Brazil names new armed forces commanders amid political tensions

Changes come after President Jair Bolsonaro, under pressure over COVID crisis, ordered a sweeping cabinet reshuffle.

Brazil's new navy, army and air force commanders - Paulo Sergio Nogueira de Oliveira, Almir Garnier and Carlos Almeida Baptista Junior - are seen in Brasilia on March 31 [Adriano Machado/Reuters]

Brazil has named new commanders of its armed forces, a day after President Jair Bolsonaro’s government said it would replace the heads of the army, navy and air force in a shake-up that raised concerns about the far-right leader meddling with the military.

In a news conference on Wednesday, Defence Minister Walter Braga Netto announced that Paulo Sergio Nogueira de Oliveira would take over the army, Almir Garnier the navy and Carlos Almeida Baptista Junior the air force.

It was Braga Netto’s first news conference since he was appointed to the post on Monday in a sweeping cabinet reshuffle.

As he announced the names on Wednesday – the anniversary of a 1964 coup that led to 21 years of military rule in Brazil – Braga Netto said the armed forces remained faithful to their constitutional mission.

“The military has not been found wanting in the past and will not be found wanting when the country needs it,” he said.

Political analysts have raised questions and concerns over this week’s changes, however.

“Since 1985, we haven’t had news of such clear intervention of the president with regard to the armed forces,” Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, told the AP news agency this week.


But all three military officers have lengthy service, easing fears among some analysts that Bolsonaro would try to appoint more junior personnel who could be more willing to politicise the armed forces.

Bolsonaro is facing widespread pressure to account for his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 317,000 people to date, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The president, who has downplayed the threat of the virus and opposed public health restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of infections, also replaced his justice and foreign affairs ministers this week.

He swore in his fourth health minister since the start of the pandemic earlier this month.

Also on Wednesday, the head of the World Health Organization’s Americas body warned that the surge in coronavirus cases in Latin America could be much worse than the one witnessed last year.

“Without preventive action, our region could face an upsurge even larger than the last one,” Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa Etienne told reporters during a news briefing.

She said the surge in cases is overwhelming Brazil’s healthcare network, where intensive care units are at more than 80 percent capacity in all but two states.

Meanwhile, Brazil, which has struggled to get COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate its population of 212 million people, on Wednesday approved Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose jab for emergency use.

The Anvisa federal health regulator said its board had unanimously approved the vaccine for use on priority groups, including healthcare providers and the elderly.

Brazil signed a deal with the United States company earlier this month to deliver 38 million doses of the vaccine but the doses will only start arriving in August.

This week, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said he planned to ask the US to help accelerate the delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines.

Brazil is expecting to receive 100 million doses of that vaccine this year, but the first delivery of two million jabs is only expected in May.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies