Jair Bolsonaro’s true “super minister”

. Jul 17, 2019
infrastructure minister tarcisio gomes de freitas Infrastructure Minister Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas

When mapping the Jair Bolsonaro administration, one could broadly define a few clusters. There are the ideological zealots, invested in staging cultural wars. Then come the ultraliberal Chicago Boys, led by Economy Minister Paulo Guedes. Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina represents big agro’s interests within the administration. And we can’t forget the “Bolso-kids,” the president’s sons—who have cast a big shadow over the last major power-brokers, the military wing.

In most cases, it is easy to identify to which cluster a cabinet member belongs. For example, a man dedicated to “fighting cultural Marxism,” Education Minister Abraham Weintraub could only possibly be one of the zealots. One name, though, has been hard to define: Infrastructure Minister Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A product of Agulhas Negras Military Academy, he studied at the Army&#8217;s Engineering Institute (IME) and rose to the rank of captain—just like the president. But he is not exactly in the same group as, say, </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Vice President Hamilton Mourão</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">—a former general. His praise for privatizations could also earn him a ticket into Mr. Guedes&#8217; group, but unlike the latter, Mr. Freitas does want to keep some state-owned companies opened and running. Oh, and let&#8217;s not forget that the minister is a leftover from the center-left Dilma Rousseff administration, when he served as director of the National Transport Infrastructure Department.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This sort of chameleon profile—coupled with a very discreet personality—has placed the infrastructure minister somewhat outside the day-to-day battles of the competing clusters. Considering the laundry list of blunders and attrition this administration has endured, it is quite a feat. But Mr. Freitas is also, arguably, the most effective cabinet member in the administration, as has reportedly become the president&#8217;s &#8220;darling.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Prior to the start of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s term, Sergio Moro (Justice) and Mr. Guedes were labeled &#8220;super ministers.&#8221; But, as </span><b>The Brazilian Report </b><span style="font-weight: 400;">explained in our </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">July 6 Weekly Report</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, neither has managed to achieve much since. Mr. Moro has seen his </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">anti-crime bill</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> gather dust in a drawer somewhere in Congress, while Mr. Guedes&#8217; political ineptitude has lost him the position as </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">champion of the pension reform</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> to House Speaker Rodrigo Maia.</span></p> <p><script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <h2>&#8220;Getting his hands dirty&#8221;</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The minister&#8217;s style has been characterized by what President Bolsonaro has called &#8220;getting his hands dirty.” Over the past six months as head of the infrastructure sector, Mr. Freitas has visited the most important ongoing projects in the country—often escorting the president on many of his official trips. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">So far, the minister has overseen the conclusion of 23 auctions for the concession of public services to private ventures—including of railways, ports, and 12 airports. Combined, the deals could attract BRL 8 billion in investment for the country. His preference for privatizations has never been hidden. &#8220;No government solves problems. They are, instead, facilitators. Private companies are the ones with solutions,&#8221; he said in January.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Despite that stance, Mr. Freitas has positioned himself against the Economy Ministry when it comes to state-owned companies under his watch. He defends Valec (responsible for railways), and the Logistics and Planning Corporation (EPL, which will oversee the construction of bullet trains). While the government&#8217;s economic team wants to axe both companies, Mr. Freitas has continued with plans to hire more people at both.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;This is not his first rodeo. He has worked under previous federal administrations at least since 2011. What is noteworthy is that, so far, we haven&#8217;t heard of his involvement with corruption schemes—despite the infrastructure sector being marked by scandals,&#8221; said Ricardo Ismael, a political scientist at Rio&#8217;s Pontifical Catholic University.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This year alone, the Infrastructure Ministry has informed of 23 possible cases of corruption within its ranks, as part of the Anti-corruption Radar, a partnership between the Federal Police, the Justice Ministry, the Federal Comptroller&#8217;s and the Solicitor General&#8217;s Offices.</span></p> <p><script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <h2>Infrastructure: plans ahead</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">One of Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas&#8217; boldest plans is the merger of regulatory bodies governing railways, roads and ports into one single entity. Only the National Civil Aviation Agency would remain separate. The move aims at deregulating the sector.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">If Mr. Freitas remains in office until the end of the presidential term, he is set to oversee even more privatization programs, which could <a href="">raise</a> an estimated BRL 208 billion in investments. Still in 2019, the government wants to auction the administration of 437 kilometers of the BR-364/365 roads, between Jataí (Goiás) and Uberlândia (Minas Gerais). It is a major corridor for the transportation of agricultural crops. Five groups have already shown interest.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">By 2022, 16,000 kilometers of federally administered roads could be privatized. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Moreover, all major airports still administered by the government will also be auctioned off. The plan is to leave only small, less-profitable, regional airports under the scope of federal agency Infraero. São Paulo&#8217;s Congonhas and Rio&#8217;s Santos Dumont will be the last ones to be dealt with.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">With little to show for on the side of the promised economic reforms, the Jair Bolsonaro administration is betting on infrastructure to give some life back to the Brazilian economy.

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Beatriz Farrugia

Beatriz Farrugia has ten years of experience working for international news agencies. She is a former editor at ANSA and holds a post-graduate degree in International Relations from Fundação Getulio Vargas

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