Last week, casual Brazil observers may have been shocked by the news that President Jair Bolsonaro had temporarily backed off from firing his Health Minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, due to a veto from members of the Armed Forces. However, close attention to politics in Brazil — and Latin America as a whole — teaches us that the military has always been a highly influential force in the comings and goings of history, regardless of its relative lack of martial involvement.
From the Proclamation of the Republic in 1889, led by Field Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca, until the end of the dictatorship in 1985, Brazil has had scores of presidents from the Armed Forces. This constant participation in daily politics, revolutions, and coups gave the military cadre an aura of efficient management coupled with unprecedented brutality.
The Armed Forces had retreated to the barracks since 1989, wielding a far less influential yet highly symbolic role in Brazilian political life. In 2018, however, that changed with the election of former Army Captain Jair Bolsonaro, who brought with him a host of military generals to serve in his cabinet. The Armed Forces had returned to the presidency, this time through the ballot boxes.
Interestingly, the image of the military being heavy-handed yet capable and disciplined technicians returned in force. With Jair Bolsonaro’s characteristic rudeness as head of state, the Armed Forces standing in the background were given the role of “adults in the room,” a skewed hope for moderation in an already far-right government.
Diplomat Rubens Ricupero, a former Brazilian ambassador to the U.S. and ex-Environment and Finance Minister, disagrees with this perception. In his view, the problems currently faced by Brazil are also the fault of the military who work alongside President Bolsonaro. “This military personnel is very limited. I don’t see any of them as capable. I never had this common illusion in Brazil that the military is well prepared,” he tells The Brazilian Report.
Honorary President of the think tank Fernand Braudel Institute of World Economics and director of the Faculty of Economics of Fundação Armando Álvares Penteado, both in São Paulo, Mr. Ricupero spoke to The Brazilian Report for an exclusive interview this week, the highlights of which you may read below: