Army, navy, air force heads exit in new turmoil
Published: Mar 31, 2021 07:58 PM
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro will replace all three commanders of Brazil's armed forces, his government said on Tuesday, the latest upheaval in Brasilia as the far-right leader braces against mounting criticism over an explosion of COVID-19 deaths.

Demonstrators take part in a protest against Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Tuesday. Photo: VCG

Demonstrators take part in a protest against Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Tuesday. Photo: VCG

The exit of the army, navy and air force chiefs came a day after Bolsonaro overhauled his cabinet, replacing the foreign, defense and justice ministers as well as his chief of staff, attorney general and government secretary.

On March 15, he also installed his fourth health minister of the pandemic.

The turmoil comes as the government struggles to control a deadly surge of COVID-19 in Brazil, which has already killed more than 317,000 people in the country - pushing many hospitals to the brink of collapse - with a record 3,780 deaths in the last 24 hours.

Bolsonaro, who comes up for re-election in October 2022, faces sliding popularity and growing pressure over his handling of the pandemic, including from key allies in Congress and the business world.

His attacks on lockdowns, face masks and vaccines have become fodder for critics, with Brazil ranking only country behind the US in terms of number of cases and fatalities.

The defense ministry did not give a reason for the departure of Army General Edson Pujol, Navy Admiral Ilques Barbosa and Air Force Lieutenant-Brigadier Antonio Carlos Bermudes.

Some Brazilian media reported the trio had resigned in protest at Bolsonaro's surprise decision to replace defense minister Fernando Azevedo.

"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 Sao Paulo.

Azevedo himself resigned because he was "uncomfortable with Bolsonaro's use of the military for political ends," journalist Merval Pereira wrote in newspaper Globo.

There were signs the armed forces commanders were uncomfortable, too, particularly Pujol. He said in November 2020 that the military "doesn't want to get involved in politics."

The army chief had also called fighting COVID-19 "our generation's most important mission" and once shunned Bolsonaro's outstretched hand at an official ceremony, offering a socially distanced elbow bump instead.
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