Brazilian border town tires of Venezuelan refugees

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In this file photo taken on February 24, 2018 Venezuelan Warao indigenous woman Yulen Moraleda, 33, gives milk to one of her new-born twins at the Pintolandia shelter in the city of Boa Vista, Roraima, Brazil, on February 24, 2018. (AFP)
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Venezuelans wait in a queue in front of the Brazil Federal Police Office in the Venezuela-Brazil border, at Pacaraima, Roraima, Brazil, on February 28, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 15 March 2018
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Brazilian border town tires of Venezuelan refugees

PACARAIMA: The remote Brazilian town of Pacaraima is used to outsiders — tourists curious about spectacular nearby mountains — but a sea of Venezuelan refugees is pushing locals’ hospitality to breaking point.
Before, Pacaraima’s main attraction was its location near Monte Roraima in Venezuela, believed to have inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Lost World” fantasy adventure.
But now the town has become a focal point for the exodus from economic collapse and political violence just across the border.
Every day, between 500 and 1,200 impoverished Venezuelans come over the frontier into Pacaraima, swamping the sleepy community.
The arrivals — designated refugees by the United Nations — sleep in the streets, cram into inadequate shelters, and are blamed by some for problems like increased prostitution.
“It’s out of control,” said Catholic priest Father Jesus Lopez, who runs a soup kitchen for the Venezuelans in Pacaraima.

Swelling Pacaraima

Refugees are estimated to have swelled Pacaraima’s population of 12,000 by a third.
But despite the increased traffic, the local economy is suffering.
“There’s a lot of movement and little money. My sales have fallen because there are fewer tourists and they were the ones who brought in money,” said Zilma Rocha, who has a kitchen serving breakfasts.
About the only people seeing an uptick in trade are the currency dealers, who sell the Brazilian real to their neighbors.
Some supermarkets are also seeing new business, with Venezuelans crossing the border just to buy food they can’t afford or find back home.
“Everything is cheaper here. Over there, 80 reais ($25) won’t buy you anything, but with that amount here you can get rice, sugar, flour, butter, soap, biscuits, juice and hygiene products,” said Jonathan do Santos, who frequently makes the trip.
“The lack of food in Venezuela has created opportunities here and our businesses are taking advantage of that,” said Ruan Silva, whose supermarket in Pacaraima is one of the few accepting the nearly worthless Venezuelan currency, the bolivar.

Desperation

Lopez, the priest, said Brazil’s government has not done enough to help communities like this prepare for the influx. But he said he understood the desperation driving the fugitives.
“These people are running from hunger, from death,” he said.
Most Venezuelans arriving in Pacaraima try to move straight on to the nearest sizeable city in Brazil’s Roraima state, Boa Vista, where much of the refugee aid is centered.
But for some, that 134 mile (215 km) trip — and the $16 taxi ride — is a step too far.
“We had planned to go to Boa Vista but things sound terrible there,” said Jose Pena, 22, who had traveled more than 930 miles (1,500 km) with his family from Carabobo in Venezuela.
“We prefer to stay here,” he said, while tending a cooking fire. “At least here we can eat.”
Abilio Mendez, 46, who traveled all the way from Puerto La Cruz on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast, simply couldn’t afford to go any further than Pacaraima.
“It’s everything left in my life,” he said, pointing to his two suitcases.
His solution for getting to Boa Vista? To set off under the punishing sun and try to walk.


Duterte skips summit meetings but is in ‘top shape’

Updated 39 min 33 sec ago
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Duterte skips summit meetings but is in ‘top shape’

  • An official named four scheduled events that Duterte had not attended on Wednesday, during which the president “took power naps” to catch up on sleep
  • Duterte’s health has been a constant source of speculation since he disappeared from public view for a week last year

SINGAPORE: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte skipped several meetings at an Asia-Pacific summit in Singapore on Wednesday, prompting the 73-year-old’s office to issue a statement scotching speculation that it was due to ill health.
“We assure the nation that his aforementioned absence has nothing to do with his physical health and wellbeing which have been the subject of speculation,” spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
“The president’s constantly punishing work schedule is proof that he is in top physical shape.”
Panelo named four scheduled events that Duterte had not attended on Wednesday, during which the president “took power naps” to catch up on sleep, and said he would also skip a gala dinner with the leaders of nine Southeast Asian nations, US Vice President Mike Pence and several others.
Duterte’s health has been a constant source of speculation since he disappeared from public view for a week last year, and he has said openly that he is tired and would like to step down before the end of his term ends in 2022.
Last month Duterte’s office revealed that he had undergone a colonoscopy and he told reporters that a biopsy had shown he did not have cancer.
The constitution provides for the public to be told of the state of health of an incumbent president, if serious.
If a sitting president dies, is permanently disabled or removed through impeachment, the vice president succeeds to serve the remaining years in a six-year, single term.
Vice President Leni Robredo, a leader of the opposition, was elected separately in 2016. Speculation about Duterte’s health last month prompted concern that the Philippines could be headed for uncertainty given the highly polarized political climate.
Duterte has cited Robredo’s “incompetence” as a reason for his inability to quit as president.
Duterte has a record of skipping summit sessions, though he did not miss any as host when the Philippines held the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last year.
Panelo said it was “amusing that some quarters are making a big fuss” of Duterte’s absences, noting that he had attended ASEAN meetings with leaders from China, Japan and Russia.
“Last night, the president worked late and had only less than three hours of sleep,” he said. “It is unfortunate that the first event scheduled today was at 8:30a.m.”
Duterte is known for having an unorthodox working schedule that typically starts mid-afternoon and includes cabinet meetings that can go on beyond midnight.