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In Brazil, the political crisis eclipses Covid-19


A day after the biggest cabinet reshuffle since President Jair Bolsonaro took office, the three commanders of the Brazilian armed forces have been ousted, fueling speculation that Bolsonaro is losing support from the military and seeking to assert control, amid mounting criticism of his handling of the pandemic.

“The army refuses political affiliation and Bolsonaro replaces the heads of the armed forces,” O Globo newspaper said. In its title, Folha de S. Paulo called it “the greatest military crisis since 1977”, when there was a similar institutional divide during the military dictatorship.

Military departures were particularly scrutinized as Bolsonaro, a former captain, made much of his ties to the armed forces, filling his cabinet with generals and even celebrating the military dictatorship that once ruled the country.

Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, retired army general and former senior official in Bolsonaro’s administration, told CNN-affiliated CNN Brasil that while the ministerial changes are normal, “it is not normal to replace the three commanders of the armed forces without a reason, an explanation. or any information given to the company. “

The political crisis comes as Brazil struggles to control the latest and deadliest Covid-19 surge to date. A record 3,780 people died on Tuesday, with more than 90% intensive care unit occupancy in 14 of Brazil’s 26 states. Brazilians have increasingly taken their anger at Bolsonaro, who has played down the virus from the start.

Bolsonaro recently invoked the military as he attacked state governors for lockdown measures, warning: “My army will not take to the streets to ensure obedience to the governors’ decrees.”

His approval rating reached historic lows and cost him the support of allied parties in Congress. The cabinet reshuffle was aimed at bolstering support by giving key ministerial positions to these parties and replacing ailing Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo.

Araujo had previously been criticized by Congress for its antagonistic relationship with China, not only a key trading partner, but also a major supplier of raw ingredients in vaccines used in Brazil.

But the larger reshuffle came as a surprise, especially Bolsonaro’s decision to replace former defense minister, retired General Fernando Azevedo e Silva. Relations had grown strained in recent weeks and in his resignation letter Azevedo e Silva pointedly declared that he had “preserved the armed forces as state institutions”.

Bolsonaro’s Communications Minister Fabio Faria insisted the recent staff changes did not reflect a major split. “There is no change of position in relation to the armed forces,” he told CNN Brasil. “The president is a soldier and relations with the military are very close.”

Faria added that there would be a “smooth transition” when the new commanders are appointed. Traditionally, the president selects commanders from a list of names provided by the armed forces.

In fact, Bolsonaro replaced the outgoing general in the defense ministry with another: Walter Souza Braga Netto, the president’s former chief of staff. And one of his first actions as minister on Tuesday was to call the 1964 military intervention that led to a 21-year dictatorship in Brazil a “movement” that must be “understood and celebrated”.

But according to Carlos Melo, professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic has created problems with many military personnel.

“It was obvious to (Bolsonaro) that he didn’t have the dominance over the Defense Ministry he wanted and he’s trying to get it now, wrongly, without realizing that the armed forces belong to the state. , not in government, ”Melo told CNN Brasil.

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