Brazilian foreign, defense ministers out in shakeup of Bolsonaro cabinet
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday lost two ministers when his combative Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo stepped down over struggles to get coronavirus vaccines, sources said, and Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva unexpectedly quit.Reuters | Brasilia | Updated: 30-03-2021 03:02 IST | Created: 30-03-2021 02:49 IST
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday lost two ministers when his combative Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo stepped down over struggles to get coronavirus vaccines, sources said, and Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva unexpectedly quit. The departure of two ministers in one day underlines the mounting pressure on Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain facing ever-louder calls to improve management of the pandemic and slow a wave of new cases pushing hospitals to the brink.
Araujo, a loyal ally of Bolsonaro, had been under pressure for weeks. Two government sources said he had tendered his resignation. He represents an ideological wing of the populist's administration whose attacks against China, environmentalists and the left were increasingly seen as noisy distractions. The departure of Azevedo e Silva was a surprise, given there were no rumors of his exit or rumblings of discontent. The president has placed current and former military officials throughout all levels of his government - leading to concerns that the military's reputation could suffer.
"During this time, I preserved the Armed Forces as institutions of state," Azevedo e Silva wrote in a ministry statement. "I leave in the certainty of a mission accomplished." Azevedo e Silva left at Bolsonaro's request, as part of a broader cabinet shakeup involving his chief of staff, according to two people familiar with the matter, who said he communicated the decision in a brief afternoon meeting.
Walter Souza Braga Netto, head of the office of the president's chief of staff, known as Casa Civil, was likely to replace Azevedo e Silva, said one of the government sources. Following a meeting on Monday between Bolsonaro and a state delegation, Senator Jorginho Mello told journalists that the president said the full cabinet reshuffle would be announced later in the day.
"He said he was going to make some changes by this evening and we'll be informed soon," said Mello. Brazil's foreign ministry and presidential palace did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the shakeup.
Earlier this month, Bolsonaro replaced Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, an active duty general who had overseen most of the coronavirus response. He was widely blamed for a slow and patchy vaccine program. Bolsonaro has won international notoriety for his efforts to block lockdown measures, sow doubts over vaccines and push unproven cures like hydroxychloroquine.
In recent days, Araujo irked senior lawmakers who had become increasingly vocal in calling for him to be replaced. They were angered by his longstanding criticism of top trade partner China, a vaccine producing superpower. The diplomat's esteem for former U.S. President Donald Trump was also seen as an obstacle in persuading the Biden administration to free up supplies of U.S. vaccine for Brazil.
Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga, who was sworn in last Tuesday as the fourth person in the post in a year, told lawmakers on Monday he was hopeful of procuring U.S. vaccine stocks, and would be meeting with the U.S. ambassador to try and secure 20 million doses. Luís Fernando Serra, Brazil's ambassador to France, Senator Fernando Collor de Mello and Flávio Rocha, a retired admiral who advises Bolsonaro, are all in the running to become foreign minister, sources said.
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