Brazil Searches for New Defense Minister on Heels of Air Tragedy

Brazil's Planning Minister, Paulo Bernardo Things might change, but at this point it seems quite unlikely that Brazil's Defense Minister, Waldir Pires, will ride unscathed the latest storm on the heels of Brazil's deadliest air accident ever, June 17, which left at least 199 dead. The odds are that he'll be defenestrated.

Pires is in charge of the military, which in turn are in charge of Brazil's air transportation. Most of the air traffic controllers, for example, are military men.

The Brazilian media has been abuzz with rumors about who will be Pires's replacement. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's favorite, it's been said, was Nelson Jobim, who was Justice Minister during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration. He was invited but said no to this hot potato.

Lula then considered some shuffling, bringing Foreign Minister Celso Amorim while replacing him with José Viegas, a former Defense minister, who is also ambassador in Spain. Viegas resigned from Defense in 2004 after Lula refused to sack Army Chief General Francisco Albuquerque who had released a note praising the military regime that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Viegas wanted Albuquerque out.

Some Lula aides made the president see, however, that such a swap wouldn't be convenient since Amorim is internationally respected and has been heading the WTO's (World Trade Organization) Doha Rounds since Lula's first term of office, which started January 2003.

With Jobim and Amorim out of the competition, the president's next best choice is Paulo Bernardo, the current Planning minister. According to daily Folha de S. Paulo, two of Lula's close aides have already  sounded him out, but Bernardo still hasn't received an invitation from Lula to assume the post.

Bernardo is no foreign to the air sector. Earlier in March, he was the guy who intermediated the negotiations between a rebellious group of flight controllers and the government. He was the one who received the controllers' demands and negotiated a settlement in the name of the administration.

Despite an apparent success his intermediation was a big failure and didn't please anyone. The military protested that he had caved in to absurd demands. The controllers ended up empty handed when the government went back an reneged on every promise made by Bernardo. .

In case Bernardo doesn't get the job, still another option would be House Representative José Eduardo Cardozo, who is from São Paulo and belongs to the ruling PT (Workers Party).

Besides Pires' head another one that might roll is that of airport authority Infraero's president, brigadier José Carlos Pereira. Just yesterday, Pereira in response to criticism from Ifatca (International Federation of Air Traffic Controller’s Associations) that the international community should help Brazil solve its air transportation crisis, the brigadier said:

"There are some morons out there willing to interfere. Brazil doesn't need international help. They should look after their own air space and we will take care of ours."



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