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Keep your friends close, and your vice president closer

. Nov 16, 2020
President Jair Bolsonaro and Vice President Hamilton Mourão President Jair Bolsonaro and Vice President Hamilton Mourão. Photo: Alan Santos/PR

In theory, the vice president is little more than a symbolic figure in Brazilian politics. A president’s running mate is often used as a way of giving prestige to allied parties and the office itself is largely ignored by the public, having virtually no institutional responsibilities other than being an emergency “just-in-case” option.

In reality, however, that is not the case.

Of Brazil’s 38 presidents, eight of them took the job after being elected vice president and seeing the top job vacated for a number of reasons, be it death, resignation, or impeachment.

Since the country&#8217;s return to democracy in 1985, three VPs have already taken office as president: José Sarney (in 1985, after the <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2018/10/05/podcast-brazilian-constitution/">death of Tancredo Neves</a> prior to his inauguration), Itamar Franco (in 1992, after Fernando Collor’s impeachment), and Michel Temer (in 2016, after Dilma Rousseff was removed from office).</p> <p>And today, President Jair Bolsonaro seems to believe that his own vice, Hamilton Mourão, wants to be the ninth VP to be promoted to the highest office in the land — a suspicion that is driving a deep wedge between the two men.</p> <p>Last week, Mr. Bolsonaro made his grievances public, saying he does not speak with Mr. Mourão &#8220;about any subject whatsoever.&#8221; Sources told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that the silent treatment has persisted for two weeks now — and is testament to the growing distance between <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/10/28/the-growing-wedge-between-bolsonaro-and-the-military/">high-ranked military officers and the federal government</a>.</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>A long list of disagreements</h2> <p>Hamilton Mourão was not Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s plan A, B, or C for running mate — being picked only after multiple coalition attempts had sunk. At the time, the choice was met with suspicion, as Mr. Mourão, a retired four-star Army general, argued in favor of a military coup to solve Brazil&#8217;s political crisis back in 2017.&nbsp;</p> <p>As the administration took office, however, Mr. Mourão adopted a more moderate tone when compared to the president, often being described as the &#8220;<a href="https://epoca.globo.com/analise-adulto-na-sala-mourao-23254439">adult in the room</a>.&#8221; He has given the government a pragmatic voice, especially when it comes to <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/05/29/pragmatic-china-brazil-foreign-affairs/">relations with China</a>, a country about which Mr. Bolsonaro has made an increasing number of provocative statements.</p> <p>It seemed logical, then, when the government appointed Mr. Mourão as the head of the Amazon Council, a public body to oversee conservation projects in the troubled natural biome. With Brazil becoming an international pariah due to <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/07/10/amazon-deforestation-rises-for-14th-straight-month-in-brazil/">increasing deforestation rates</a>, a &#8220;safe pair of hands&#8221; in the vice president appeared to be a smart move. But when it comes to the rainforest, Mr. Mourão seems to be the odd man out.</p> <p>The council he presides over put forward a proposal to expropriate the land of farmers found guilty of environmental crimes and cut federal funding to municipalities which fail to enforce environmental regulations. In response, Mr. Bolsonaro called the idea &#8220;delusional&#8221; and said he would gladly fire whoever raised the proposal — unless they were &#8220;unfireable.&#8221;</p> <p>But while President Bolsonaro cannot sack Mr. Mourão, he can choose a different running mate for the 2022 election, an idea he has <a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2020/10/bolsonaro-planeja-disputa-de-2022-com-outro-vice-e-eleicao-no-rs-pode-ser-saida-para-mourao.shtml">flirted</a> with on several occasions.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Don&#8217;t act presidential around Bolsonaro</h2> <p>According to two government sources who spoke to <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>, Mr. Bolsonaro is irritated with Mr. Mourão&#8217;s behavior, believing he is getting too big for his boots. He thinks the VP is acting as if he were the president, trying to portray himself as more reasonable and prepared than the actual head of state, often publicly defending the opposite of Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s stances on hot-button issues.</p> <p>One such case was when Mr. Mourão admitted that the president&#8217;s skepticism around a Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine was little more than a result of his feud with São Paulo Governor João Doria. &#8220;The government will purchase the vaccine. Of course it will,&#8221; said the VP. Speaking to a rival media outlet hours later, Mr. Bolsonaro warned that &#8220;the pen is mine,&#8221; suggesting he would have the final decision.</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s paranoia is no doubt heightened by the mainstream media&#8217;s portrayal of Mr. Mourão as a voice of reason within an otherwise disoriented administration.&nbsp;</p> <p>But it is not only the press that seems to prefer the vice president to his boss. Several high-ranked military officials who were once on the Bolsonaro bandwagon have publicly scolded the government, calling out its &#8220;unreadiness&#8221; to face the challenges before the country.&nbsp;</p> <p>Even Army Commander Edson Pujol, known for his restraint in public declarations, has tried to <a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2020/06/militares-da-ativa-e-ministros-do-supremo-reprovam-nota-de-bolsonaro.shtml">distance</a> the Armed Forces from the government — saying the military is an institution of the state, not of any particular administration.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p><em>Additional reporting by Débora Álvares</em></p> <p>

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Renato Alves

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

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