Brazilian President Sacks a Lula Man and Gets a New Lula Man as Defense Minister

New Brazilian Defense minister Celso Amorim Brazil’s Defense minister Nelson Jobim (now former minister) was in Tabatinga in the state of Amazonas on the border with Colombia at work when Palácio do Planalto (Brazil’s White House) announced at about 8 pm that he had lost his job.

Jobim was in the company of vice president Michel Temer, the minister of Justice José Eduardo Cardozo and the minister of Strategic Affairs Moreira Franco, for the launch of the Border Security program. In his last act as minister he had earlier signed a security agreement with Colombian authorities.

Shortly after the announcement, the head of the Presidential Communication Secretariat, Helena Chagas, said that Jobim had left Amazonas and was on his way back to Brasilia to meet president Dilma Rousseff. Chagas also reported that the new minister of Defense would be Celso Amorim, the former minister of Foreign Relations in the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva administration.

Ambitious, controversial and outspoken, Nelson Jobim has been a politician (as a leader of the PMDB when the 1988 Constitution was drawn up he was a first term deputy); a jurist (he was a member of the Supreme Court where he served as Chief Justice for two years (2004-06); the position rotates in Brazil) and also a cabinet member (he was minister of Justice during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, 1995-97). He has also been mentioned as a candidate for the presidency or maybe vice presidency.

But four years ago Lula made him minister of Defense at a very difficult moment in aviation, which is run by the military in Brazil. There had been two terrible airplane accidents, the situation was chaotic in the airports and there was the beginning of a mutiny in the ranks of air traffic controllers, who are Air Force enlisted men in Brazil.

Jobim is credited with improving a situation that remains enormously deficient. However, his triumph at the ministry of Defense was in maintaining good relations with the military high command – never easy for a civilian.

He visited Haiti where Brazil commands the United Nations stability force in combat fatigues. Jobim also took the general’s side in the dispute regarding the Amnesty Law and punishment for violent acts perpetrated by “agents of the state” (military personnel) during the dictatorship (1964-85).

Last year he moved decisively against the National Human Rights Plan (PNDH-3) that would have revoked the Amnesty law, tried soldiers for human rights violations and installed a Truth Commission. After Jobim threatened to resign, Lula sent the PNHD-3 back to the drawing board for changes in the text.

Jobim had a close relationship with president Lula, something he did not have with Dilma Rousseff. With big plans to modernize Brazil’s armed forces, he also had a budget that was in tatters after recent cuts.

However, recently, Jobim, the military commander, has been acting like a loose cannonball. In June, speaking at a ceremony honoring the 80th birthday of FHC, Jobim cited the Brazilian playwright, Nelson Rodrigues, “Nowadays idiots have no modesty.”

The phrase was considered a veiled criticism of the PT administration. Last week, on a TV talk show, Jobim revealed that in last year’s presidential elections he voted for José Serra, the opposition candidate who ran with Dilma Rousseff, his chief, who ended up winning the election.

On Wednesday, before he traveled to the Amazon, Jobim met briefly with president Rousseff and more or less apologized for that remark. But the Jobim deed that really ruffled feathers in Brasília was an interview in the monthly magazine, Piauí, in which the minister took some potshots at colleagues in the Dilma Rousseff cabinet .

In the interview, Jobim called the new minister of Institutional Relations, Ideli Salvatti, “very weak” (her job is liaison with politicians). Jobim also said that the new Chief of Staff, Gleisi Hoffman, “did not know Brasília.”

In the same interview he said that when president Dilma asked him if an assistant he wanted would be useful he responded that he told her that he was the person to decide that.

The Piauí interview hits the newsstands this Friday, August 5, but Dilma got an advance copy yesterday and after reading the whole interview is reported to have said angrily, “This is all I need,” and decided he had to go. One of the reasons the president was angry was that Jobim did not even mention the interview when they spoke before he left for Tabatinga.

The Dilma Rousseff administration has now been in power for seven months and Jobim is the third minister to leave – all of them holdovers from the Lula era. The first to go was Antonio Palocci, the Chief of Staff, who had just returned to a top post in government after having been forced to resign in March 2006, due to shadowy behavior.

Palocci resigned again on June 7, 2011, for suspected influence traffic. He was followed, last month, by the minister of Transportation, Alfredo Nascimento, who was accused of corruption.

The new minister of Defense, Celso Amorim, is a diplomat. He was head of the Brazilian mission to the United Nations in 1995. In 1999, he was head of the Brazilian office at the World Trade Organization. In 2001, he was Brazilian ambassador to the United Kingdom.

He served as minister of Foreign Relations from 2003 to 2010.

Jobim, 65, took the Defense post in 2007 under then-president Lula and oversaw a still-pending multi-billion tender for 36 new fighter jets.

“Jobim presented his resignation to President (Dilma) Rousseff on Thursday night at the president’s office and she accepted,” Communications Minister Helena Chagas told reporters.

Amorim, 69, was a key player in Lula’s foreign policy successes. He is best known for efforts to improve ties among developing nations, tightening relations with Latin American countries, and for helping organize the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Foreign Policy magazine has called Amorim the “world’s best foreign minister.”

The BRICS group has emerged as a possible counter-force in international affairs to Western nations and the global financial crisis has enhanced its clout.

Leaders from all five countries, which account for 40% of the world’s population, met last at a summit in April and they have coordinated on issues from climate change to trade and the war in Libya.

Earlier Thursday, Jobim issued a statement denying the quotes from the Piauí interview but a government source said that President Rousseff considered his declaration “beyond what is reasonable.”

Over the past year, Brazil has repeatedly delayed making a decision on the jet fighter tender, estimated between 4 to 7 billion dollars and pitting the US Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet against France’s Rafale by Dassault and Sweden’s Gripen NG by Saab.

In February, Jobim announced that Brazil would make no decision in the “short term” on the jet fighter tender due to budget cuts.

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