WORLD / AMERICAS
Brazil’s Bolsonaro overhauls cabinet amid untamed COVID-19 surge
Published: Mar 30, 2021 06:13 PM
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro makes a heart’s shape with his hands to supporters outside Alvorada Palace in Brasilia on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro makes a heart’s shape with his hands to supporters outside Alvorada Palace in Brasilia on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro made six Cabinet changes on Monday in the biggest ministerial reshuffle since he took office as pressure mounts on the far-right leader over his handling of the pandemic that has killed over 300,000 in the country.

Three ministers left the government, including Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo, a hawkish politician whose departure followed mounting criticism from lawmakers of his failure to guarantee additional COVID-19 vaccine supplies from China and the US.

Araujo had been under pressure for weeks. His verbal attacks on China, environmentalists and the left were increasingly seen as noisy distractions, especially given the change in US leadership and the worsening health crisis in Brazil.

Bolsonaro seized on the loss of one of his most loyal allies to shore up support in his Cabinet, putting his chief of staff in charge of the Defense Ministry and placing a federal police officer in charge of the Justice Ministry.

Latin America's largest economy is suffering its worst phase of the pandemic, with deaths topping 3,000 a day as a contagious new variant rages through the country. Bolsonaro has gained international notoriety for railing against lockdowns, sowing doubts on vaccines and pushing unproven "miracle" cures. 

Brazil trails only the US in total COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Amid growing discontent over coronavirus deaths and the return of leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to the political stage, a threat to Bolsonaro's reelection hopes in 2022, the president is eager to lock in political and popular support.

There had been no advance word of Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva's exit or rumors of discontent. The president has placed current and former military officers throughout his government, leading to concerns that the military's reputation could suffer.

In his place, Bolsonaro appointed his current chief of staff, Walter Souza Braga Netto, one of several former army generals who had moved into the government's inner orbit.

Carlos Alberto Franco França, a diplomat close to Bolsonaro, was named as the new foreign minister.
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