By Antonio Torres del Cerro
Sao Paulo, May 29 (efe-epa).- Uruguay and Argentina have frontiers with Brazil – the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in Latin America – that stretch for a combined total of more than 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles).
That has stoked fears in those two neighboring countries, although the governor of the southern Brazilian border state of Rio Grande do Sul, Eduardo Leite, said in an interview via videoconference with Efe that the situation in his region is “under control.”
The 35-year-old Leite is a rising star in the center-right Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) and governs one of the states with the lowest number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths attributed to Covid-19 in Brazil, which nationwide had 438,238 cases and 26,754 deaths on Thursday.
Rio Grande do Sul, which is home to 11 million people yet thus far has reported only 7,000 coronavirus cases and just over 200 deaths, has been relying on an innovative system in which confinement orders and economic activity are based on the number of cases and hospital-bed availability in a particular area of the state.
Q: You have an extensive border, with movement to and from Argentina, as well as Uruguay. Given that cases and deaths in Brazil have surged, how do your neighbors view the situation?
A. With respect to Rio Grande do Sul, I think there’s a sense that we have the situation under control. I even spoke with the president of Uruguay, (Luis) Lacalle Pou, so we’re at each other’s disposal and working jointly at the borders. There’s a good understanding. Nothing has come (from the neighboring countries) indicating they were concerned about Rio Grande do Sul. But of course they need to observe with concern the figures from northern and northeastern Brazil.
Q. Does this mean there’s a bi-national (Brazil/Uruguay) commission?
A. This doesn’t amount to a commission. I had initial contacts with the president of Uruguay this week about the border cities. Santana de Livramento (Brazil) with Rivera (Uruguay), Chui (across from Chuy, Uruguay), and some cities separated only by a bridge like Rio Branco (Uruguay) and Jaguarao (Brazil). The idea is that we work together, with constant monitoring among our health teams in those towns.
Q. Are there any plans for re-opening?
A. There’s no expectation that the restrictions at the borders can be eliminated. There are no conditions that attest that we’re problem-free. It’s premature to think about this on either side.
Q. Have there been any contacts in the case of Argentina?
A. Not yet with Argentina’s government. But I asked my team to establish contact, especially for the cities where there’s the greatest proximity and coexistence.
Q. Are you concerned about what your Uruguayan and Argentine neighbors think about Brazil. What message would you send them?
A: I understand that the president of the republic (Brazilian head of state Jair Bolsonaro) is sending the wrong message, with little attention to health care and little attention to people’s lives and health … but I can assure you that in the states we’re working very hard to control the spread of the coronavirus. We understand that health and the economy are not opposite ends of the spectrum. They go hand-in-hand. They’re interdependent. Guaranteeing that people’s lives and health are preserved is how we’ll provide the certainty so investors keep investing and consumers keep consuming.
Q. Two and a half years remain until the presidential balloting, and Bolsonaro already has said he will seek re-election. But there’s still no clear candidate among the opposition. Do you intend to contest your party’s primaries with a view to competing in the (2022 general election)?
A. If we don’t know yet what will happen with the coronavirus, we have even less of an idea what the political scenario will be like in 2022 … We’ll see what future missions are in store for me on this political path I’ve chosen. It’s too early to talk about 2022, and no doubt I’ll be involved as a citizen before I am as a politician, working so there’s a centrist alternative in the country. A centrism that’s not an absence of positions but instead an agenda that both lifts up the economy and preserves people’s lives. In my region, I’ve carried out civil service and environmental legislation reforms that were transformative but difficult. EFE-EPA