Brazil’s Bolsonaro fires defense minister: reports

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SAO PAULO

In a move received with surprise by many in Brazil’s capital, including in the Armed Forces, Brazil’s defense minister announced Monday that he is leaving office, the same day the country’s foreign minister announced his departure.

The reason for Fernando Azevedo e Silva’s move could be related to his refusal to align the Armed Forces with President Jair Bolsonaro’s positions on the coronavirus pandemic, local media reported. A close friend of Bolsonaro, the general was fired by the president, reports said. His resignation was announced in an official note released by his office.

“I leave [office]with the certainty of a mission accomplished,” he wrote.

The crisis between Bolsonaro’s ideological wing and the Armed Forces was aggravated by General Eduardo Pazuello’s string of mistakes and embarrassments as health minister. According to a prominent newspaper, the tension reached its peak when Bolsonaro said “my army” would not go to the streets “to force people to stay home.”

The paper reported that he may have asked Azevedo e Silva to leave office after the publication of an interview with General Paulo Sergio, who is responsible for the army’s health division. In the interview, Sergio pointed to the possibility of a third wave of COVID-19 in the country in the coming months and defended lockdowns, social isolation, working from home, masks and vaccines. Bolsonaro is a fierce critic of such measures.

The commander of the Army, General Edson Pujol, Navy commander Admiral Ilques Barbosa Junior and Air Force commander Brigadier Antonio Carlos Moretti Bermudez may also resign. The three met to take a joint position, according to the press. According to allies close to the president, Bolsonaro must choose their replacements by the end of the day.

With the departure of Azevedo e Silva, current Secretary of Government Luiz Eduardo Ramos should be appointed as chief of staff. The position of secretary of government, who is responsible for political articulation, must be handed over to a congressperson from the Centrao, a congressional party coalition and part of the president’s allied base in Congress. The name has not yet been announced, however.

Azevedo e Silva became the 13th minister under Bolsonaro to leave government. The most recent case was that of Ernesto Araujo, who stepped down from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under pressure from Congress. Before him, Eduardo Pazuello was the third health minister to lose his position during the pandemic. Abraham Weintraub stepped down as education minister after saying that Supreme Court justices should all be arrested. He faces an investigation.

One of the most impactful cases for the government was the departure of then Justice and Public Security Minister Sergio Moro, who was recently considered biased in the conviction of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. When Moro left, he suggested that Bolsonaro would be seeking to interfere with the Federal Police, which is under the command of the ministry that Moro headed, for the benefit of his own family. Moro’s charges are being investigated.

In his note, Azevedo e Silva, who is one of the closest allies of Bolsonaro, thanked his now former boss and said he has dedicated “total loyalty over these more than two years” to the president.

Azevedo e Silva was chosen by Brazil’s far-right leader in 2018 while still in the transition period to the current administration.

“During this period, I preserved the Armed Forces as State institutions,” the general said. He also extended his “recognition and gratitude” to the commanders of the Navy, Army and Air Force “and their respective forces, who never measured efforts to meet the needs and emergencies of the Brazilian population.”

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