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Venezuelan health minister who blew whistle over infant deaths sacked

Meanwhile, President Maduro accused by Brazilian publicists of illegally funding Chávez campaign

Caracas / São Paulo

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro has fired his health minister, Antonieta Caporale, three days after her ministry published a report charting an increase in infant and maternal deaths in the country, as well as epidemics, over the last two years.

Venezuela
Maduro holds a copy of the Venezuelan Constitution during a speech. REUTERS

The report was published on Monday in Venezuela’s weekly “Epidemiological Bulletin,” which has been published since 1938, but was suspended in 2014 to avoid “political interpretations,” according to government sources. The report looked at last year, citing statistics that show a 30% increase in infant mortality and a 65% increase in maternal deaths. At the same time, diphtheria, which had been eradicated decades ago in Venezuela, has reappeared, with some 300 cases reported. Malaria has become endemic, with around 250,000 cases.

One of the opposition’s main demands throughout the crisis has been for the government to allow a humanitarian aid channel in the country, to alleviate the country’s dire health situation.

Malaria is now endemic in Venezuela, while diphtheria has returned decades after it was erradicated

Meanwhile, two Brazilian political campaign strategists jailed for million-dollar payments from bribe money in the sprawling Odebrecht graft investigation have accused President Maduro of paying $11 million in cash for them to manage the 2012 re-election campaign of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.

The married couple, Mônica Moura and João Santana, currently serving eight-year sentences, revealed the information as part of a plea-bargain.

“Maduro received Mônica in his office, he handed her attaché cases of money and he gave her an armed security escort,” said Moura in a statement made public by the Brazilian Supreme Court on Thursday.

He added that the money came from two multinational construction firms that have been awarded public contracts in Venezuela: Odebrecht and Andrade Gutiérrez. She added that Maduro demanded the payment be made in cash, adding that the two companies paid $9 million into a Swiss bank account for the campaign, along with the $11 million in cash handed over by Maduro in Caracas.

Moura says in her statement that the Chávez campaign never paid a further $15 million agreed. She also says that the former Brazilian ambassador to Venezuela, Maximilien Arvelaiz was the intermediary between the construction companies and the Chávez campaign.

The statements by Moura and Santana, who became internationally known after managing the successful campaigns of former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, are another chapter in the Odebrecht scandal, which has implicated several governments and leading politicians throughout Latin America.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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