A major reshuffling of the government continues in Brazil as the Ministry of Defense announced that the commanders of the army, navy and air force will each be replaced.
The shake-up began Monday when Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo tendered his resignation. A few hours later, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva said that he too was leaving the government.
Brazil’s right-wing populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, is under intense pressure and mounting criticism as Brazil’s coronavirus cases spin further out of control. The departures accompany lawmakers’ threats to impeach Bolsonaro as well as his dropping popularity with the public.
As NPR’s Philip Reeves has reported, the country is now widely seen as the epicenter of the pandemic. More than 313,000 people have died there — more than any country but the United States.
Brazil reported 526,089 new cases over the past week, and 18,441 new deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker. It saw a record high number of cases on March 25, when there were more 100,000 new confirmed cases in one day. The following day, 3,650 deaths from COVID-19 were reported.
The dismissal of the armed forces chiefs was announced Tuesday at a meeting attended by the newly appointed defense minister, Walter Braga Netto; Azevedo, the former minister; and the departing commanders, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry.
Bolsonaro is a retired army captain, and he has packed his government with military officials. He spoke recently about using the military to oppose lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions. When Azevedo left on Monday, he made clear he’s against politicizing Brazil’s military; now the service chiefs are following him out of the administration.
The resignation of the far-right Araújo as foreign minister came after the country’s diplomats and members of Congress accused him of tarnishing Brazil’s standing and putting it in a poor position to obtain vaccines from other countries.
As The Guardian noted, under Araújo, Brazil fell in line with nationalist leaders such as former President Donald Trump and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The country lost its reputation for taking climate change seriously, and it also damaged its relationship with China.
Bolsonaro, who himself recovered from COVID-19, has in the past referred to the coronavirus as the “communavirus” and as “a little flu.” He has not mounted a significant national response to the pandemic and has not introduced any national lockdown measures. His administration also sought to block restrictions put in place by state governments, though that effort was rejected by the Supreme Court.
There are concerns that Brazil’s negligent approach to the virus has allowed new variants to evolve that will likely spread beyond its borders.
NPR Brazil correspondent Philip Reeves contributed to this report.