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In a time of cuts, Bolsonaro lavishes gifts on the military

. Jul 12, 2020
In a time of cuts, Bolsonaro lavishes gifts on the military Photo: Joa Souza/Shutterstock

It has been a few years since the Brazilian economy has grown at a satisfactory level, but the Covid-19 pandemic will push Latin America’s largest nation to its worst growth skid on record. Set on righting the ship, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes has argued in favor of freezing public service wages and said all Brazilians would have to “make sacrifices” in the name of recovery. In May, he said that “medals are bestowed after a war, not before,” to explain why wages couldn’t go up while the country was stuck in an economic depression. This metaphor was met with grim irony this week, however, as President Bolsonaro authorized a salary bump to the one group he has always bent over backward to please: the Brazilian military.

</p> <p>With salaries of up to BRL 50,000 (USD 9,400) per month —&nbsp;or 50 times the national minimum wage — a group of top-ranked Army officers were granted an additional BRL 1,600 stipend in what was the latest treat given to the military by the Jair Bolsonaro government.</p> <p>This new money will come through the so-called &#8220;training bonus,&#8221; a benefit created in 2001 to reward members of the military who completed training courses throughout their careers. The benefit had remained unchanged since its exception, until Mr. Bolsonaro raised it last year, propping it up to 73 percent of military wages, spread across four different levels, depending on the officer&#8217;s years of study and rank.&nbsp;</p> <p>Base salaries for the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/06/04/growing-role-military-police-jair-bolsonaro-government/">military</a> in Brazil are hardly astronomical compared to other public service careers, but the amount of add-ons pushes their monthly income to well above the civil servant threshold. With all their possible benefits, four-star military generals can increase their BRL 13,000 monthly salary to <em>at least</em> BRL 29,700 — but longer-serving officers can receive much more.</p> <p>Since he took charge in January 2019, Jair Bolsonaro has made a number of <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/05/29/brazilian-government-extends-military-enlistment-deadline/">advantageous gestures</a> toward the military. Members of the Armed Forces have never been offered more posts and offices in the federal government as they have under Mr. Bolsonaro, increasing 43 percent between 2018 and 2019.</p> <p>Not even during Brazil&#8217;s military dictatorship have there been so many Armed Forces representatives in the federal government, controlling ten out of 22 ministries.</p> <h2>A pay rise during a time of cuts</h2> <p>Spared from Brazil&#8217;s deep and sweeping pension reform last year, members of the Armed Forces saw an alteration in their retirement rules. While the majority of the country&#8217;s workers saw their pension contributions increase, the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/05/07/uncertain-role-military-armed-forces-jair-bolsonaro-government/">military were gifted</a> with a salary increase.</p> <p>It is worth recalling that Jair Bolsonaro himself, a former Army captain, was acrimoniously <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/10/14/jair-bolsonaro-military-career/">forced into retirement</a> from the military at the age of 33, having served for 15 years. He was transferred to the Army reserve automatically when he was elected as a city councilor for Rio de Janeiro in 1988. Since then, he has received a captain&#8217;s pension that is 63 percent above the ceiling of the National Social Security Institute (INSS).</p> <p>As of 2020, when members of the Armed Forces transfer to the reserve forces, they will earn an added benefit, the so-called &#8220;cost assistance&#8221; for leaving active service, which has now doubled. <a href="https://g1.globo.com/politica/noticia/2020/03/18/ministro-bento-albuquerque-de-minas-e-energia-tem-o-novo-coronavirus-diz-bolsonaro.ghtml">Admiral Bento Albuquerque</a>, the Mines and Energy Minister, received BRL 300,000 in a lump sum in May.</p> <p>The high cost of military salaries and pensions was pointed out in a report from the Federal Accounts Court (TCU), released last week. In 2019, the government paid out BRL 121,200 for each Armed Forces pensioner — this is 17 times the deficit per beneficiary in the private sector.</p> <h2>Brazil&#8217;s Health Ministry: a military case study </h2> <p>At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Armed Forces began <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/06/14/health-minister-defends-medical-screening-over-social-distancing/">increasing their influence</a> in Brazil&#8217;s Health Ministry. They took the places of qualified health specialists, something never seen before even in the military dictatorship. The decision-making power over the health crisis was taken away from the Health Minister and transferred to the Office of the Chief of Staff, under the command of General Walter Souza Braga Netto.</p> <p>With the exit of beleaguered oncologist Nelson Teich — who lasted less than a month as Health Minister — the military took full control of the department. General Eduardo Pazuello took charge as interim minister, the post he still holds today. As soon as he took office, he appointed 17 members of the military to key positions in the ministry, only one of which had experience in the area of health.</p> <p>Following the hierarchy of the barracks, where the commander&#8217;s word is final, Gen. Pazuello ignored science and followed President Bolsonaro&#8217;s message to the letter. He expanded recommendations for the use of <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2020/05/27/chloroquine-bolsonaros-miracle-cure-for-covid-19-podcast/">hydroxychloroquine</a> for all coronavirus patients, even without scientific proof of the efficacy of the drug — which is produced on a mass scale by the Army itself.</p> <p>Under the command of the military, the Health Ministry held fewer and fewer press conferences and even changed the methodology for counting the number of cases and deaths from the disease, forced to backtrack by the Supreme Court. Since the military has been in charge of the department, the number of Covid-19 cases in Brazil has increased almost eightfold.

 
Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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