Top Military Leader in Brazil Warns New Defense Minister Against Left-Wing Actions

Brazilian retired general Augusto Heleno Brazilian Augusto Heleno,  a retired general and former commander of UN forces in Haiti sent a message to the new Defense minister Celso Amorim warning him to avoid giving the Armed Forces command a ‘left-wing ideological imprint.’ 

“I would like to remind the minister that the (Brazilian) Armed Forces are State institutions, non political, non partisan. Any ideological commitment has a highly negative repercussion in the military,” warned retired General Augusto Heleno in an interview with daily Folha de S. Paulo.

Heleno is a respected officer and is considered the informal spokesman for the Army, since having been commander of MINUSTAH (UN forces in Haiti) from 2004 to 2005.

Heleno retired in 2008 and at the time was Commander of the Amazon area, but openly criticized the administration of President Lula for its ‘chaotic’ Indian policy in the rain forest, particularly having granted government land to several communities in the area. He was immediately removed.

To Brazilian military eyes, Celso Amorim from the ruling Workers Party is seen as left-wing and several top officers object to his eight years performance as Foreign Secretary of Lula, particularly concerning the country’s relations with Venezuela and Cuba.

President Dilma Rousseff defended the naming of the former Foreign Secretary in Defense for having developed an “independent foreign policy,” which elevated Brazil’s international presence.

“Amorim takes office in Defense after having been responsible for an independent foreign policy that put Brazil at the same level as the leading nations of the world. It’s a level in which Brazil respects all and demands respect from all,” said the Brazilian president.

According to the Brazilian press, president Rousseff tried to convince the military not to make comments on her pick of Celso Amorim in Defense. She asked for ‘normal institutional relations’. Nevertheless retired General Heleno was interviewed.

“Although she did not speak directly, the military are under the impression that the controversial Amnesty Law of 1979 will not be reviewed,” pointed out some of the more conservative media in Brazil.

The 1979 amnesty law impedes the courts from judging military and police personnel allegedly involved in human rights violations during the military dictatorship that lasted from 1964 to 1985.

Brazilian Foreign minister Antonio Patriota said that naming Celso Amorim in Defense will help strengthen Brazil’s global effort and the campaign for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

“We are a non permanent member of the Security Council and we have contributed to establish bridges between different world positions. I’m certain that with Amorim in Defense we are going to further invigorate Brazil’s international role.”

Amorim will be formally invested this week but has already met with the commanders of the three forces and with the Chief of Staff. The meeting according to an Executive release lasted almost two hours and was described as ‘productive.’

Following the meeting Amorim was quoted saying he was not going to “re-invent the wheel” and confirmed his commitment with the 2008 National Defense Strategy.

Amorim replaces Nelson Jobim, who was first named in Defense by former president Lula. In an interview he is quoted referring to the new cabinet minister and the institutional relations officer (links with Congress) as weak and inexperienced.

More Corruption at the Top

The Brazilian congressional opposition promised to block legislative work in both Houses until the government accepts the creation of a Special Investigation Commission, CPI, to look into alleged corruption practices in several ministries from the administration of President Dilma Rousseff.
The initiative is in response to the recent ousting of three cabinet ministers and last Saturday’s resignation of the Executive Secretary from the Agriculture Secretary Milton Ortolan, following on press exposures.

The CPI task if finally created is to investigate the naming of relatives and friends in top paid jobs at Conab (Brazil’s National Supply Company) which depends from the Agriculture ministry.

According to Brazilian press reports, the naming took place when current Agriculture minister Wagner Rossi was head of Conab in June 2007, and many of those resolutions have his signature.

Rossi belongs to the ruling coalition of ten parties’ main associate, PMDB and is a close ally of Vice-president Michel Temer. All the names involved in the claim published by the Brazilian press are related to PMDB Congress members and their relatives or former wives or mistresses.

“We are not going to vote any issues in any of the Houses to protest the government’s actions to prevent a formal investigation. We are going to radicalize our position because we want some sensitivity from the political class”, said ACM Netto, an opposition Lower House member.

Neto added that a formal complaint involving the Agriculture ministry will be filed with the Attorney General’s Office.

However Neto admits that the ruling coalition is so vast that it is virtually ‘armored’ against any such actions as naming an investigation commission. “But only an investigation commission can bring to light all these events”.

“We need to check what is going on in many ministries. We know that after the ‘mensalão’, another way the government is using to please its allies with favors is distributing jobs and well paid posts. This has led to an endemic corrosion in most ministries”, said Duarte Nogueira head of the opposition in the Lower House.

The ‘mensalão’ refers to the first government of former President Lula da Silva when members of Congress were paid a generous monthly stipend to support government legislation since they lacked sufficient votes.

When this was exposed in 2006, several ministers, advisors of Lula da Silva and most of the board of the ruling Workers Party was forced to resign, although many were not left abandoned but given other opportunities in the grotesque Brazilian bureaucracy.

“The original intention of a CPI was to investigate corruption and nepotism allegations in the Transport ministry, but now we must add Agriculture”, said Demóstenes Torres, an important Senator from the opposition.

So far three ministers have stepped down from President Rousseff’s cabinet: first of all was cabinet chief Antonio Palocci over enrichment allegations (he was also involved in the ‘mensalão’ scheme of Lula da Silva first presidency); Transport minister Alfredo Nascimento was forced to resign following claims in the press he collected a percentage on public works contracts; Nelson Jobim, the respected Defense secretary and former Justice had to step down following derogatory statements about the new cabinet chief and institutional relations, both women and close allies of Ms Rousseff.

Finally last Saturday a top official at the agriculture ministry tendered his resignation following corruption allegations published in the press.

Brazilian newsmagazine Veja reported that Executive Secretary Milton Ortolan had allowed a lobbyist to set up an office within the ministry to help businesses get contracts in exchange for illicit payments. The agriculture ministry said Ortolan tendered his “irrevocable” resignation but denied wrongdoing.

This is another blow for President Rousseff’s seven-month old government. She has lost three cabinet ministers in the last three months and another could fall in coming days, all of which is straining relations with members of her coalition and slowing economic reforms in Congress.

Events are also seen as a ferocious internal struggle between the two main partners of the ruling coalition: the Workers Party of President Rousseff and Lula da Silva and the PMDB that holds the Vice-presidency, controls the Senate and several important governorships.

Further more without the PMDB it is hard to see how President Rousseff could have legislation approved.
The several incidents have forced former president Lula da Silva to openly come out in support of Ms Rousseff.



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