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Brazil minister wants talks with narcos on coronavirus

BRASILIA, Brazil – Brazil's health minister said Wednesday, April 8, that authorities should hold talks with drug gangs and militia groups in impoverished favela neighborhoods on how to contain the new coronavirus.

Brazil, the country hardest hit by the pandemic in Latin America, is bracing for potential devastation if big outbreaks erupt in its favelas, crowded neighborhoods that often lack basic sanitation and health care infrastructure.

Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said the government had to be realistic about who holds power in many such neighborhoods.

"We have to understand that these are areas where the state is often absent and the ones in charge are drug traffickers and militia groups," he told a news conference.

"How do we build a bridge to them? By talking, yes, with drug traffickers, with militias, because they are human beings, too, and they need to help."

He said the authorities had just launched a pilot project in one favela on managing coronavirus risk, but did not say where.

An estimated 11.5 million Brazilians live in favelas, around 6% of the population.

They are frequent scenes of street battles between armed gangs and police.

Mandetta advocates strict social distancing measures to contain the virus, in line with World Health Organization recommendations.

He has clashed with his boss, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who argues that closing businesses and telling people to stay home is unnecessarily damaging the economy.

Brazil has confirmed nearly 16,000 coronavirus cases, with 800 deaths so far. – Rappler.com