Peru’s Covid-19 oxygen angels targeted by criminals

By Fernando Gimeno

Lima, Mar 10 (efe-epa).- In Peru, giving the gift of life during the coronavirus pandemic can endanger one’s own. That has been the experience of a few brave souls who have been providing oxygen at little or no cost to Covid-19 patients and their families and in return have been the target of death threats and other acts of retaliation by crime gangs.

“We’re stepping on toes. We’re facing off against unscrupulous business people who sell the oxygen without caring that thousands of Peruvians will go into debt for life,” Alvaro Paz de la Barra, mayor of the Lima district of La Molina and president of the Association of Peruvian Municipalities (Ampe), told Efe.

He said the threats began with different messages and phone calls last year that forced him to move his family outside Peru and hire a bodyguard, adding that the intimidation campaign was recently escalated with the placing of a grenade outside his house.

Paz de la Barra says he has been targeted for having used a mobile oxygen plant installed with help from Ampe and a fixed facility set up in La Molina, the first of their kind in Latin America and Peru, respectively, to refill more than 100,000 tanks “at zero cost.”

“We’re at war, and in a war threats can come from all sides. But when you’re with the people you feel an energy and a protection that makes you invincible,” he said.

The no-cost oxygen initiatives of people like Paz de la Barra have made him the enemy of shadowy operations looking to profit off the needs of seriously ill coronavirus patients.

Peru is currently suffering from severe oxygen scarcity now that demand has risen by up to 300 percent during the peak of a second Covid-19 wave, with the current daily deficit now standing at 110 metric tons.

Amid this dramatic situation, the law of supply and demand has caused the market price of a 10-cubic-meter oxygen cylinder to soar in price from 800 soles ($216) to 6,000 soles.

Juan Torres Baldeon, also has suffered retaliation in the Andean nation for having installed an oxygen plant at his own initiative and used it to refill around 8,000 cylinders in the northern Amazon city of Iquitos during the pandemic, according to his estimates,

For his efforts, the businessman better known as Jota Baldeon was the victim of an apparent arson attack.

“They burned my house in retaliation on Jan. 28 because we announced that in a couple of days we’d be bringing in another plant. That made them upset,” he added.

Yet another business leader, Luis Barsallo, popularly known in Peru as the “Oxygen Angel,” discovered that his best-laid plans to help people were being stymied by mafias.

The manager of a small oxygen point of sale in Callao, a seaside city in the Lima metropolitan area, he kept his prices low when others were speculating as the demand for oxygen spiked.

However, he subsequently discovered that there were some “huge mafias that were selling places in line.”

“The oxygen that we were selling went to the mafia, to people who buy the cylinder for 120 soles and then sell it for 700 or 1,000 soles,” Barsallo said.

“It’s sad to discover that the oxygen you sell doesn’t go to the patient! That makes you outraged and angry,” he added. EFE-EPA


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