Venezuela’s strongman president, Nicolás Maduro, has sent an emergency shipment of oxygen to his country’s border with Brazil in a politically charged gesture he said was to help alleviate “Jair Bolsonaro’s public health disaster”.
In recent days the Brazilian state of Amazonas, which borders southern Venezuela, has been plunged into coronavirus chaos for the second time in under a year.
Last week Covid-19 patients reportedly died in the state capital, Manaus, after hospitals ran out of oxygen amid a surge in infections and deaths. Since then civil society groups, celebrities and the Brazilian government have been scrambling to get life-saving supplies to the remote riverside metropolis.
Maduro, who enjoys a toxic relationship with Brazil’s far-right president, announced his aid offer in a Sunday night broadcast.
“Venezuela is reaching out to the people of Amazonas in solidarity … and we hope this oxygen reaches the people of Brazil fast … The trucks are on their way,” he said as state television aired images of a convoy supposedly heading to the border town of Santa Elena de Uairén.
Maduro said Brazil was facing an “alarming situation in the face of Jair Bolsonaro’s public health disaster”.
“What a painful and sad situation,” the leftist added, claiming a “a veritable international scandal” was playing out in Amazonas. “It hurts us, as Bolivarians, as the children of Bolívar, to see our Latin American brothers [like this].”
Maduro called the shipment an act of Christian charity, but it is also an obvious attempt to score political points over Bolsonaro, whose jumbled and anti-scientific handling of the pandemic has been internationally condemned.
Brazil’s president was a key member of the US-backed coalition that tried to topple Maduro and Bolsonaro allowed Donald Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to visit Brazil’s border with Venezuela on the eve of last year’s US presidential election. While on Brazilian territory, Pompeo labelled Maduro a drug trafficker who had destroyed his country.
Many members of the Brazilian left celebrated Maduro’s gesture.
“From day one of his presidency Bolsonaro has insulted … the governors and people of Venezuela. And now, wouldn’t you know it, it’s … the governors and people of Venezuela helping save the people of Manaus,” tweeted former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, accusing Bolsonaro of showing “inhuman indifference” to the city’s plight.
Members of Venezuela’s opposition, however, denounced Maduro’s intervention as a cynical ploy designed to improve his shabby international reputation.
They remembered how thousands of Venezuelan refugees had escaped into the Brazilian Amazon in recent years, fleeing poverty, hunger, violence and a devastated public health system.
“It’s as if someone, with one of their relatives dying of hunger, gives food to a neighbour as a gift to make it seem like they’re a nice guy,” the opposition leader Julio Borges told the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo.
“Maduro wants to pose as the leader of the poor, the needy, of those infected with coronavirus, when in fact he is a corrupt dictator and a human rights abuser who has managed to destroy Venezuela, once one of the most prosperous countries in the Americas.”