Generals, ‘Chicago boy’ loom large in Brazil’s next government

Bolsonaro wants to slash the number of ministries from 29 to 15, and has vowed to end the practice of using cabinet appointments as bargaining chips to build a coalition with other parties

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil’s far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is likely to tap army generals and an ultra-free-market economist for key roles in his cabinet.


The former army captain styles himself as an outsider — even though he has spent a long career in Congress — and has mostly sought prospective ministers with little political experience.

Bolsonaro, 63, wants to slash the number of ministries from 29 to 15, and has vowed to end the practice of using cabinet appointments as bargaining chips to build a coalition with other parties — long a basic rule of the political game in Brazil.

“He wants to reinvent the way the country is governed by ending the ‘presidency by coalition.’ It will be his biggest challenge,” said Marcos Coimbra, a political strategist at Mackenzie Presbyterian University in Brasilia.

The cabinet will have “four or five generals,” according to the head of Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party, Gustavo Bebianno.

That is likely to be controversial in a country still scarred by a brutal military dictatorship that lasted from 1964 to 1985.

“By promising to name generals to his government, he is trying to create an image of order, but a lot of the likely picks have zero political experience. That will make it hard to negotiate with Congress,” said Geraldo Monteiro, a political scientist at Rio de Janeiro State University.

Here is a look at some of the likely picks to run Latin America’s largest country and the world’s eighth-largest economy when Bolsonaro takes office on January 1.

The ‘Chicago boy’

Bolsonaro’s economic guru is Paulo Guedes, a liberal economist trained at the University of Chicago — long the high cathedral of free-market economics.

He has been a popular pick with the business sector, ensuring that the markets welcomed Bolsonaro’s march to the presidency with a surge.

Bolsonaro himself has confessed he understands “nothing” about economics, and says he will name Guedes, 69, to head a “super-ministry” bringing together the current ministries of finance, trade and planning, plus the secretariat for public investment.

A debt hawk, Guedes held a press conference immediately after Bolsonaro’s victory during which he vowed to overhaul Brazil’s economic model, reform the bloated pension system and privatise state enterprises.

The operator

The one experienced political operative in the line-up is Onyx Lorenzoni, tipped to be named chief of staff — responsible for navigating the lion’s den of politics in Brasilia.

“He has extensive experience in Congress, he knows how it operates,” said Coimbra.

Lorenzoni, 64, is a veteran lawmaker — first in the state legislature of Rio Grande do Sul, then in the lower house of Congress — and was a chief strategist on Bolsonaro’s campaign.

The role model

Bolsonaro is a gushing admirer of Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, his military academy instructor in the 1970s and probable defence minister.

The general, 71, was the first commander of Brazil’s United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, launched in 2004.

Bolsonaro wanted him to be his running mate, but Heleno’s PRP party rejected the overture — so the candidate instead gave the vice presidential nod to another general, Hamilton Mourao.

Bolsonaro said in an interview last year that Heleno could have “any post he wants” in his government, and that he would have loved to be a minister in a Heleno presidency.

Mr Environment

Another general, Oswaldo Ferreira, 64, is tipped for transport minister.

The former head of the army’s department of engineering and construction, he would be responsible for infrastructure and its environmental impact under Bolsonaro.

In a recent interview, he said that in his road-building days in the 1970s, “there was no prosecutor’s office or Ibama (the environmental agency) to bust everyone’s balls.”

The astronaut

Marcos Pontes is a national hero in Brazil: the fighter pilot and astronaut, 55, was the first Brazilian in outer space.

In 2006, he spent a week aboard the International Space Station, ferried there by a Russian Soyuz rocket.

An avid Bolsonaro backer, he has been floated for the post of science minister.

— AFP

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