More than two years after delivering his inaugural speech as Chancellor, when he promised to align the Foreign Ministry with the wishes of Jair Bolsonaro’s voters, Ernesto Henrique Fraga Araújo resigned on Monday (29) – under the pressure from Congress.
Ernesto, who at the time of his inauguration was an unknown diplomat recently promoted to ambassador, is leaving the post after growing distaste for different sectors of society and government. From National Congress summits to generals advising Bolsonaro, from big businessmen to agribusiness executives, everyone has come together in recent days to get him off the Esplanade.
Ernesto met Bolsonaro on Monday morning, when he told the president he would step down as head of the foreign ministry. The information was confirmed by interlocutors at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and at the Planalto Palace, but has not yet been officially announced.
According to the assistants of the president, despite the request to resign, the idea is for the minister to remain in office until the president has defined a name to replace him, as happened with General Eduardo Pazuello, former health Minister. The proposal is for he also helps in the transition of his successor.
With the departure of Ernesto, three names are cited as favorites to take over from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: the Brazilian Ambassador to France, Luís Fernando Serra, the Brazilian Consul General in New York, Maria Farani Azevêdo, and the Secretary for Strategic Affairs, Admiral Flavio Rocha.
The former has the support of the president’s family, and Planalto is expected to have a conversation with Bolsonaro in the coming days. Rocha, a military man, although not a career servant of Itamaraty, speaks five languages and is known for his moderate profile. Farani, in turn, has the support of MPs and senators aligned with Bolsonaro, but faces resistance within the ideological core of the government for having served as chief of staff to former minister Celso Amorim, during the PT government.
In the past few hours, palace advisers have sent messages with images of Farani alongside left-wing politicians and remember that before taking office as president, Bolsonaro even said in an interview that he didn’t had no intention of naming her. With strong resistance to Ernesto in the Senate, which makes it difficult to apply for diplomatic representation abroad, the president is weighing two alternatives for the chancellor. Neither needs the seal of Congress.
The first is a function at the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), which is subordinate to the Brazilian Embassy in Paris. The second is the post of Alternate Permanent Representative to the United Nations (United Nations).
The dismissal of Ernesto, avowed admirer of the writer Olavo de Carvalho, is also a blow to the ideological wing of Bolonarianism, which in recent years has lived with open doors at the Foreign Ministry.
Although he has always faced resistance for promoting an ultra-conservative shift in the ministry, Ernesto saw his fate sealed after House Speakers Arthur Lira (PP-AL) and Senate Rodrigo Pacheco (DEM-MG), joined the coalition. to get him out of government.
On March 22, Lira and Pacheco had a meeting in São Paulo with great businessmen, who did not spare Ernesto. The Chancellor has been called silent and accused of executing Bolsonaro’s negativism in the foreign policy pandemic, which would have cost Brazil precious time in negotiations over vaccines and supplies to fight Covid-19.
During the meeting, Ernesto’s alleged omission was pointed out as one of the factors in the calamity situation Brazil is going through, with daily records of deaths from the virus, a risk of drug shortages and a pace insufficient vaccination to cope with the most difficult months of. disease.
Ernesto’s main flank during his last months in power was his relationship with China, Brazil’s largest trading partner and exporting country of the raw material used by both the Butantan Institute and Fiocruz (Oswaldo Cruz Foundation ) in the production of coronavirus immunizers.
Sunday (28), Ernesto posted on a social network that he would not have yielded to a request from Katia Abreu, president of the Senate’s external relations committee, to report to the Chinese lobby on the issue of 5G in the country. The accusation sparked a strong reaction from deputies and senators, and Katia Abreu even described the now ex-chancellor as marginal. On Monday, there were demarches to formulate a request for impeachment and the threat of blocking applications for diplomatic posts.
People following the case in government say that with the message, Ernesto rushed his departure, which was already treated as inevitable by palace advisers. The message was read as an attack on the entire Senate, which decided to stop all matters of interest to Itamaraty until the crisis was resolved.
This Monday morning, the chancellor had scheduled a meeting with his main advisers, but it was canceled, and he was summoned to the palace by Bolsonaro. Another agenda that fell was a video conference with the new WTO Director General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. According to interlocutors, after the conversation with the president, Ernesto warned his team that he was leaving the chancellery.
Since the start of his mandate, Ernesto has promoted a policy of antagonism with China. Also in March 2019, at a conference for young diplomats, he said he did not want to reduce Brazilian foreign policy to a mere trade issue.
“We want to sell soybeans and iron ore, but we are not going to sell our souls,” he said at the time, referring to Brazilian sales to China. Generally speaking, Ernesto adopted the thesis that it was necessary to protect Brazil from the growing influence of the Chinese, a country ruled by a communist dictatorship.
The former minister’s objectives quickly clashed with the interests of the agro-industry – big sellers to Asians – and the lack of foreign investment in Brazil’s infrastructure. The relationship with Beijing fluctuated in 2019, but hit its lowest point with the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis.
With the arrival of the pandemic in 2020, Bolsonaro has decided to align himself with the speech of former US President Donald Trump, according to which the Chinese government has voluntarily spread the virus. During a conversation on social networks between MP Eduardo Bolsonaro (PSL-SP) and Chinese Ambassador to Brazil Yang Wanming, Ernesto came to defend the president’s son.
The then chancellor even sent a request to Beijing to have the Chinese diplomat expelled from Brazil – this was ignored. The minister has since interrupted all dialogue with the Chinese mission in Brasilia. The breach wreaked havoc months later, when Coronavac and AstraZeneca vaccine supplies were threatened by delays in the export of batches from China.
Although interlocutors stressed that it was not possible to say whether there had been retaliation from the Chinese, the lack of communication channels between the Foreign Ministry and the Embassy in times of crisis. was obvious. Not by chance, during a Senate session on March 24, several senators publicly called for the chancellor’s resignation, and feuds with China were among the main complaints heard by the minister.
The conservative revolution promoted by Ernesto in Itamaraty, however, went far beyond the anti-Chinese agenda. He forged an alliance with the Trump administration and approved a series of concessions to the Americans who critics say were not accompanied by counterparts from Brazil.
At the UN, he broke with Brazil’s historic votes regarding the Middle East conflict and began supporting Israel in protests over disputes with the Palestinians. Despite calls from diplomats, he ordered Brazil to vote in favor of the US embargo on Cuba, shattering another traditional position of the country.
In multilateral forums, he positioned Brazil against the defense of sexual and reproductive rights, in an openly anti-abortion agenda and aligned with nationalist and authoritarian governments, such as Hungary and Poland, and began working in negotiations for the Forum, a group of left parties in Latin America, to be included in the declarations.
So it wasn’t just the pandemic that turned the winds against Ernesto.
The election of Joe Biden last year as the new US president has raised doubts about the minister’s ability to engage in a good dialogue with the world’s main economy. Ernesto has been branded among American diplomats as a devotee of Trump, described by him as a defender of Western values. In addition, he posted a sequence of messages showing sympathy for the invaders on the U.S. Capitol, which drew backlash from senior Democratic Party officials.
In the strongest response, the chairman of the Senate External Relations Committee, Democrat Robert Menendez, sent a letter to Bolsonaro demanding that he and Ernesto strongly condemn the attacks on the Capitol.