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Venezuela remains Bolsonaro’s straw man, even in Covid-19 crisis

. Mar 19, 2020
venezuela border Brazil-Venezuela border

“Considering the inability of the Venezuelan dictatorial regime to respond to the Covid-19 epidemic, the Brazilian government will adopt restrictive measures on the border with Venezuela,” President Bolsonaro tweeted, a day after Brazil had registered its first death from the new virus, amid almost 500 confirmed cases.

According to the leader, his decisions are based on the World Health Organization’s recommendations, to seek the well-being of the northern region of Brazil. But we know they don’t. Since he became a presidential candidate in 2018, Jair Bolsonaro has been using Venezuela as his straw man, blaming every problem—real or imagined—on Nicolas Maduro.

Now,

despite a huge list of governmental mistakes and inactivity—which include Mr. Bolsonaro making physical contact with hundreds of supporters at the weekend and calling Covid-19 a “hysteria”—they are once again pushing the “Venezuela button.”</p> <p>In times of pandemics, border closes are largely welcome. However, the government ignores measures that are more important on the coronavirus to-do-list. Unlike the majority of neighbors in South America—even Venezuela itself—Brazil has not banned the entry of foreigners from Europe and has delayed canceling classes in public schools, for example.</p> <h2>Border controls—not for everybody</h2> <p>There’s also a geographical <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/03/19/latin-america-sliding-deep-recession-say-banks/">contradiction</a>: if São Paulo is the state with most cases and the first confirmed deaths, why would they not close the borders that are closer to the national epicenter, like all every other country in the Americas? Once again, the answer lies in ideological issues, not practical ones.</p> <p><a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/01/08/venezuela-back-spotlight-after-physical-struggle-congress/">Venezuela has its own problems</a>. With an economic contraction of 35 percent and 200,000-percent inflation in 2019 according to the International Monetary Fund, the country is still drowning in the worst economic crisis in Latin America. Even though only 33 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed and the government declared all international flights suspended, a huge disaster could be on the way.</p> <p>According to the Venezuelan Medical Federation (FMV), there are less than 100 <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2020/03/15/brazil-healthcare-system-prepared-covid-19-pandemic/">intensive care beds currently available</a>. In the country where morgues are overflowing with corpses due to power shortages, in 2019 at least 164 people died because of power cuts in medical centers, and 70 percent of them are in need to receive a weekly water supply, said the National Hospital Survey.</p> <p>With the lockdown imposed by Mr. Maduro, Venezuelans stuck in their own problems and more important things to solve in Brazil, why is President Bolsonaro still going after their northern neighbors? According to Mackenzie University political scientist Mauricio Fronzaglia, creating eternal conflicts is “Jair Bolsonaro’s comfort zone.”&nbsp;</p> <p>“You can see in [House Speaker] Rodrigo Maia’s statements. Jair Bolsonaro constantly needs an enemy—or to create one—to act. Instead of using a cooperative logic in his government, he prefers conflict. It can be seen, first, in his relations with Congress, with whom he can’t create a solid coalition.”</p> <h2>Waning support</h2> <p>Besides being criticized by Congress due to his position on the coronavirus crisis, Jair Bolsonaro is also facing his first <em>cacerolazos, </em>the typically Latin American protest of banging pots and pans that became notorious in Brazil for kicking off the movement that ended in the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff in 2016. </p> <figure class="wp-block-embed-twitter wp-block-embed is-type-rich is-provider-twitter"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="550" data-dnt="true"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">In São Paulo&#39;s South Zone, people shout &quot;Bolsonaro out,&quot; and &quot;Beat it, scum.&quot; hey even have fireworks against the president. <a href="https://t.co/tMcD3LLOi2">pic.twitter.com/tMcD3LLOi2</a></p>&mdash; Gustavo Ribeiro (@gnribeiro) <a href="https://twitter.com/gnribeiro/status/1240415211636621318?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 18, 2020</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </div></figure> <p>Mr. Fronzaglia told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> the far-right leader is constantly losing the support he gained in 2018, which he said was largely due to &#8220;anti-Workers&#8217; Party sentiment.&#8221; Now that the center-left party is out of power, Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s former allies are now growing tired of his constant fumbles.&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the political scientist, more than just using Venezuela as ideological ammunition, the regional stance of the president is unjustifiable. In the same week that the first Covid-19 death was confirmed in Brazil, Mr. Bolsonaro was the only leader not to participate in a teleconference between leaders of Prosur, the economic bloc containing Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Bolivia.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Venezuela-Brazil border closure itself is not the problem and is even supported by specialists. The problem is: Mr. Bolsonaro has been highlighting this issue with Venezuela to divert attention. A leader&#8217;s role is to lead, and he only cares about other issues. He built his career that way. It’s childish.” 

 
Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs—specializing Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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