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As Virus and Economic Woes Ravage Brazil, Bolsonaro Improvises and Confounds

In a sign of how deeply the pushing out of the military chiefs shook the political establishment, six presumptive presidential candidates for 2022 issued a joint statement warning that three decades after the end of the dictatorship, “Brazil’s democracy is threatened.”

The statement added: “There is no shortage of examples of the way authoritarianism can emerge from the shadows if societies are careless and fail to speak up in defense of democratic values.”

The new defense minister, Walter Souza Braga Netto, a former Army general who left active duty last year, rattled critics of the government by issuing a statement about the anniversary of the 1964 coup — the anniversary was Wednesday — saying the date should be “celebrated.”

But later in the day, he called today’s armed forces a bedrock of Brazil’s democracy. “On this historic day, I reaffirm that the most valuable asset of a nation is the preservation of democracy and the freedom of its people,” he said during a ceremony in which the three new chiefs of the armed forces were announced.

Lawmakers have called for Mr. Bolsonaro’s impeachment dozens of times since last year, but they have failed to garner broad support. Arthur Lira, the new leader of the House of Representatives, last week put the president on notice as he decried the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Mr. Lira warned that the “political remedies in Congress are well known and all of them are bitter.” Some, he added in a clear reference to impeachment, are “fatal.”

A group of lawmakers last week warned Mr. Bolsonaro in a letter that the 2021 budget, as currently drafted, would exceed fiscal limits established in 2016 to rein in public spending and attract foreign investment. Exceeding the cap, which economists say appears all but inevitable now, would open a new avenue for the president’s impeachment.


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