Brazil envoy says U.S. travel ban won’t hurt relations

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, wearing a face mask with a logo reading in Portuguese "Federal Police," leaves his official residence of Alvorada palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, May 26, 2020. The Supreme Court is investigating Bolsonaro into allegations that he sought to interfere with police investigations. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres) –The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Brazil’s top diplomat in Washington has waved aside suggestions that relations with the U.S. have been hurt by a travel ban on his country that took effect Wednesday and expressed gratitude for advance warning of the measure.

Chargé d’Áffaires Nestor Forster said in an interview that the ban on foreigners arriving from Brazil wasn’t a setback, “not in any shape or form. It’s a public health measure confined to that area.”

He said the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro is grateful that the U.S. gave it advance warning of the measure, as well as for “gifts” to help cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, including 1,000 ventilators for the Brazilian Health Ministry and a $7 million donation to help fight COVID-19.

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“We are very appreciative of the fact that, you know, there was some consultation beforehand when the president decided to go forward with this measure,” Forster said in a video call from his Washington home on Tuesday.

Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly called COVID-19 “a little flu” even as thousands of lives were lost, is an outspoken admirer of President Donald Trump and has posted videos to social media of himself watching Trump speak at length.

He last met Trump in March, at the Mar-a-Lago club. A senior Brazilian official present there tested positive for the coronavirus soon after the delegation’s return to Brazil, marking the first time someone known to have the virus was in close proximity to Trump. Multiple other Brazilians in attendance — including Forster — later tested positive.

Brazil, with a population of about 210 million people, is the Latin American country hardest hit by the coronavirus, with more than 24,000 deaths and almost 400,000 confirmed cases. Experts say those figures are significantly underestimated due to insufficient testing.

Before Brazil, Trump had already banned certain travelers from China, Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland and, to a lesser extent, Iran.

Bolsonaro has insisted people should resume their normal lives, arguing that an economic catastrophe would be more deadly than the virus. And Forster disputed criticism that the administration has failed to adopt measures needed to stop its spread.

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“The Brazilian government, led by President Bolsonaro, has been very serious in fighting this disease on all fronts from the outset,” though he said “much of the implementation of the measures rests on the shoulders of state governors.” Bolsonaro has feuded with many of those governors over their stay-at-home orders.

The World Health Organization’s executive director Mike Ryan said this week Brazil’s “intense” transmission rates require some stay-at-home recommendations remain in place regardless of economic damage, which runs against Bolsonaro’s stated wishes. Forster said Bolsonaro’s actions were “a bit different.”

“We don’t have a one-size-fits-all way to fight the pandemic,” he said. “Brazil is bigger than the 48 contiguous U.S. states. It’s a big country with huge regional disparities.”

“You cannot have a one specific recipe and say, you know, let’s lock down the country and forget the consequences,” he said.

And he said he trusts the U.S. ban on travelers from Brazil will be temporary, even as the nation’s death toll continues to climb.

“This will be phased out. It will be suppressed once the numbers allow,” he said. “And we hope this will be soon.” ___ Savarese reported from Sao Paulo

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