Brazil military chiefs resign in new crisis for Bolsonaroon March 31, 2021 at 5:48 am

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Brazil’s far-right president is under pressure over his handling of the Covid pandemic.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro is seen after a meeting with Brazil's Lower House Arthur Lira at the Planalto Palace, in Brasilia, 30 March 2021

image copyrightReuters

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro is facing the biggest crisis of his presidency after the heads of the army, navy and air force all quit and the country recorded its highest Covid-19 daily death toll.

The unprecedented resignation of the defence chiefs is being seen as a protest at attempts by Mr Bolsonaro to exert undue control over the military.

Mr Bolsonaro’s popularity has plummeted over his response to Covid-19.

Nearly 314,000 people have died, with a new daily record of 3,780 on Tuesday.

There have been more than 12.5 million confirmed cases.

Brazil’s far-right president, who came to power two years ago, has consistently opposed quarantine measures, arguing that the damage to the economy would be worse than the effects of the coronavirus itself.

He has also told Brazilians to “stop whining” about the situation.

On Monday, the president was forced to reshuffle his cabinet after his foreign and defence ministers both quit.

It is reportedly the first time in Brazilian history that the chiefs of the army, navy and air force have stood down together over a disagreement with the president.

The three men – Gen Edson Leal Pujol, Adm Ilques Barbosa and Lt Brig Antonio Carlos Bermudez – resigned on Tuesday, a day after the president’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo was forced to quit following heavy criticism by lawmakers.

Mr Araújo was accused of poorly handling relations with China, India and the US, which lawmakers said resulted in Brazil having insufficient quantities of Covid-19 vaccine.

Defence Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva then quickly followed suit, prompting a cabinet reshuffle. The defence minister clashed with Mr Bolsonaro over loyalty of the armed forces, which he said should be directed to upholding the constitution rather than supporting the president personally.

The BBC’s Latin America correspondent, Will Grant, says Mr Bolsonaro is now facing his biggest political crisis since taking office in January 2019.

Combined with his mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, our correspondent adds, the pressure on the leader has ramped up significantly in recent weeks.

Mr Bolsonaro, who has previously raised doubts about vaccines and defended unproven drugs as treatment, said last week that he would make 2021 the year of vaccinations. “Very soon we’ll resume our normal lives,” he said.

Brazil has been struggling with the rollout of its vaccination programme across the vast country. So far, it has been using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and China’s CoronaVac, both of which require two jabs.

Brazil has also approved the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and placed orders for the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the Russian-made Sputnik V jab.

Brazil’s daily Covid-19 death toll passed 3,000 for the first time earlier this month, pushing hospitals close to collapse and raising fears that the country could become a threat to global public health.

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