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Wed Mar 25, 2020, 11:09 AM

As coronavirus hits Venezuela, Maduro further quashes dissent


CARACAS (Reuters) - On March 13, Melquiades Avila, an indigenous leader and journalist in the remote Venezuelan state of Delta Amacuro, asked on his popular Facebook account: "Will our hospital be ready for coronavirus?"

Earlier that week, as Venezuela confirmed its first infections by the novel coronavirus, President Nicolas Maduro's health ministry on its website had listed Delta Amacuro's Luis Razetti Hospital as one of 46 medical centers "prepared" to receive COVID-19 patients.

Avila enumerated various reasons, all confirmed by Reuters in interviews with physicians at the hospital, why the claim was false: The facility has no blood pressure monitors, syringes, or reagents to diagnose coronavirus infections.

"What a joke," Avila wrote.

A day later, Lizeta Hernandez, governor of Delta Amacuro and a member of the ruling Socialist party, called on local radio for Avila's arrest, accusing him of "inciting hatred" and denouncing him as "criminal." She ordered the state Army deployment to detain Avila "so that I can give him a masterclass in the meaning of public duty."

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