Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro shook up the top levels of his administration Monday with the exit of his foreign and defense ministers, as the far-right leader faced mounting pressure from a deadly surge of Covid-19.
Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva announced his surprise departure in a brief statement, hours after a government source told AFP that Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo had submitted his resignation amid controversy over the government’s problems securing more Covid-19 vaccines.
Azevedo e Silva, a 67-year-old army reserve general, and Araujo, a 53-year-old career diplomat, had both been in their posts since Bolsonaro took office in January 2019.
Azevedo e Silva’s exit, unlike Araujo’s, was unexpected, and speculation swirled over the reason.
What is clear is that Bolsonaro has been on a purge, amid growing dissatisfaction — including from key allies in the business sector — over his handling of a pandemic that has now claimed more than 312,000 lives in Brazil, the second-highest death toll worldwide, after the United States.
Last week, he installed his fourth health minister of the pandemic, and the heads of state-run oil company Petrobras, state electricity company Eletrobras, state-controlled bank Banco do Brasil and the national statistics institute, IBGE, have all fallen since the start of the year.
“The government is extremely fragile, as demonstrated by the instability at the top,” said professor Mauricio Santoro of Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ).
“It’s safe to say there is a crisis in the administration, beyond one or two ministries.”