The Brazilian Armed Forces experienced an unusual shock on Tuesday with the simultaneous resignation of their three military chiefs.

One day after the replacement of the Minister of Defense, Fernando Azevedo e Silva, the Ministry announced that Army, Navy and Aviation commanders also leave their positions.

Azevedo, who left office this Monday amid the process of dismissal or replacement of six of the 23 government ministers, will be replaced by General Walter Braga Netto, who until now was Minister of the Presidency.

Azevedo did not clarify whether his departure from Defense was the result of a resignation or decision by the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro.

The Defense Ministry reported in an official note that the three high command “will be replaced” and stressed that the decision “was communicated” this Tuesday in a meeting with Braga Neto.

Since this Monday, in military media it was assured that the three chiefs of the Armed Forces – Edson Pujol (Army), Ilques Barbosa Junior (Navy) and Antonio Carlos Bermudez (Aviation) – were ready to “make their positions available.”

It is not yet known who the new commanders will be.

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Crisis in the Armed Forces

The departure of the commanders is seen as an act of protest against Azevedo’s summary resignation.

It is the first time that the three commanders of the Armed Forces have left their positions at the same time due to disagreements with the President of the Republic.

The crisis in the Armed Forces occurs on the eve of the anniversary of the 1964 military coup, which takes place this Wednesday, March 31.

But the disagreements that led to this situation are not current.

President Bolsonaro had already tried to oust Edson Pujol from office.

Pujol was critical of the president’s position on the pandemic, something that became clear last year when the president tried to greet the general with a handshake and Pujol offered his elbow (a greeting adopted by many people in the pandemic to avoid the contagion).

Pujol also asserted last year that the role of the military is not to get involved in politics.

“We do not want to be part of politics, much less let it enter our barracks,” said the former Army commander in a virtual event.

Bolsonaro currently has the military at the head of six ministries.

The changes and the possible attempt to attribute roles to the military that are not strictly constitutional are elements that threaten cohesion within the Armed Forcesresearcher Vinicius de Carvalho, director of the Brazil Institute at King’s College London, told the BBC.

Carvalho has been researching the Defense and Security areas for more than ten years, with a focus on the Armed Forces of Latin America and Brazil, and was also a temporary technical officer in the Brazilian Army.

“A very serious problem that creates all this agitation due to the withdrawal of the minister is the risk that cohesion will be broken, because the Armed Forces depend on it. They depend on there being a clear hierarchy and that all the elements of that hierarchy are cohesive “he explained in a telephone interview with BBC News Brazil on Monday, after the minister’s resignation.

Ministerial changes

Bolsonaro, facing mounting pressure to curb a pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Brazilians, made six cabinet changes on Monday, the largest ministerial reform to date.

Among the announced changes are, in addition to Defense, other strategic ones such as Foreign Relations and Justice.

In the Foreign Ministry, Ernesto Araújo left office, a diplomat very in line with Bolsonaro’s thinking, who will be replaced by Ambassador Carlos Alberto Franco França, also a diplomat, with little experience but considered more moderate and with a negotiating spirit.

The post of Minister of Justice will be filled by Ánderson Gustavo Torres, a police commissioner close to Bolsonaro who supports the president’s intention to make the sale of weapons to civilians more flexible to promote “self-defense” against crime.

The Ministry of the Presidency that Braga Netto occupied will be occupied by General Luiz Eduardo Ramos, another military man who was already in the government.

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