In an unprecedented step, the heads of the army, air force and navy of the Brazilian military resigned from their offices on Tuesday. The resignations are directed against President Jair Bolsonaro and his plans to use the military for his political purposes. Several times in the past, the Brazilian president threatened to end lockdowns that were imposed by governors against his will with the help of the military.
So far, the military has been one of the main pillars of the president’s power. Many high-ranking government posts are filled with generals and members of the army. Most recently, however, Jair Bolsonaro had reshuffled his cabinet with the aim of shifting power from the military to new allies in parliament. Six ministers were replaced, including the defense and foreign ministers, both heavyweights and so far loyal followers of the president.
It is the largest change in personnel since the government took office in 2019 and comes at a time when the Brazilian president is experiencing his biggest crisis to date. It is an attempt to shift power from the military – once the president’s mainstay – to new allies in parliament.
Like hardly any other country in Latin America, Brazil is currently being hit by a new wave of coronavirus. The number of new infections exceeded the mark of 100,000 per day last week, and for the first time there were more than 3000 deaths within 24 hours, nowhere else in the world do so many people die from the pathogen. Hospitals are overburdened with a lack of basic things like oxygen to ventilate patients. At the same time, the vaccination campaign is stalling. More and more Brazilians blame their president and his government for the catastrophic situation in their country. Jair Bolsonaro’s approval ratings are falling.
Many Brazilians blame the foreign minister for the lack of vaccine
Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo announced his resignation from office even before the cabinet reshuffle was officially announced. The 53-year-old professional diplomat was largely unknown before his appointment in 2018, but he quickly became one of the most controversial figures in Bolsonaro’s government. Under Araújo, the Foreign Ministry developed into a bastion of right-wing conservative politics. He repeatedly railed against Marxists and the left. Climate change, in his opinion, is a lie to weaken the Christian countries of the West. On the other hand, he considers the corona virus to be an invention by communists.
The politician had repeatedly criticized China and its party leadership in the past. On the other hand, he called the former US President Donald Trump the “savior of the West” and called the violent demonstrators who stormed the Capitol in Washington at the beginning of the year upright citizens. Many Brazilians believe that Araújo’s policies are at least partly responsible for the country’s lack of vaccines.
Carlos Alberto Franco França is now to succeed Araújo. The diplomat has long been a member of the Bolsonaro government. After the increasing criticism of the outgoing Foreign Minister, this change came as no surprise. The resignation of Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva caused a stir.
The ex-defense minister says he did not want to turn the military into a tool of politics
Observers suspect that Bolsonaro may have asked the 67-year-old reserve general to make clearer commitments to his corona policy. Bolsonaro had repeatedly threatened to use the armed forces if necessary, for example to have the lockdowns that governors had ordered against his will lifted. The outgoing defense minister said after his resignation that he wanted to prevent the armed forces from becoming a tool of politics.
Azevedo’s successor is Walter Souza Braga Netto, also a general. Nevertheless, the leadership of the Brazilian military was surprised at the change. According to media reports, the leaderships of the army, navy and air force are said to have come together for a high-level meeting shortly after Jair Bolsonaro’s personnel decisions. So far, the military has been one of the most important pillars of power for the Brazilian president. Several important posts in his government are occupied by members of the army.
Bolsonaro’s new partners are primarily concerned with power, not political goals
On Monday evening, Bolsonaro announced further personal details on Twitter: His chief of staff, the minister of justice and the attorney general are also to be exchanged.
The Brazilian president, observers suspect, could make jobs for politicians from the so-called center, a conglomerate of different parties that are less dedicated to political goals than to maintaining their own power and access to posts.
Bolsonaro and these center parties have been drawing closer together for a long time. The president wants to use their votes to secure his power and at the same time prevent impeachment proceedings. In addition to the pandemic, the ailing economy is also putting him under pressure. In addition, with ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a powerful rival recently returned to the political arena of Brazil.