President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, Brazil, March 25 2021. Picture: REUTERS/UESLEI MARCELINO
President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, Brazil, March 25 2021. Picture: REUTERS/UESLEI MARCELINO

Brasilia —  Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday lost two ministers when his combative foreign minister Ernesto Araujo stepped down over struggles to get coronavirus vaccines, sources said, and defence minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva unexpectedly quit.

The departure of two ministers in one day is a major blow to Bolsonaro, who is under growing pressure to address the pandemic more seriously and slow a second wave of infections that is pushing hospitals to the brink.

Araujo, a loyal ally of Bolsonaro, had been under pressure for weeks. Two government sources said he had tendered his resignation. He represents an ideological wing of the right-wing populist's administration whose attacks against China, environmentalists and the Left were increasingly seen as noisy distractions from tackling Brazil's raging pandemic.

The departure of Azevedo e Silva was a surprise, given there were no rumours of his exit or rumblings of discontent. The president, a former army captain, has placed current and former military officials throughout all levels of his government — leading to concerns that the military's reputation could suffer.

“During this time, I preserved the armed forces as institutions of state,” Azevedo e Silva wrote in a ministry statement. “I leave in the certainty of a mission accomplished.”

Earlier in March, Bolsonaro replaced health minister Eduardo Pazuello, an active duty general who had overseen most of the coronavirus response. He was widely blamed for a slow and patchy vaccine programme.

Brazil's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Araujo's departure.

In recent days, Araujo irked senior legislators who had become increasingly vocal in calling for him to be replaced. They were angered by his long-standing criticism of top trade partner China, a vaccine producing superpower.

The diplomat's esteem for former US president Donald Trump was also seen as an obstacle in persuading the Biden administration to free up supplies of US vaccine for Brazil.

Luís Fernando Serra, Brazil's ambassador to France, senator Fernando Collor de Mello and Flávio Rocha, a retired admiral who advises Bolsonaro, are all in the running to replace Araujo, sources said.

Araujo's exit was first reported by Brazilian newspaper O Globo. The source who confirmed it requested anonymity as the information is not yet public.

Reuters 

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