Brazil President’s Courtship with a Coup Leads to Mass Resignation of Armed Forces Heads

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro Tuesday accepted the resignations of the current heads of the three armed forces – General Edson Pujol (Army), Admiral Ilqes Barbosa (Navy) and Brigadier Antonio Carlos Bermudes (Air Force) just one day after dismissing Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo and appointing Walter Braga Netto as his successor.

The Planalto palace made the announcement after a meeting Bolsonaro held with the outgoing military officers together with the departing and the arriving defense ministers. The names of the new chiefs of staff were not disclosed at that time.

“For the first time in history, the commanders of all three branches of the armed forces presented their joint resignation in disagreement with the president,” said newspaper Folha de S. Paulo. The most likely reason for such an event seemed to be the support of the three to Azevedo, who opposed Bolsonaro’s alleged drive to politicize the Armed Forces.

The daily O Globo wrote that Azevedo “was uncomfortable with the need to formally support President Bolsonaro’s attitudes when he used the Army for his political activities,” while Azevedo himself said upon leaving that during his tenure he had managed to preserve “the Armed Forces as State institutions.”

Bolsonaro, a former Army captain who is an admirer of the military dictatorship (1964-85), has placed military personnel in key positions of his administration since he came to power in January 2019.

In the demonstrations of his supporters, banners often appear demanding a military coup under his leadership, thereby settling their conflicts with Congress and the Supreme Court.

Instead, Bolsonaro has sought political shelter with traditional conservative parties amid the current economic and health crisis, with his quest for reelection in 2022 in mind.

The sudden and multiple changes are attributed to Bolsonaro’s need to make space for centrist politicians and to make sure he is surrounded by extremely loyal aides.

Vice President Hamilton Mourão, an Army general, ruled out that there is a risk of institutional breakdown in Brazil. “Zero, you can put whoever you want, there is no institutional rupture. The Armed Forces will always side with legality.”

Bolsonaro faces increasing pressure from his allies in Congress, who are calling for changes of course amid his contested management of a pandemic that has already killed more than 313,000 people in the country, with a weekly average of more than 2,600 dead, almost quadruple than at the beginning of the year.

On Monday, Bolsonaro gave his embattled administration a thorough shake-up, replacing the foreign, justice and defense ministers as well as his chief of staff, attorney general and government secretary. And last week, he also replaced former health minister Eduardo Pazuello, an army general with no medical experience, with cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga.

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