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Bolsonaro’s ambitious plans for his Agriculture Minister

. Nov 02, 2020
Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina. Photo: Isac Nóbrega/PR

“Cattle are the firefighters of the Pantanal!” declared Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina at the beginning of October, during a Senate hearing to which she was summoned to discuss the wave of fires that ravaged Brazil’s vast tropical wetlands since August. Perhaps encapsulating the government’s ineptitude in dealing with the destruction of Brazil’s natural vegetation, Ms. Cristina’s words made the front pages of major national newspapers.

But despite this undesirable moment in the spotlight, Tereza Cristina has been one of the most praised members of the Jair Bolsonaro government,

due to her perceived ability to <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-weekly/2019/03/09/agricultural-lobby-plans-bolsonaro-brazil/">balance the varying demands</a> of her department and other sectors, such as the Environment Ministry and international relations, which both have an impact on agribusiness. </p> <p>Due to her reputation as a skilled politician, President Jair Bolsonaro is set on <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-weekly/2020/10/13/forget-mayors-house-speaker-election-race-counts/">convincing Ms. Cristina to run for speaker of the House of Representatives</a> in February&#8217;s election — one of the most powerful positions in the Brazilian power structure.</p> <p>As <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> wrote this week, the Agriculture Minister has refuted the idea, making no effort to develop alliances toward a possible candidacy, despite her boss&#8217;s desire for her to do so.</p> <p>After speaking with figures close to Ms. Cristina, <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> ascertained that her husband, economist Caio Dias, has vetoed the possibility of migrating to Congress. Her family believes that she has done an excellent job at the head of the Agriculture Ministry, and that running for the speaker&#8217;s position would leave her significantly more exposed to criticism and public scrutiny as, leading the House of Representatives would put her third in line of presidential succession.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="799" height="533" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/50094812982_6ed6ef1698_c.jpg" alt="Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina and VP Hamilton Mourão" class="wp-image-52145" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/50094812982_6ed6ef1698_c.jpg 799w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/50094812982_6ed6ef1698_c-300x200.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/50094812982_6ed6ef1698_c-768x512.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/50094812982_6ed6ef1698_c-600x400.jpg 600w" sizes="(max-width: 799px) 100vw, 799px" /><figcaption>Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina and VP Hamilton Mourão: she could replace him in the 2022 ticket. Photo: Marcos Correa/PR</figcaption></figure> <p>The speaker of the House of Representatives has the power to control the legislative agenda, deciding which bills will go to a vote, and when. Crucially, the speaker also has the jurisdiction to open or dismiss impeachment proceedings against the president — which is why Mr. Bolsonaro wants his cabinet minister in the seat.</p> <p>Publicly, President Bolsonaro has said he will not interfere in the race for House Speaker, though has shown his support for Congressman Arthur Lira, the head of the so-called &#8220;<a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2018/07/31/brazil-big-center-2018-president/">Big Center</a>&#8221; bloc in the House, which is now part of the president&#8217;s legislative support base.</p> <p>His faith in Mr. Lira, however, appears to be shallow. The congressman was once part of the support base of former President Dilma Rousseff, before switching and supporting her impeachment. Mr. Bolsonaro fears he could suffer the same fate by putting his trust in Arthur Lira.</p> <iframe src="https://open.spotify.com/embed-podcast/episode/3Mvp1rifXxBfQsxQuHKtmG" width="100%" height="232" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>From backbencher to the Agriculture Ministry</h2> <p>Tereza Cristina was re-elected as a federal congresswoman in 2018, though has relinquished her office while serving as Agriculture Minister. Her first spell in Congress came in 2014, when she was elected representing the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), currently opposed to the Bolsonaro government.</p> <p>She served as the <a href="https://valor.globo.com/politica/noticia/2020/11/02/nao-havera-prorrogacao-do-orcamento-de-guerra-nem-do-estado-de-calamidade-afirma-presidente-da-camara.ghtml">party whip</a> in the House of Representatives, until she left the PSB in 2017 in disagreement with the party&#8217;s decision not to support the government of President Michel Temer, who had taken over from the impeached Dilma Rousseff. </p> <p>After moving to the right-wing Democratas party, she gained prominence in 2018 as the president of the agribusiness caucus in Congress. Along with the Evangelical bloc, the so-called &#8220;ruralists&#8221; are one of the strongest factions in Brazil&#8217;s lower house, representing 45 percent of the entire chamber.</p> <p>The makeup of allegiances in Congress is complex, to the point that belonging to a given caucus is often more important than political party affiliation. And it is on this facet of the Brazilian legislature that Mr. Bolsonaro is gambling by propping up a Tereza Cristina candidacy to the House Speaker seat. Besides Arthur Lira, were the Agriculture Minister to run she would be another name in a packed field, including several prominent political figures vying to become speaker.</p> <p>Indeed, were he able to elect her as House Speaker next year, Jair Bolsonaro has even more daring plans for Tereza Cristina. In one of the most powerful jobs in Brazilian politics, Ms. Cristina would gain nationwide prominence and when the 2022 general elections come around, President Bolsonaro intends on making her his running mate for his re-election bid.</p> <p><strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> understands that the plan of bringing Tereza Cristina back to Congress, electing her as House Speaker, before putting her on the presidential ticket in 2022 has been discussed by President Bolsonaro&#8217;s inner circle of advisors. Reportedly, the idea came from Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s son, Rio de Janeiro City Councilor Carlos Bolsonaro.

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Débora Álvares

Débora Álvares has worked as a political reporter for newspapers Folha de S.Paulo, O Estado de S.Paulo, Globo News, HuffPost, among others. She specializes in reporting on Brasilia, working behind-the-scenes coverage at the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches of government.

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