratory disease as a “little flu”, stirring up political conflicts for denouncing governors’ social-distancing orders, which he sees as economically disastrous.

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Mistrustful of state, Brazil slum hires own doctors to fight virus

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Emerson Barata draws a circular map of Sao Paulo’s largest slum, Paraisopolis, and begins to mark confirmed coronavirus cases in blue ink. At the center of the favela of around 120,000 people, which crowds between luxury apartment blocks and high-walled mansions, he draws four dots.

“It’s going to get a lot worse,” the 34-year-old tells an assembled medical team, adding another two dots to the favela’s outer districts. “The surge hasn’t hit yet.”

Barata is leading the coronavirus response in this labyrinth of red cinder block homes where, beyond the six confirmed cases, his team suspects another 60.

He is not connected to the Brazilian state, and nor is the medical team around him. The former minor league soccer pro is part of an association of Paraisopolis residents whose deep distrust of government has led them to take things into their own hands.

The residents’ association has hired a round-the-clock private medical service including three ambulances, two doctors, and two nurses, as well as drivers and support staff. While President Jair Bolsonaro has dismissed the virus as “a little flu” and told Brazilians to get back to work, Barata is sleep-deprived trying to get his favela ready for what he describes as a “war.”

Barata declined to say how much this would cost or how it was being funded, beyond saying some was covered by donations. Much of it still needs to be raised, he said. The medical team is on an initial 30-day contract, likely to be extended.

“Favelas are going to be hit the worst,” he said, standing in a parking lot outside a mechanic’s workshop that doubles as a base for the medical team. “The places that are already neglected by the state will be neglected even more.”

Public health experts agree. The packed living conditions, poor sanitation, lack of healthcare and flouting of lockdown measures make Brazil’s slums – home to around 11 million people or 6% of the population – particularly vulnerable to the virus.

Paraisopolis is likely to be on the front line. Many of its residents work in the nearby wealthy neighborhood of Morumbi, ground zero for the outbreak in Brazil. Across Latin America, many of the first cases were diagnosed in those affluent enough to travel abroad, but the virus is expected to hit the poorest hardest.

Brazil is Latin America’s worst affected nation by the coronavirus so far, with nearly 8,000 confirmed cases and 299 deaths.

The Paraisopolis residents who have tested positive include two who work in the nearby Albert Einstein Hospital, a private medical facility that diagnosed the first case in Latin America. Another was a live-in nanny.

Celia Parnes, the Secretary of Social Development for the state of Sao Paulo, said the government was concerned about the “speed of contagion in the favelas” and was working to assist poor neighborhoods like Paraisopolis with subsidized meals and debt relief.

She said public healthcare in Paraisopolis was no different to the rest of the city, saying ambulances do reach the favela and talk of an absence of the state “was a major exaggeration.”

But she complimented the work of the residents’ association. “I recognize it and tip my cap,” she said.

City Hall, in an emailed statement, said it handed out free food and essentials to residents of Paraisopolis, as well as driving cars with loud speakers pronouncing the importance of washing hands and staying indoors.

Sao Paulo’s water and sanitation firm said it was distributing 2,400 water tanks to poor neighborhoods to help during the health crisis. It said Paraisopolis had already received more than 900 tanks.

The state has also exempted poor families from tariffs for water and gas for three months.

CLOSE QUARTERS

The population density in Paraisopolis is about the same as Manhattan, although most buildings are just two or three stories tall. Residents complain the water runs dry after 8 p.m. and rubbish piles up along the tight, damp alleyways that weave through the community.

De facto authority here lies with the First Capital Command, Brazil’s largest and most powerful gang, known by its Portuguese acronym PCC.

“I think it’s going to get ugly… This is a ‘little flu’ that kills,” said Luiz Carlos, a short, grey-haired doctor who is part of the hired medical team.

Roberto de Souza, 41, believes he caught the virus through his job in a pharmacy – despite wearing disposable gloves and a facemask when serving customers. He developed terrible pain in his legs and a constant cough soon followed.

After testing positive he isolated himself in a cramped second-floor flat in Paraisopolis.

“What hurts the most is being locked away, alone,” he said through a facemask, in between coughing fits. “I have to worry, not just about myself but about not giving it to the next person.”

De Souza lives by himself. In Paraisopolis that puts him in the minority.

Reuters visited one cramped home where a woman was self-isolating, sick with coronavirus symptoms. But her three children, mother and brother had nowhere else to go, so continued to live with her.

To address that challenge, the residents’ association is looking to use two local schools – closed due to the outbreak – to house up to 500 suspected and confirmed cases without life-threatening symptoms, removing them from tight living quarters.

Despite all the preparations, Barata is worried residents are not taking the threat seriously enough. Unlike in the rest of Sao Paulo, where a lockdown is in place, most bars and shops remain open in Paraisopolis. The streets bustle. Parties pound.

Barata fears many will change their attitude only once a parent or a friend dies. By then it might be too late.

“We’re trying to get the message out: This is no joke,” he said.

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