Dilma Taps Amorim as New Defense Minister

By Patricia Maresch, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s new Defense Minister Celso Amorim had a first meeting with the commanders of the armed forces on Saturday. It was the first encounter between Amorim and the military command after President Dilma Rousseff had asked him to replace Nelson Jobim.

Brazil's new minister of Defense Celso Amorim, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, News

Brazil's new minister of Defense Celso Amorim, photo by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr.

According to a spokesperson for the defense minister, Amorim wanted to hear from each of the commanders, their most urgent issues. Sources in Brasília say that another objective of the meeting was to reduce the resistance of the military after the replacement of Jobim, who they thought was doing a good job.

After the meeting, the new defense minister stressed the need to get to know the military organizations. He said he had no intentions to “reinvent the wheel.” In the coming weeks, Amorim will have individual meetings with each of the commanders, and is not expected to bring great change to the defense minister policy.

“He’s very much a nationalist, so the military will agree with that,” said David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasília to members of the foreign press in São Paulo. According to Fleischer, Amorim is viewed as a patriot whose wants to see a globally powerful Brazil, sentiments that play well with military leaders.

The 69 year-old Amorim is a Brazilian diplomat and former Minister of Foreign Relations under Presidents Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and Itamar Franco (1993-1995). Before his appointment by Lula, he was Brazil’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Rousseff asked him to join her cabinet after several controversies surrounding ex-minister Jobim, who many analysts feel created his own problems. It started after admitting in an interview that he had voted for José Serra, Rousseff’s main opponent in the presidential election. A statement which reportedly had annoyed Rousseff, but she had decided to let it go.

Jobim is not a member of Rousseff’s party PT (Workers’ Party) but of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB). The PT and PMDB have a strong alliance in recent years though, carrying over from the very popular Lula legacy.

Nelson Jobim after his resignation, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, News

Nelson Jobim after his resignation, image recreation.

Soon after Jobim gave an interview to Piauí Magazine, in which he called one member of Rousseff’s cabinet ‘weak,’ and described Rousseff’s new Chief of Staff Gleisi Hoffmann as someone ‘who doesn’t even know Brasília.’ He also reportedly said that he was ‘surrounded by idiots’ in the Rousseff administration.

Shortly after this, Rousseff gave Jobim two options: resign, or get fired. Jobim rendered his resignation immediately, after having been Minister of Defense since 2007. Jobim had also served as Minister of Justice (1995-1997) under former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Jobim is the third minister to leave office since Rousseff came to power in January 2011. In June, Chief of Staff Antonio Palocci was forced from his post in a scandal surrounding his personal wealth. Rousseff was criticized by some for allowing the Palocci scandal to play out longer than it should have.

When corruption allegations surfaced against Transportation Minister Alfredo Nascimento in July however, she took swift action to remove him from that post. A poll in June showed that despite the scandal, Rousseff’s popularity had not been harmed at all.