Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro Monday ordered a sizeable reshuffle of his cabinet by accepting resignations from six top aides and appointing their successors. The most significant changes involved Foreign Affairs, Defense and Justice, at a time when the government's image is weakened and under pressure due to the way the coronavirus pandemic has been handled.
The new officials are:
• Minister of Defense: General Walter Souza Braga Netto;
• Minister of Foreign Affairs: Ambassador Carlos Alberto Franco France
• Government Secretariat of the Presidency: Federal Deputy Flávia Arruda;
• Federal Attorney General: André Luiz de Almeida Mendonça.
• Civil House of the Presidency: General Luiz Eduardo Ramos Baptista Pereira;
• Ministry of Justice and Public Security: Federal Police Delegate Anderson Gustavo Torres.
Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo, whose tenure looked unsustainable from days back as he was under heavy accusations from opposition lawmakers for his alleged disrupting of the purchase of covid-19 vaccines due to his altercations with China. Araujo has served under Bolsonaro since the president's inauguration in January 2019.
Deputy Flávia Arruda became the third woman on the 22-member cabinet, as she was appointed to head the Presidency's Secretariat (an office equal in rank to that of a minister).
Last week, Bolsonaro also appointed the cardiologist Marcelo Queiroga to become the fourth Health Minister in a year instead of General Eduardo Pazuello, harshly criticized for handling the pandemic.
The new Foreign Minister, Carlos Alberto Franco França, aged 56, is a career diplomat who has served as a special advisor to the President. He also held positions at the Brazilian delegations in Bolivia, Paraguay and the United States. His academic achievements include a thesis on energy integration between Brazil and Bolivia.
Under Araújo, Brazil's diplomacy was the last to acknowledge Joseph Biden's victory in the US elections. The departing minister's riffs with China also hit the country's agribusiness trade. Last year, Araújo stood up for the president's son, Deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, who had been criticized by the Chinese ambassador in Brasilia for having announced that Brazil would seek a global alliance for a safe 5G, without spying from China. His critics blame these attitudes for a large part of the delays in obtaining supplies for vaccines against covid-19.
In his resignation letter, Araújo affirmed that this theory is a false and hypocritical narrative mounted against him, at the service of hidden interests, national and foreign; and that he made his position available for the benefit of the national transformation project headed by Bolsonaro.
Analysts have pointed out that Bolsonaro has been facing increasing pressure from his allies in Congress, who called for changes of course in the midst of his questioned management of the pandemic. In the case of Araújo, the most important cause of the fall was Brazil's difficulty in accessing vaccines, said political scientist Mauricio Santoro, from the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). But factors such as conflicts over the environment and its difficulties in dialogue with Brazil's main trading partners also weighed: China, the United States, Argentina, the European Union, he added.
According to diplomatic sources, BRICS partner India - a major covid vaccine manufacturer- also expressed its disappointment at Brazil's refusal to adhere to the New Delhi proposals to break the patents of the large laboratories that manufacture vaccines.
Vaccination in Brazil, which began in January, suffered several interruptions. So far, only 13.6 million people have been vaccinated with the first dose and 4 million with the second, in this country of 212 million inhabitants.