HomeNewsAnalysisNew Brazil Cabinet Sets Up Tug of War Between Military and Judiciary

New Brazil Cabinet Sets Up Tug of War Between Military and Judiciary


The picks for the national security team of Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro has confirmed that his tough stance on violent crime continues to be a priority.

However, other appointments including his justice minister and chief of police have raised hopes of a more measured approach to tackling crime within his government.

In November, Bolsonaro named retired army general Augusto Heleno as the secretary of institutional security, a post similar to that of national security advisor. Heleno, who had been linked in the past with the positions of vice-president and defense minister, becomes the fifth senior military figure in the next cabinet.

The others are Hamilton Mourão (Vice-President), Fernando Azevedo y Silva (Defense Minister), Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz (Secretary of Government) and Bento Costa Lima Leite (Mines and Energy).

This team will be expected to implement Bolsonaro’s security strategy, including giving more autonomy to the police and army when fighting organized crime.

     SEE ALSO: Organized Crime in Brazil

In August, Heleno lamented that police officers did not feel they could take actions without facing repercussions. “We cannot continue with these rules of engagement. The criminal has every advantage, he knows the policeman does not have the autonomy to act because he will find himself sitting in the dock,” he told Metropoles.

Other cabinet appointments, however, run counter to this hard-line trend. Sergio Moro, the nominee for the justice portfolio, has been in charge of Operation Lava Jato, the sweeping investigation into endemic corruption in Brazilian political and business circles.

Moro oversaw the arrest, prosecution, and jailing of numerous figures, including former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former Odebrecht president Marcelo Odebrecht, and fallen Rio governor Sergio Cabral.

Moro has also been able to appoint trusted colleagues in key positions. In November, he named Mauricio Valeixo, as the national chief of police.

Valeixo was chief of police for the state of Paraná, where Moro rose to fame as a federal prosecutor. He was credited with resolving tensions surrounding the detention of Lula in April and avoiding clashes between police and crowds of the charismatic former leader’s supporters.

InSight Crime Analysis

As Bolsonaro steadily fills out his cabinet, two trends are emerging.

In his judicial picks, Bolsonaro is playing it safe. Moro was originally a controversial appointment. But since accepting the nomination, Moro has worked hard to shore up Brazil’s reputation and participation in international judicial circles.

      SEE ALSO: Brazil News and Profiles

This week, he urged the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies to pass an anti-terror law that would bring the country in line with international standards to combat money laundering and seize assets from individuals and groups associated with terrorism.

While Bolsonaro has railed against certain multilateral efforts, such as the fight against climate change, Moro was very clear about the need for Brazil to avoid being suspended from the global Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a risk if the anti-terror law is not passed.

Ignacio Cano, a political researcher from the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said that Moro’s fame and visibility will help him maintain his prosecutorial independence, to a point.

“Bolsonaro has said that, when he disagrees with Moro, he will try and reach a compromise. This shows the political strength of Moro as a minister," Cano told InSight Crime.

Moro, however, is likely to be kept apart from the national security team. Moro's "group has experience in combating corruption, not violent crime,” Cano said.

On the national security front, the president-elect is likely to go in guns blazing.

Heleno has long been seen as a mentor of Bolsonaro, who served under the general as a young soldier. His association with the vice-presidency and the defense portfolio — albeit before being chosen for a less visible position due to differences between political parties — show how important Heleno’s advice is and will continue to be to the president-elect.

Heleno is a respected career officer, who led the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti and was appointed by Lula to be military commander of the Amazon region. There is some hope that Heleno will act as a moderating influence on the Bolsonaro government, given his experience.

However, an operation in Haiti, dubbed “Iron Fist”, reveals a more troubling side to Heleno when it comes to taking on gangs. In 2005, the general sent troops into the Haitian slum of Cité Soleil. The troops fired thousands of rounds in an attempt to eliminate a gang leader. The target was killed but unofficial reports claim that dozens of civilians were also shot dead in the crossfire.

The uncertain interplay between the generals and Moro may shape the future of the Bolsonaro government.

Cano suggests the real test of Moro’s power will come if and when government figures stand accused of breaking the law, for corruption or human rights abuses.

“That is when Moro will need to take a stand," he said. "Will he support investigations within the government, at the risk of antagonizing Bolsonaro? Or will he be soft on such charges which may lead to the loss of his own political capital as a champion against corruption?”

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