Brazilian Air Crisis Is About to Bring Defense Minister Down

Brazilian Defense Minister’s leftist past together with his blunders in dealing with Brazil’s worst air accident ever and its aftermath, a rebellion among air controllers, which is crippling air travel in the country, are catching up with him.

Military and civilian leaders in Brazil seem to agree that it’s time for him to step down. According to daily O Estado de S. Paulo, sources close to president Lula say that the continuance of the octogenarian Waldir Pires in the post of Defense Minister is more and more unsustainable each passing day.

The military commanders who are his subordinates are having a hard time stomaching him and he hasn’t helped to smooth things up. He is being seen as a leftist and union man trying to introduce some behaviors that are anathema to the military life.

He is also chastised for dragging his feet in a never-ending investigation of the Boeing accident over the Amazon, which should take a least 10 more months.

Aides close to the president believe that the minister ended up being swallowed by the air traffic control crisis that has generated a huge chaos in the Brazilian airports with flight delays of up to 20 hours.

His defense of the controllers and suggestion that air control, which is now handled by the Air Force, be handed over to civilians hasn’t ingratiated him with the military who accuse the defense minister of promoting rebellion in a hierarchical military structure.

Pires is having a hard time convincing his military subordinates that air control should be in the hands of civilians.  The Brazilian brass sees this idea just another example of the minister’s perceived slant to the left that he has been showing throughout his tenure.

Pires has become Defense Minister on March 31. Until then and since the start of the Lula administration on January 1st, 2003, he was Brazil’s General Comptroller, a cabinet level post that put him in charge of fighting corruption in the federal government.

Lula advisors believe that he should be sent back to that position while they look for someone with a more military friendly demeanor to substitute him in the Defense. 
 
Francisco Waldir Pires de Souza was born in Acajutiba, in the state of Bahia, on October 21, 1926. He started college in 1945 studying at the Bahia Law School, where he led the anti-Nazi movement in Bahia’s Student Union. By 1949 he had become a lawyer.

He has had a long political career. He has been a House representative and the governor of the state of Bahia. During the Sarney administration, he was the Social Security minister (1985-86).

He began his political career as a state deputy (1955-59), as a member of the PTB party. In 1959, as a member of the PSD party, he was elected a federal deputy.

Pires worked for the Jango Goulart government and due to his opposition to the military dictatorship, he lost his political rights when the army overthrew the government in 1964. He went into exile in Uruguay and France, only returning to Brazil in 1970.

In 1991, Pires was once again elected a federal deputy from Bahia as a member of the PDT party. But he left that party after a conflict with the party’s leader Leonel Brizola.

After joining the ruling PT party, he was once again elected a federal deputy in 1998. He is a teacher of constitutional law at the University of Brasí­lia (UnB).

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