Defense Minister Walter Braga Netto announced on Wednesday (31) the new commanders of the Armed Forces chosen by President Jair Bolsonaro. For the Army, General Paulo Sérgio Nogueira de Oliveira was appointed; for the Navy, squadron admiral Almir Garnier Santos; and for Aeronautics, Lt. Brig. Carlos de Almeida Baptista Júnior.
The announcement comes after a beginning of crisis between the Planalto and the military, which culminated in the resignation of the Defense Minister, Fernando de Azevedo e Silva, and the collective departure of the Armed Forces chiefs, which generated speculation about the motivations of the President of the Republic .
In a quick statement to the press, Braga Netto sought to reinforce the military’s commitment to the protection of democracy and the Federal Constitution. “The Brazilian Navy, the Brazilian Army and the Brazilian Air Force remain faithful to their constitutional missions of defending the Fatherland, guaranteeing constitutional powers and democratic freedoms. On this historic day, I reinforce that the greatest asset of a Nation is the guarantee democracy and the freedom of its people “,
Only one of the three new commanders of the Armed Forces – Navy and Air Force – was chosen based on the criterion of seniority in the military. In the barracks, there is a tradition that the choice of commanders obey the seniority of general officers of the last rank of the respective force – the so-called “four stars” with more time at the top of their career.
In the case of the Army, General Paulo Sérgio Nogueira was the third oldest in the seniority criterion. In the Navy, Admiral Almir Garnier was second on the seniority list. In barracks, the definition of a younger, or “modern” name, as the military calls it, is often seen as a serious breach of military tradition.
Despite this, Bolsonaro’s choice outside the age-old criterion is not unprecedented. In 2015, then President Dilma Rousseff (PT) appointed General Eduardo Villas Bôas to the command of the Army. He was also the third oldest in his career, but to this day he is seen with great respect among the military.
By choosing names without meeting the criterion of seniority, Bolsonaro runs the risk of aggravating the discomfort caused in the last 48 hours in the Armed Forces. But regardless of that, it is not expected among the military that the new commanders will give the president the desired political alignment.
Until then Paulo Sérgio Nogueira was head of the Army’s general personnel department. Interestingly, an interview given by the general to the newspaper Correio Braziliense last Sunday (28th) was pointed out as the last straw in the process of replacing the defense minister. To the newspaper, Nogueira defended the use of masks, the home office and social isolation as preventive measures against Covid-19, in a clear conflict with what President Jair Bolsonaro thinks.
Overruled in the choice, the oldest general at the top of the Army, General José Luiz Freitas, praised the choice in a publication on social networks. “The new Army Commander, Gen Paulo Sérgio, was chosen, an exceptional exemplary human and professional figure. As it could not be otherwise, we will remain united and cohesive, working tirelessly for the Army of Caxias and for Brazil! ”, He posted on Twitter.
Bolsonaro was dissatisfied with minister and army commander
The changes at the top of the Armed Forces take place after the three former commanders – Edson Leal Pujol (Army), Ilques Barbosa (Navy) and Antônio Carlos Bermudez (Air Force) – have surrendered their positions on Tuesday (30). The simultaneous delivery of positions was unprecedented in the country’s recent history and was interpreted as a sign of dissatisfaction of the active military with the Bolsonaro government.
The delivery of positions, in turn, occurred a day after the departure of General Fernando Azevedo e Silva from the Ministry of Defense. The former Minister of the Civil House, General Walter Braga Netto, a member of the “hard core” of the Planalto Palace, took over the portfolio.
Azevedo e Silva had opposed Bolsonaro on several occasions. The president is said to have asked the then minister for public demonstrations in support of government positions. Azevedo e Silva understood that this would characterize the Armed Forces’ direct involvement with government policy and refused. As a result, his departure was seen as inevitable.
The former army commander had also entered a collision course with Bolsonaro on several occasions in recent months. During a visit to the Southern Military Command (CMS), in Porto Alegre, the president reached out, but received elbows – following the medical recommendation – to greet and avoid contamination by Covid-19.
Another friction between the former army commander and Bolsonaro occurred during the episode in which the president spoke about the use of “gunpowder” when “the saliva ends”. It was Bolsonaro’s reference to a possible abandonment of Brazil to diplomacy to resort to war if the US of today’s President Joe Biden decided to intervene in the Amazon. At the time, Pujol said, in reference to Bolsonaro’s statement, that Brazil’s military structure was inconsistent with the size of the country. Bolsonaro demanded from Azevedo e Silva a stance in relation to the then commander of the Army.
Pujol also caused Bolsonaro of dissatisfaction when he called the struggle against Covid-19 “greatest mission of his generation” in a video posted on the official account on Twitter Army, at a time when the president downplayed the pandemic.
The general also went so far as to claim that military personnel had to stay out of politics. “We do not want to be part of the governmental policy or politics of the National Congress and much less do we want the policy to enter our barracks, inside our barracks. The fact that, eventually, military personnel are called to assume government positions, is the exclusive decision of the administration of the Executive “.
The exchanges in the Ministry of Defense and in command of the three forces were the result of Bolsonaro’s climate of dissatisfaction. “The problem was Pujol’s ‘exemption’. [agora ex-ministro da Defesa] Fernando [Azevedo e Silva] he took no action, pushed with his belly and was the first to leave. In the end, the four were fired, “says a palatial military interlocutor – officially, however, it has been reported that military commanders have surrendered their positions.
What Bolsonaro wants with the new commanders of the Armed Forces and Defense
By changing the defense minister and the commanders, Bolsonaro makes clear the intention of having the military armed forces at the top of his policy aligned. To those closest to him, the president denies the intention to politicize the institution, but asks for support in defense of some guidelines, such as constitutional guarantees – such as freedom of movement, restricted by measures such as the curfew instituted by some governors.
The Supreme Federal Court (STF) is, in the opinion of some soldiers, usurping the prerogatives of the President of the Republic and handing over all policies to combat the pandemic to the states. “The Supreme Court is transforming the country into a confederation, taking the president’s authority with a flick. Each state does what it wants,” criticizes a military interlocutor.
Bolsonaro’s expectation is that commanders of Forces and Braga Netto will sometimes be able to position themselves as did General Eduardo Villas Bôas, former army commander, in 2018, when he expressed concern about the possible release of former President Lula on trial of a habeas corpus in the STF.
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