The government of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is facing a new crisis after all three heads of the military resigned rather than submit to attempts to politicize the services. Credit: AFP.

Eliane Cantanhêde, a prominent journalist for the broadsheet, Brasília, spelled it out rather bluntly.

“He is weak,” she said. “He is cornered.”

From Rio de Janeiro, to Sao Paolo, to Manaus … the situation is tense. Already plummeting in recent polls, the government of Jair Bolsonaro, is reeling from a major upheaval.

According to the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, never before in Brazilian history have the heads of all three branches of the military resigned out of disagreement with a president, The Guardian reported.

The commanders of the Brazilian army, navy and air force – Gen. Edson Leal Pujol, Adm. Ilques Barbosa and Lt.-Brig. Antônio Carlos Bermudez – met with the president’s new defense minister on Tuesday morning and tendered their resignations during a heated encounter.

Furthermore, will troops remain loyal to their respective services, or will they break ranks?

While a coup is not likely, according to media reports, it appears Brazil’s love affair with Bolsonaro may be over.

The historic upheaval, which left many Brazilians on edge, came after Brazil’s far-right president fired defense minister GenFernando Azevedo e Silva on Monday during what one media report called a chilly three-minute encounter, The Guardian reported.

“I need your job,” Bolsonaro told the General, a longstanding friend, according to the Estado de São Paulo newspaper.

Cantanhêde reported that Gen. Azevedo e Silva left government after making it clear to the president – a former army captain notorious for his praise of authoritarians – that the armed forces owed loyalty to the constitution and were not Bolsonaro’s personal force.

Bolsonaro had reportedly been demanding the removal of Gen Pujol, who, to the president’s apparent consternation, has publicly rejected the politicization of Brazil’s military and pushed for tougher restrictions against Covid.

All eyes are on Brazil’s military forces after the heads of all three services tendered their resignations in protest over the policies of outlandish president Jair Bolsonaro. Credit: AFP.

Instead, he has told Brazilians to “stop whining” about the Covid situation. Nearly 314,000 people have died of Covid-19 in Brazil, with more than 12.5 million confirmed cases.

Cantanhêde said: “General Fernando’s exit shows us that there is a significant wing of the armed forces – in the army, navy and air force – who do not accept authoritarianism, coups and the violation of the constitution. Bolsonaro wants everyone to be his vassal and to do whatever he commands … and many people within [the armed forces] are now saying: ‘No, Sir, actually we won’t.’

“This is extremely important because it shows there is resistance in the armed forces to any kind of coup-mongering project … [and] Bolsonaro’s authoritarian project,” Cantanhêde claimed.

Thomas Traumann, a Rio-based political observer and former social communication minister, described the shock developments – which came during a sweeping cabinet reshuffle – as “really historic.”

Traumann said: “Changing the army commander in a country like Brazil – and during an administration like Bolsonaro’s – isn’t business as usual. This is genuinely serious stuff because you are literally putting one of Bolsonaro’s people in charge of the army in an administration that threatens [military] interventions – even if we don’t know how much of that is for real and how much just to fire up his political base.”

“So far this has just been rhetoric. But if you change the commander of the army that’s one step closer to making it a reality,” Traumann added. “I know several generals and brigadiers and they are very alarmed.”

Bolsonaro, a career politician who swept to power in October 2018 on a fake-news-fuelled wave of anti-establishment rage, is a notorious admirer of Latin American autocrats and has publicly praised the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as well as the generals who ruled Brazil when he was a paratrooper in the late 1970s, The Guardian reported.

He has repeatedly named his favourite book as a tome by Col. Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, a dictatorship-era torturer accused of overseeing torture sessions during which victims were electrocuted and thrashed with canes.

Earlier this month he also sparked outrage by issuing a veiled threat to declare a “state of siege,” The Guardian reported.

Traumann said he saw no immediate chance of a break with democracy or coup attempt because of this week’s turbulence but feared Bolsonaro was seeking to install pliable military leaders in case his bid to secure a second presidential term in 2022 failed, much like President Trump attempted just months ago.

Trump sparked a sharp letter of rebuke from a raft of political and military leaders, essentially warning him not to go there and re-establishing the military’s loyalty to the Constitution.

“If Bolsonaro loses the election and challenges the result, how are the armed forces going to respond? For me this is the key question,” Traumann said.

Bolsonaro’s chances of re-election suffered a setback this month after his rival, the former left-wing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was freed up to challenge him after the surprise decision to quash the corruption convictions against him.

Many now expect Lula to run against Bolsonaro in 2022, The Guardian reported.

“We’re living between these two worlds,” said his former foreign minister, Celso Amorim.

“A certain light at the end of the tunnel from the political point of view and utter darkness from the health point of view, from the point of view of life,” Amorim said.

Polls suggest Bolsonaro still enjoys the support of about 30% of the population but is considered the chief culprit for Brazil’s Covid calamity by 43% of citizens and rejected by almost half the country.

Senator Tasso Jereissati, a leading opposition figure, said: “We’re paying the price of having elected an individual who is wholly unprepared for the job, who is boorish and unhinged.”

Sources: The Guardian, BBC, New York Times