‘Crisis was bound to happen’, says historian about layoffs in command of the Armed Forces

  • Rafael Barifouse
  • BBC News Brasil in São Paulo

March 31, 2021

Credit, Reuters

Photo caption, Bolsonaro errs in demanding political allegiance from the Armed Forces, says researcher

The resignations of the now ex-Defense Minister General Fernando Azevedo and the three commanders of the Armed Forces opened up an unprecedented crisis in the country, but that “was bound to happen”, says historian Carlos Fico.

“There was never the removal of three military commanders at the same time in the history of the Republic. It is serious”, evaluates the researcher and professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

The crisis in the Armed Forces was detonated on the eve of the anniversary of the 1964 military coup, this Wednesday (3/31). However, Fico does not believe in the possibility of a further rupture of the institutional order.

“I don’t know if it’s an excess of optimism, but from what I see from Congress, the Supreme Court and society in general, we realize that support for Bolsonaro is noisy, but most do not support him and would react.”

Author of several books, among them Or coup of 1964: decisive moments e History of Contemporary Brazil: from Vargas’ Death to the Present Day, Fico says that the Armed Forces entered into a “promiscuous” relationship with the government of President Jair Bolsonaro (without a party) and that this inevitably led to the current crisis.

“I speak promiscuity because there was an undue involvement with the government, with a flood of military personnel, an excessive and disproportionate presence. The crisis has been contracted ever since,” he says.

‘Supporting Bolsonaro was a risk for the Armed Forces’

Bolsonaro with Pujol

Credit, Reuters

Photo caption,

Military personnel have excessive presence in government, says Fico

The researcher points out that, on the one hand, the president judged himself in the right to demand political loyalty from the Minister of Defense and the Armed Forces.

“This is not convenient, it does not belong to him, and it is totally inadequate and unconstitutional for the Armed Forces, being a State body”, he says.

At the same time, the Armed Forces believed they could control Bolsonaro’s impulses and ravages.

“The military was naive. They intended to protect the government and were even decisive in the beginning, but later they were unable to avoid the extremist or absurd positions of the president regarding the pandemic or in the ideological and customs issues. It was an illusion,” says Fico.

The Defense portfolio was created in 1999 and was traditionally headed by civilian ministers. Since the Michel Temer government (2016-2018), however, it has been commanded by a military man.

The now ex-defense minister was keen to point out in the statement released on Monday (3/29) about his departure from the government that “preserved the Armed Forces as state institutions”.

Then, on Tuesday, the three commanders of the Armed Forces left office: Edson Pujol, commander of the Army, Ilques Barbosa, of the Navy, and Antônio Carlos Moretti Bermudez, of the Air Force.

The commanders’ departure is seen as an act of protest for Azevedo’s brief dismissal.

“Bolsonaro is authoritarian, with a coup bias and extremely incompetent. To bet his chips as a citizen or as a politician in this government would be a tremendous risk, imagine for the Armed Forces …”, says Fico

‘I can’t imagine a scam’

Fernando Azevedo

Credit, Reuters

Photo caption,

Azevedo said he worked to keep the Armed Forces as a state agency

Currently, Bolsonaro has military personnel in charge of six ministries, but that number has already been higher, not counting the military personnel who occupy other positions.

The UFRJ professor says that it was predictable that this large military participation in the government would lead to a wear and tear on the Armed Forces. “They made a tremendous mistake,” says Fico.

Even now with a name more aligned with Bolsonaro ahead of Defense, as is the case of General Walter Braga Netto, and if the same happens in the leadership of the Armed Forces, the researcher says that “he cannot imagine a coup”.

“(The military) are already in power. Whichever general occupies command of the Army – which is what matters – I don’t think he intends to venture out,” says Fico.

“There may be some kind of accommodation by the Armed Forces, to show that they are united around the chief, but I do not believe that there is a possibility of an institutional rupture.”

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