The commanders of Brazil’s army, navy and air force will be replaced, the government said on Tuesday, a day after President Jair Bolsonaro revised his cabinet with six changes, including a new defense minister.
The latest upheaval in the upper echelons comes as the far-right president faces increasing pressure over a deadly wave of Covid-19 in Brazil, where the average daily death toll has nearly quadrupled since the beginning of the year to more than 2,600 – driving many hospitals to the brink of collapse.
On Monday, Bolsonaro gave his challenged administration a thorough shake-up, replacing the foreign, justice and defense ministers, as well as his chief of staff, justice minister and secretary of state.
Last week, he also replaced former health minister Eduardo Pazuello, an army general with no medical experience, with cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga, his fourth health minister for the pandemic.
Bolsonaro, who goes to the polls in October 2022, faces a storm of criticism – including from key allies in Congress and business – over his handling of a pandemic that has now claimed nearly 314,000 lives in Brazil, the second-highest death toll worldwide. after the United States.
The Ministry of Defense did not give reason for the resignation of Army General Edson Pujol, Navy Admiral Ilques Barbosa and Air Force Lieutenant Brigadier Antonio Carlos Bermudes.
“The decision was announced at a meeting on Tuesday with the incoming Minister of Defense (Walter Souza) Braga Netto and the outgoing Minister Fernando Azevedo,” it said in a brief statement.
Some Brazilian media reported that the trio had resigned in protest of Bolsonaro’s surprise decision on Monday to replace Azevedo.
“For the first time in history, the commanders of all three branches of the armed forces presented their joint resignation in disagreement with the president,” the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo said.
‘Possible political crisis’
Former Defense Minister Azevedo himself resigned because “he was uncomfortable with the expectation that he would formally support President Bolsonaro’s stance when using the military for political purposes,” wrote journalist Merval Pereira in the Globo newspaper.
Bolsonaro, a former army captain, often boasts of having the army’s support and has packed his government with generals and officers.
He is openly nostalgic for the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, despite its violations of rights, including the kidnapping and torture of dissidents and suspected opponents.
There was no official word on the reasons for Azevedo’s resignation, but he said in a farewell statement that he was proud to have “preserved the armed forces as a state institution.”
Political analyst Oliver Stuenkel said the unrest in Brasilia was part of the jockeying before the election that has seen Bolsonaro strike a new alliance with a coalition of centrist parties in Congress, which is trying to strengthen his shot to win a second term next year.
The president looks set to face a tough election battle in 2022, especially after a Supreme Court earlier this month overturned former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s corruption convictions and cleared the way for him to put a potential run against Bolsonaro.
Polls place the popular but controversial left-wing leader (2003-2010) neck and neck with Bolsonaro, at a time when the coalition that brought the president to power in January 2019 is very worn out.
“The latest changes have a dual purpose: firstly because (Bolsonaro) needs to free up cabinet posts for his new centrist allies, and secondly because he is preparing for a possible political crisis and wants to surround himself with extremely loyal people, in particular in the armed forces, Stuenkel said.