-Jair’s laxity sparks genocide debate
Foreign Desk Report
Sao Paolo: For 21 years, starting 1964, when Brazil was run by a military dictatorship, the men in uniform used propaganda to project an image of “Great Brazil” to the population. For those who refused to fall in line, the army had a grim message: “Brazil: love it or leave it”.
The military, which was forced to go back to the barracks in 1985 as the economy dived and people jammed the streets calling for democracy, has generally been above criticism. But now, as the biggest South American country faces a perfect storm of a healthcare disaster, economic collapse and social implosion, the most militarised government in the world, run by Jair Bolsonaro, a former paratrooper, is feeling the heat.
Last week, amid growing coronavirus infections and deaths, a judge of the Brazilian Supreme Court dropped a bombshell by saying that the army was associating itself with a “genocide”. “The army is associating with this genocide. It is not reasonable. It is necessary to put an end to this,” said Justice Gilmar Mendes as he blasted the government for packing the Ministry of Health with the military men at the cost of healthcare experts.
For the past two months, the ministry is being run by General Eduardo Pazuello, a serving officer with no healthcare experience. Since Bolsonaro fired Luis Mandetta, a popular health minister and his successor in the matter of 30 days, the president has shown no inclination of appointing a full-time minister. After Justice Mendes blasted the military, Mandetta also criticised the “military occupation” of his former ministry at the time of a pandemic. Before becoming president, Jair Bolsonaro had been a federal Congressman for more than three decades. But he never gave up his fascination for guns and admiration for military dictatorship.
In January 2019, when Bolsonaro moved into the presidential palace, he appointed many retired and serving generals in his Cabinet (the Brazilian law allows armed forces personnel to hold civilian positions).
Out of 23 ministers in the federal government, 10 are from the forces. According to the Federal Audit Bureau, there are 6,157 military personnel – in active duty or retired – holding civilian positions in Brazilian government.