Jair Bolsonaro and Gustavo Bebianno

After a long week involving a public exchange of barbs between the government’s Secretary-General, Gustavo Bebianno, and Rio city Councilor—and the president’s son—Carlos Bolsonaro, the former has been axed. The first cabinet firing comes after only 48 days, one of the quickest in history. Instead of putting an end to a political crisis, the firing has left several loose ends.

Why did it take so long for President Bolsonaro to fire Gustavo Bebianno?

Last week, the press reported on accusations that Mr. Bebianno siphoned money from a publicly-financed electoral fund during the 2018 campaign. He was at the time serving as chairman of the Social Liberal Party (PSL) and used dummy candidates to divert money to companies connected to party leaders.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">On February 13, Mr. Bebianno told reporters that there was no crisis within the administration—saying he had spoken with the president (who was still in the hospital at the time, recovering from surgery) three times that day already. Hours later, Carlos Bolsonaro called Mr. Bebianno a liar via social media, publishing an audio clip of his father telling Mr. Bebianno he didn&#8217;t want to speak with him. The president later re-posted his son&#8217;s message.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For days, Mr. Bebianno threatened to dish the dirt on the president, and government officials tried to work out a peaceful solution. A deal was struck during the weekend, which included a demand from Mr. Bebianno that the president publish a video thanking him for his services, and not mentioning any wrongdoing on his part.</span></p> <p><span class="embed-youtube" style="text-align:center; display: block;"><iframe class='youtube-player' type='text/html' width='1200' height='675' src='https://www.youtube.com/embed/_LozZ27XKm8?version=3&#038;rel=1&#038;fs=1&#038;autohide=2&#038;showsearch=0&#038;showinfo=1&#038;iv_load_policy=1&#038;wmode=transparent' allowfullscreen='true' style='border:0;'></iframe></span></p> <h2>What was the real reason for the firing?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The government&#8217;s spokesperson said the decision was “private.” While nobody could say that there wasn&#8217;t any reason to fire Gustavo Bebianno, we can&#8217;t confirm that the dummy candidate scheme caused his downfall. Elsewhere in the cabinet, <a href="https://brazilian.report/money/2019/01/18/weaker-currency-tourism-airlines/">Tourism Minister Marcelo Antônio</a> faces similar accusations—but has been untouched by the scandal. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Other reports say the president felt betrayed by a meeting between Mr. Bebianno and an executive from powerful media group Globo—which Mr. Bolsonaro refers to as &#8220;the enemy.&#8221; But General Augusto Heleno, another close advisor, has already met with Globo officials, and his place seems safe.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">There are two other likely reasons. One regards a report in which Carlos Bolsonaro accuses Mr. Bebianno of trying to earn an extra buck at the president&#8217;s expense. He claims the former cabinet member offered companies access to the president in exchange for money—a classic case of influence peddling. The other possible reason is that, when called a liar, Mr. Bebianno leaked audio clips from private conversations between him and Mr. Bolsonaro to the media.</span></p> <h2>Why did Jair Bolsonaro humiliate himself by recording a video to thank Gustavo Bebianno?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">During the weekend, Gustavo Bebianno published several posts about betrayal and revenge. Then, he talked about trying to cool off. Nobody knows if his threats are substantiated and he really has dirt against the president, mas the truth is that Mr. Bebianno&#8217;s dismissal did not come cheap for the government. He put the president through the shameful ordeal of recording a video thanking him for his services and sharing it with allies and the press.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Jair Bolsonaro seems extremely uncomfortable in the video—although it is difficult to say if it wasn&#8217;t just his lack of intimacy with a camera and his robotic oratory style.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Apparently, though, that wasn&#8217;t enough—as Jair Bolsonaro reportedly broke his promise to publish the video on his Twitter feed (followed by 3.3 million people). Will the threats begin again?</span></p> <h2>Will Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s children be a destabilizing force in the administration?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Despite being a faithful ally who believed in Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s presidential bid when no one else seemed to, Mr. Bebianno could not match the influence of the president&#8217;s son. As <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2019/02/19/bebianno-bolsonaro-power-struggle/">columnist Cláudio Couto has pointed out</a>, the &#8220;Bolso-kids,&#8221; as they are called by some, act as unofficial cabinet members, &#8220;representing the country abroad, speaking in the name of the head of state, and even appointing—or firing—cabinet members.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The president&#8217;s sons—especially Carlos Bolsonaro—are known for their abrasive way of doing politics. That could quickly become a liability for a government trying to implement profound and unpopular reforms to the pension system. Burning bridges could be a quick and effective way to sink the administration.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Will Carlos Bolsonaro, also known as his father&#8217;s &#8220;pitbull,&#8221; be satisfied with his win over Gustavo Bebianno, or will this crisis enable him to do more?

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PowerFeb 19, 2019

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BY Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist with experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets.