Brazil’s New Aviation Chief Hits Ground Running While Old One Laments

New Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim with President Lula Brazil's new defense minister and civil aviation chief is so pressed to show results amid a chaotic air transportation crisis in Brazil that he started making changes and giving orders even before being sworn in by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Nelson Jobim, 61, the new minister, is replacing Waldir Pires, 80, who in a little more than a year in the post got very little done besides making some enemies and creating a lot of controversy.

Jobim had already been invited twice before for the same job and twice he said no. The first invitation came in March, the other one, just last week, soon after the July 17 air tragedy, which killed at least 199 people. It was Brazil's deadliest air accident ever.

The minister says that his wife convinced him to accept the challenge on Tuesday night. He rolled his sleeve and started to work a few hours later, after a short night's sleep. 

A politician who twice served as elected House Representative for his state of Rio Grande do Sul, Jobim has been the Supreme Court chief during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, which preceded the Lula years. 

In his first interview as defense minister, Jobim announced that he will be putting his own people in key positions at ANAC (National Civil Aviation Agency) and Infraero. That was apparently one of demands he made: to have a free hand to make the reforms he sees fit. And Lula promised the new minister will have the money to make the necessary changes and improvements.

"If there is any need, I have a free hand," Jobim told reporters. "I have to define a diagnosis for the sector. I cannot decide what to do before getting this diagnosis."

According to the law, Jobim has no power to fire ANAC's president, Milton Zuanazzi. He and all ANAC's directors have a guaranteed post until 2011. Jobim expects that this can be changed. His argument is that the stability rule was created to guarantee results. If the brass is not getting results they should be ousted.

"We have to reestablish a system that works and not a system that depends on people to work." He vows that people will be chosen based on their capacity and not on their  loyalty to the president or their political party. "We will take the necessary steps and do whatever needs to be done to change. Today there is some conflict. We have a problem of command."

Zuanazzi, who was a councilman in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, has had his fitness for the post questioned. He graduated from college as a mechanical engineer, had post graduation in sociology and was studying to get a Masters Degree in Tourism when he was picked up to head the ANAC.

Jobim refused to set deadlines, but he promised that society will have all the answers to the questions it's asking. According to him, the ideal would be to bring the country back to the structure it had before September 2006, when the Gol plane collided with the Legacy over the Amazon killing 154 aboard and starting the current air crisis.

Blaming Brasí­lia

Writing in his Internet blog, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Cesar Maia, accused the Lula administration of coercing TAM to present possible technical troubles in the plane that crashed in Congonhas in a way that would exempt the government from blame. The company, in fact announced, soon after the tragedy, that the crashed Airbus, had one of its reverse thrusters turned off.

"I can state," wrote Maia,  "because I am a witness, that a high-ranking government official, contacted TAM's high management telling them to either find a good way out for the government or risk, according to the official, to be broken by government action." TAM at first, says Maia, was afraid that such an arrangement would raise its insurance premiums.

According to the mayor, the solution found by the airline company was "to give an explanation that, from the technical point of view and insurance market didn't change a thing." This way, argues Maia, the federal government had a honorable way out and TAM would still get its coverage, since the problem with a reverse thruster is quite common and doesn't represent any danger for the aircraft.

TAM called the mayor's accusation nonsense. The president's office classified the comments as "pure baloney" and asked Maia to name names.

Pires's Bitter Goodbye

Lula used his spokesman, Marcelo Baumbach, to praise Pires work which was called "extraordinary." The ousted minister had a talk with his chief before leaving the ministry. He revealed later that the conversation was "moving" and a dialogue between two people who respect each other.

Pires says that he told Lula: "President, there is a fury to hit you. Once again people are moving to hit you and your government. This is the same usual fury and this time they are using me to this end."

And he added: "I leave the ministry with honor, but what worries me is this lunacy that doesn't  accept the popular decision, that doesn't really respect the democratic institutions."

Pires said that he could not do the things people were asking from him: "As Defense minister I had no power over the air sector. This may change, but today the Defense Ministry has no attribution, mechanisms or power to act in this sector. So many who write and talk about this should know that; if they don't know they should."

"They use to say that I am 80 and that, therefore… I have 80 years of struggle for Brazil and of dignity. I am 80 and for more than 50 years I have been living and following this struggle closely, from within. A struggle to build institutions that make the life of our country just and decent. Brazil has an increasingly important position in the dialog for the preservation of the human civilization, for the invigoration of institutions that build peace."

Is he sad that he is leaving the ministry, a reporter asked.
His answer: "As it has been said repeatedly, I'm 80. Fights, you win them and you lose them and sometimes you don't accomplish a mission, but the roots are planted. I felt honored by this task in the autumn of my life, I could not finish it but the roots are planted."

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