Brazil appoints new military chiefs amid tensions with Bolsonaro By Reuters

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© Reuters. The Brazilian Defense Minister Walter Souza Braga Netto introduces the new military chiefs of the Brazilian armed forces in Brasilia

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BRASILIA (Reuters) – The Brazilian Ministry of Defense appointed new commanders of its armed forces on Wednesday, the day after the previous three chiefs were sacked as part of President Jair Bolsonaro’s unprecedented attempt to interfere with the military.

Paulo Sergio Nogueira de Oliveira will take over the army, Almir Garnier the navy and Carlos Almeida Baptista Júnior the air force, Defense Minister Walter Braga Netto said in his first press conference since taking office this week.

When he announced the names, Braga Netto said the armed forces had remained loyal to their constitutional mission.

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

All three military officers have long service, which allay some analysts’ fears that Bolsonaro might elect more junior staff who are more willing to politicize the armed forces.

Nogueira de Oliveira, who was the Army’s chief health officer, is a surprising choice after drawing Bolsonaro’s disdain for publicly celebrating how the force managed to keep the COVID-19 death rate at 0.13% – well below the 2.5% of the general population. He also advocated social distancing, urged the use of masks, and warned of a likely third wave of infections.

In stark contrast, Bolsonaro has railed against bans, voiced doubts about vaccines and promoted unproven “miracle” cures.

The new commanders are named on the anniversary of the Brazilian coup in 1964, which led to 21 years of military rule in the country.

Braga Netto issued a statement Tuesday describing the events of March 31, 1964, when the military took power in Brazil, as a “movement” rather than a coup. He said it should be “understood and celebrated” as part of the “historical development” of Brazil.

The abrupt changes in the armed forces following a shock reshuffle in the cabinet on Monday underscore the magnitude of the political and public health crises in Brazil, which is now the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They also mark a sharp shift in relations between Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain who piled his government with current and former military personnel, and the career officers who lead the armed forces.

On Wednesday, six potential presidential candidates including Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria and former Bolsonaro Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta wrote an open letter defending democracy.

“Men and women of this country who value FREEDOM, whether civilians or military, regardless of party affiliation, skin color, religion, gender or origin, must unite in defense of democratic consciousness. We will defend Brazil,” they wrote without attributing it mention Bolsonaro.

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