Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro faces widespread criticism as coronavirus deaths and infections rise.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro replaced six ministers in sweeping cabinet reshuffle that comes as far-right leader faces off mounting pressure to report on his government’s handling of a growing COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the changes, Carlos Alberto Franco França has been appointed as the new foreign minister and Walter Souza Braga Netto has been confirmed as the new defense minister, Bolsonaro’s press office said in a statement on Monday evening.
They replace Ernesto Araújo and Fernando Azevedo e Silva respectively.
The announcement came after earlier reports that Araújo, a staunch ally of Bolsonaro, and Azevedo e Silva had resigned.
Bolsonaro, a COVID-19 skeptic who dismissed the need for public health measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, is under increasing pressure to tackle the pandemic more seriously and slow a second wave of infections that has pushed hospitals to the brink.
More than 312,000 people have died in Brazil from COVID-19, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, while the country has reported more than 12.5 million infections – after the United States.
Brazil’s health ministry said on Monday 1,660 coronavirus-related deaths and 38,927 new cases had been reported in the past 24 hours, as experts warned this week young Brazilians were particularly affected by the current wave of the pandemic.
The departure of Azevedo e Silva came as a surprise, given that there were no exit rumors or rumblings of discontent.
The president has placed current and former military officials at all levels of his government.
“During this time, I have preserved the armed forces as state institutions,” Azevedo e Silva wrote in a ministry statement. “I am leaving with the certainty of a mission accomplished.”
Earlier this month, Bolsonaro replaced Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, an active-duty general who had overseen most of the coronavirus response. He has been widely blamed for a slow and erratic vaccination schedule.
Brazil’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Araújo’s departure.
In recent days, Araújo has angered senior lawmakers who have raised their voices in demanding his replacement. They were angered by his long-standing criticism of China, the main trading partner.
The diplomat’s esteem for former US President Donald Trump was also seen as an obstacle to persuading the Biden administration to free up stocks of American vaccines for Brazil.