Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Brazilian military shakeup (March 31, 2021)

 The three commanders of Brazil's armed forces abruptly resigned yesterday, following President Jair Bolsonaro's ousting of the defense minister on Monday.  The shakeup has fueled rampant speculation about a breakdown in Bolsonaro's relationship with the military, a key part of the president's political alliance. Analysts expressed fears that Bolsonaro, who is increasingly unpopular and under political pressure, was moving to assert greater control over the military. (See yesterday's post.)

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has repeatedly said the military was on his side in political disputes. Earlier this month, he called it “my military.” The outgoing defense minister, Fernando Azevedo e Silva, said in his resignation letter that he had “preserved the armed forces as state institutions,” a nod at his effort to keep generals out of politics. (Associated Press

Leading centrist and leftist politicians came out in support of the former military chiefs Tuesday, saying their departures marked a step backward for Brazilian democracy, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Several analysts noted that support for Bolsonaro is stronger among lower rungs of the military, rather than the top leadership, and speculate that Bolsonaro's actions could aim to co-opt the armed forces. (New York Times and Página 12) The simultaneous resignation of all three commanders, apparently unprecedented since the country's return to democracy, came after they met with the new defense minister yesterday, Gen. Walter Souza Braga Netto. It’s unclear whether they resigned or were forced out, notes the Washington Post.

Ominously, Braga Netto's first statements in his new post celebrated today's anniversary of the 1964 military coup, which launched two decades of dictatorship that killed and tortured thousands of Brazilians. “The armed forces ended up assuming the responsibility for pacifying the country, facing the challenges to reorganize it and secure the democratic liberties that today we enjoy,” said Braga Netto.

Bolsonaro has given the military significant leadership roles in his administration, the "most militarized" since the country's democratization in 1985, reported the Washington Post last year. But military leaders have failed at several missions entrusted to them by Bolsonaro -- including overseeing the country's pandemic response and protecting the rainforest. And many senior figures within the military have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the identification between the military and the Bolsonaro government.

Beyond the military, Bolsonaro's cabinet changes this week suggested mounting political desperation in the presidential palace, as Brazilians increasingly blame the government for the sweeping Covid-19 crisis that has overwhelmed the country's health systems, reports the Washington Post.

More Brazil
  • Brazilian democracy is not the same for all its citizens. The term “disjunctive democracy” is used to describe the political democratization of the 1980s and 1990s because it contained both increased political rights and a continued violation of human rights. This disjunctive democratization was experienced differently according to race and class. -- The Conversation.
News Briefs

  • Nearly 5,000 Venezuelan refugees have crossed the Colombian border in the past week, fleeing intense and continuing armed clashes between Venezuela’s armed forces (FANB) and Colombian rebel groups. Witnesses have described human rights abuses at the hands of the FANB soldiers, including home break-ins and forced disappearances, though independent observers have so far not been able to verify the claims, reports the Guardian. Colombian officials say the clashes between the FANB and illegal armed groups is over drug trafficking routes, while Venezuelan authorities say Colombian guerrillas are part of a foreign offensive against Venezuela.
  • More armed clashes are to be expected, according to InSight Crime's Venezuela Investigative Unit. A history of armed clashes between Venezuela's military and armed groups "reflect a relationship marked by criminal gains and losses."
  • U.S. political realities mean "a peaceful and democratic solution in Venezuela is unlikely without some significant, public concessions from [President Nicolás] Maduro in the short term," argues Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights
  • Possible routes for Maduro to demonstrate "good faith" could involve: Naming a more credible National Electoral Council (CNE); Agreeing to come to terms with the opposition on COVAX; Broadening access to humanitarian assistance, including for the World Food Programme (WFP). "On their own, none of these partial agreements will restore democracy in Venezuela. But concessions from Maduro on one or all three of these points could allow the Biden administration to justify taking a bigger policy risk."
  • Diesel shortages stemming from harsh sanctions introduced at the end of the Trump administration threaten to paralyze Venezuela, warns Ociel Alí López in Nacla.
  • Tony Hernández, brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, has been sentenced by a U.S. court to life in prison after he was convicted over what prosecutors described as "state-sponsored drug trafficking." U.S. prosecutors said that Hernández fueled a flood of cocaine shipments into the United States by paying millions of dollars to top Honduran officials like his brother. (Guardian)
  • Honduran police turned back a U.S.-bound caravan of hundreds of migrants yesterday. The Honduran police set up a checkpoint near the Guatemalan border. Migrants who did not have the required paperwork were driven back to San Pedro Sula, reports Reuters. It is the second large caravan to set out from Honduras (and be thwarted) this year.
  • U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei yesterday on the issue of migration, the beginning of an announced outreach effort to tackle root causes of migration in Central America. (Reuters)  The choice of Northern Triangle leader -- neither Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele nor Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández -- is telling writes journalist José Luis Sanz. (See yesterday's post on the diplomatic challenges the White House faces on this initiative.)
  •  Some 300 residents of a remote stretch of the Mexico-Guatemala border held 15 Mexican soldiers captive for hours after one of the soldiers shot and killed a Guatemalan citizen at a checkpoint, reports the Associated Press.
  • Child migration is a vexing, bipartisan quandary for several reasons, writes Ediberto Román in the Conversation, analyzing the current U.S. border crisis.  The main four can be summed up as: children need care; care is costly; care is complicated; migrant's aren't anybody's constituents.
  • The Guatemalan judiciary system's independence has been fatally undermined by Giammatei, whose pressure led to a majority of the incoming Constitutional Court's magistrates having connections to corrupt interests, writes Alvaro Montenegro in El Faro
  • The coronavirus pandemic has dominated Peru's presidential debates ahead of the upcoming April 11 elections, reports Reuters.
  • Peruvian presidential candidate Veronika Mendoza is the only progressive leftist candidate competing in the elections. Mendoza, who has handily won recent debates simply by dint of sanity in a group of candidates defined by bizarre takes on pandemic realities, represents a chance to exit Peru's eternal political crisis, argues Gabriela Wiener in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • A 2018 waste spill at the Fortuna silver mine impacted a stream in Oaxaca State. The event sparked an intense controversy, documented by the media, over whether or not the mining waste had contaminated communities’ soil and water. A journalistic investigation by Avispa Midia, Aristegui Noticias, and Pie de Página, in alliance with CONNECTAS uncovers the original official reports, which indicate exceedingly high presence of toxic materials. It also shows how Mexican authorities and the company kept these documents under wraps in order to let Fortuna off the hook for the effects of its contamination. (English translation at Nacla.)

  • "However modest, marijuana legalization would be a symbolic milestone for Mexico, a country immersed in an unforgiving drug war." writes Luis Gómez Romero on Mexico's likely imminent cannabis legalization. (Conversation)
  • Ecuador’s health system is under severe strain from a spike in coronavirus infections, reports Reuters.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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