Brazil leader names new top diplomat amid Cabinet shake-up

RIO DE JANEIRO — Amid a slide in his popularity, President Jair Bolsonaro has shaken up the Cabinet, including replacing Brazil’s foreign minister who was widely criticized for an anti-globalism stance and accused by some of aggravating the pandemic by alienating vaccine suppliers.

Bolsonaro tweeted Monday that he was shifting three other Cabinet ministers to new posts — chief of staff, defense minister and attorney general — and naming a new justice and public security minister and a new government secretary.

But the biggest change was moving Ernesto Araújo out as foreign minister. Araújo had most recently been under fire for comments and actions that critics said impeded faster access to coronavirus vaccines as the coronavirus batters Brazil.

It was just the latest Cabinet turmoil for the embattled Bolsonaro. The president in mid-March replaced the health minister, whose tenure coincided with most of Brazil’s 314,000 COVID-19 deaths and became the target of fierce criticism. In February, Bolsonaro tapped a retired army general to take over state-run oil behemoth Petrobras, seeking to appeal to his constituency of truck drivers who had threatened to strike over fuel price increases.

Aráujo was subjected to a nearly five-hour Senate hearing last week to defend his ministry’s actions during the pandemic. Center-right Sen. Tasso Jereissati told the minister that he no longer had the standing to remain in the post and that his exit would end the help end the crisis.

Maurício Santoro, professor of political science and international relations at the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro, said the Senate attacks on Araújo became too overpowering for Bolsonaro to withstand.

“The vaccine issue was the spark that lit the fire,″ Santoro said. ″The general context is Araújo failed in all the most important tasks he had to do as a minister. Brazil is facing bad political dialogue with its biggest trade partners — China, the U.S., the EU and Argeninta — all for different reasons.

The new foreign minister is Carlos França, who like Araújo is a career diplomat. But unlike Araújo, França isn’t a follower of far-right ideologue Olavo de Carvalho, the newspaper O Globo reported. He is an adviser to Bolsonaro and former ceremonial chief at the presidential palace and is considered to be pragmatic rather than ideological.

Araújo has denied climate change, which he calls a leftist dogma, and he made comments perceived as critical of China, Brazil’s biggest trading partner. In just over two years as foreign minister, he repeatedly dismayed foreign policy veterans by breaking with Brazil’s tradition of multilateralism and adopting policy based on ideology, particularly aligning with the U.S. during the Trump administration.

On Saturday, a group of 300 diplomats published a letter saying Araújo had tarnished Brazil’s image abroad and demanded his removal, according to the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.

“Don’t let globalism kill your soul in the name of competitiveness,″ Araújo said at his swearing-in ceremony in a speech that was seen as a rallying cry for nationalism. ″Don’t believe globalism when it says having economic efficiency means suffocating the country’s soul and not loving the country.″

Brazil was also one of the last countries in the world to recognize U.S. President Joe Biden’s election victory, and Araújo declined to attend his inauguration. Instead, he took a vacation.

Santoro, the professor, said Araújo’s climate change position was an impediment to Brazil dealing with the U.S. and Europe on curbing Amazon deforestation. That issue has been the focus of European governments and many foreign investors, and Biden has said he intends to prioritize the issue.

Early in the pandemic, Araújo wrote on a personal blog that globalists were seeking to use the coronavirus as a means to subvert liberal democracy and market economics in order to install communism and enslave humans. He made other comments that angered China.

Clamor for the minister’s resignation grew as Brazil’s COVID-19 death toll surged this year and the nation suffered delays in getting active ingredients needed to bottle vaccines, mostly from China. Slow arrival was widely speculated to be political retribution by the Asian power, although both Araújo and Chinese authorities in Brazil claimed technical reasons.

“When the country needed Araújo and the foreign relations ministry to operate to guarantee what we needed to vaccinate people, they kept playing at highly ideological foreign policy,″ said Hussein Kalout, formerly Brazil’s special secretary for strategic affairs and now a research scholar at Harvard University.