ARMED FORCES Coronavirus

Mandetta-Mania and the Military

On Monday 13th April, word began to spread that Brazil’s high profile Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, having been saved from dismissal by the Military just a week earlier, had lost their support.

Rumour was that Mandetta had upset the Generals in a frank interview with TV Globo’s Fantástico, the previous night. By Thursday 16th he was gone.

In the interview, filmed shortly after his reprieve, a confident Mandetta complained that Brazilians do not know whether to listen to him or the President for guidance over Coronavirus safety, and made remarks that appeared to attack Bolsonaro directly: I think there are a lot of people…who see some fake news on the internet saying that this is an invention of countries to gain economic advantage. Other people because (they think) there is a worldwide plot against them. As if there’s a solution, as if by magic nobody needs to make a sacrifice. When you see people entering a bakery, entering a supermarket, lining up one after the other, leaning against each other, leaning together, people having a picnic in the park, this is clearly the wrong thing.”

From that point his dismissal seemed imminent, and reports emerged shortly thereafter that the Military were already looking for a candidate for his replacement. General Braga Netto, who is rumoured to be the Government’s key decision maker, was given credit for saving Mandetta’s skin, and will likely have had say on his replacement, Nelson Teich, who comes with Military’s approval, unlike Osmar Terra, a rumoured contender for the post a week before. It was always felt that clemency for Mandetta was only temporary.

Mandetta however is now hugely popular in Brazil, polling presidential numbers, and is a contender for right-wing Democratas Party candidate in 2022.

64% rejected his sacking, according to Datafolha.

PCdoB analyst Ricardo Capelli observed that Mandetta is leaving the government at an opportune moment, before the Coronavirus death count accelerates, and while he is polling with a 76% approval rating. His successor Nelson Teich will be held responsible for whatever happens next, and Mandetta has now positioned himself as DEM’s first viable candidate for the presidency in decades. (Democratas, formerly PFL, is one of the main successor parties to the Military Dictatorship government, ARENA  or Alliance of National Renewal).

Thus, if Bolsonaro actually survives in place until 2022, Mandetta will be a likely electoral opponent.

As the soap opera unfolded, and Mandetta-mania grew, many urged caution, pointing to his actual profile and record. He is a hard-right pediatric orthopedist who favoured the privatisation of Brazil’s public health system, SUS, and enthusiastically backed the coup of 2016. He was simply on the least deranged wing of a horror government, which in Brazil’s current plight, made him appear like a saviour, merely for advocating adherence to WHO guidelines on Covid-19, in accordance with Brazilian law.

At new Health Minister Nelson Teich’s introductory speech, fired predecessor Mandetta appeared cheerful enough, flanked by a smiling Braga Netto. Although much of the response to Teich’s appointment has been alarm and anger, his initial public rhetoric was not dissimilar to Mandetta’s, yet he appears to favour the vertical or flexible isolation favoured by Military top brass as well as Bolsonaro. With Mandetta’s soaring popularity it would be damaging to contradict his positions. Teich is a private oncologist, with no previous public health experience, who was an unofficial advisor to Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign, and early candidate for the Ministerial position. Controversy came quickly, with a 2019 video of the new Health Minister advocating that lifesaving resources be prioritised for the young over the elderly, which is actually in breach of the Brazilian constitution.

Three days before Mandetta’s dismissal, journalist Leonardo Attuch talked of a power vacuum in Brazil; that the Military, although pulling the strings, did not want to visibly take power, that they did not want to be held publicly responsible for the worst government in Brazilian history.

“Bolsonaro has some power. He is threatening to do things. The Military have some power, Congress has some power and society is perplexed just watching this all unfold. What I really see in Brazil right now is a ship with no captain. If we were going to have a military government they could simply remove Bolsonaro and put Vice President Mourão in power. They could force Bolsonaro to resign because the second that Bolsonaro loses all support from the military he’ll be out. Therefore, he still has a support base there. When we look at the most recent tweet by General Vilas Boas, he is also saying that, like Bolsonaro, he is against isolation. He says we have to look for balance and that we can’t have total isolation.”

That the most powerful sectors of the Military, such as former head of Armed Forces, General Villas Bôas, also favour relaxation of isolation and quarantine is key.

This placed the Military, not only Bolsonaro, in conflict with the increasingly influential public rhetoric of Mandetta, and his fate was sealed.