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Fri Oct 30, 2020, 08:56 PM

Trump, Bolsonaro Broke Latin America's Covid Defenses, Rid 10K Cuban Doctors, Hydroxy Push: NYT

'How Trump & Bolsonaro Broke Latin America's Covid-19 Defenses,' 10/27/20. The 2 presidents drove out 10,000 Cuban doctors & nurses. They defunded the region’s leading health agency. They wrongly pushed hydroxychloroquine as a cure. - Excerpts, Ed:

The coronavirus was gathering lethal speed when President Trump met his Brazilian counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro, on March 7 for dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Mr. Bolsonaro had canceled trips that week to Italy, Poland and Hungary, and Brazil’s health minister had urged him to stay away from Florida, too. But Mr. Bolsonaro insisted, eager to burnish his image as the “Trump of the Tropics.” His grinning aides posed at the president’s resort in green “Make Brazil Great Again” hats. Mr. Trump declared he was “not concerned at all” before walking Mr. Bolsonaro around the club shaking hands. 22 people in Mr. Bolsonaro’s delegation tested positive for the virus after returning to Brazil, yet he was not alarmed.

Mr. Trump had shared a cure, Mr. Bolsonaro told advisers: a box of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, the unproven treatment that Mr. Trump was then promoting as a remedy for Covid-19..

The Mar-a-Lago dinner, which would become infamous for spreading infection, cemented a partnership between Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolsonaro rooted in a shared disregard for the virus.

But even before the dinner, the 2 presidents had waged an ideological campaign that would undermine Latin America’s ability to respond to Covid-19.

- Mar-a-Mago FL Dinner, Trump, Bolsonaro, March, 2020.

Together, the two men, fierce opponents of Latin America’s leftists, took aim at Cuba’s great pride: the doctors it sends around the world. Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolsonaro drove 10,000 Cuban doctors and nurses out of impoverished areas of Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and El Salvador. Many left without being replaced only months before the pandemic arrived. Then, the two leaders attacked the international agency most capable of fighting the virus — the Pan-American Health Organization, or PAHO — citing its involvement with the Cuban medical program. With help from Mr. Bolsonaro, Mr. Trump nearly bankrupted the agency by withholding promised funding at the height of the outbreak, to an extent not previously disclosed.

And with help from Mr. Trump, Mr. Bolsonaro has made hydroxychloroquine the centerpiece of Brazil’s pandemic response, despite a medical consensus that the drug is ineffective and even dangerous.

Weak health systems and overcrowded cities made Latin America inherently vulnerable. But by driving out doctors, blocking assistance, and pushing false cures, Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolsonaro made a bad situation worse, dismantling defenses. Now Latin America, with a third of the world’s deaths, has suffered more acutely from Covid-19 than any other region. The two most powerful leaders in the Americas, Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolsonaro are both ardent nationalists defiant of mainstream science. Both have put economic growth and short-term politics ahead of public health warnings. Both are deeply hostile to the region’s leftist governments — especially in Cuba, a cause that helps Mr. Trump with Cuban-American voters in the swing state of Florida.

“In their zeal to get rid of the Cuban doctors, the Trump administration has punished every country in the hemisphere, and without question that has meant more Covid cases, and more Covid deaths,” said Mark L. Schneider, a former head of strategic planning for the Pan-American Health Organization who was a State Department official in the Clinton administration. “It is outrageous.”

Previous Republican and Democratic administrations have almost all regarded the public health of Latin America as of urgent national interest, because infectious diseases can spread easily between South and North America. For decades, Cuba has sent medical workers to fill holes in health systems in Latin America and beyond. Within six weeks, Covid-19 began seeping into Latin America. Brazil had been known for one of the strongest public health systems in Latin America for fighting infectious diseases.
Brazil has suffered more than 157,000 deaths from Covid-19, a total second only to the United States.

Catching the virus did nothing to change either president’s outlook. Mr. Bolsonaro, 65, was infected in July and suffered only mild symptoms. He celebrated his recovery with a motorcycle ride and stands by his embrace of hydroxychloroquine.

Mr. Trump, 74, quietly stopped promoting that drug. When he was briefly hospitalized with Covid-19 earlier this month, he received other medicines. He began describing some of those as miracle cures and returned to dismissing the virus.

“People are tired of Covid,” he said this week on a campaign conference call. “People are saying: ‘Whatever. Just leave us alone.’”...


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