Diplomats accompanying Chancellor Ernesto Araújo’s frying process believe he has lost the conditions to remain in office and speculate on the scope of changes in Brazilian foreign policy if the minister is removed from office.
Ernesto is going through his biggest crisis since taking office at Itamaraty in 2019. He is threatened with resignation due to pressure from the National Congress, the military, agribusiness leaders and big businessmen. However, he maintains the support of the ideological wing of the government, mainly of the deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro (PSL-SP), son of the President of the Republic.
On Friday (26), Folha asked diplomats how the offensive against Ernesto was interpreted by Itamaraty officials. In the responses, all given on condition of anonymity, most report that the past few days have been marked by relief and expectation of Ernesto’s possible downfall.
Chancellor of Itamaraty’s ultraconservative turn and his anti-communist and anti-globalist agenda have not found an echo in most members of his career. For many in the ministry, Ernesto is the representation of someone who set fire to the diplomatic capital accumulated by the portfolio over decades.
The eventual resignation of the Chancellor is therefore seen as the harbinger of a more traditional foreign policy and less influenced by an ideological agenda. Diplomats recall that Ernesto’s downfall was a request from parliamentarians and business leaders seeking more pragmatism in Brazilian foreign policy – which should influence the eventual choice of a successor.
Wednesday’s Senate session (24), in which Ernesto was heard and confronted by several senators, was followed live by career officials. They report that they have never seen a chancellor so criticized by the Senate, with many parliamentarians publicly calling for his resignation so that the country can have better conditions of dialogue with other nations to fight the pandemic.
The meeting with the senators showed that there is no longer any dialogue between Ernesto in the Federal Senate, a legislative chamber which normally maintains an intense dialogue with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and which is responsible for approving the appointment of ambassadors. In the Senate, Ernesto has come under attack mainly for his history of anti-China statements which members of Congress say make it difficult for Brazil to access vaccines.
In an unusual move, for example, he even asked the Chinese regime earlier this year to change its ambassador to Brazil, Yang Wanming. It was not answered.
Diplomats close to Ernesto, for their part, argue that the criticisms are unfair and say there is a shortage of vaccines in the world. They recognize, however, that regardless of the issue of vaccines, Ernesto ended up being penalized by senators for “all the work”: a chancellor adhering to such extreme radicalism ended up rallying against him the opposition of influential sectors.
Since the Senate session, diplomats have speculated on possible substitutes for the chancellor. There are apprehensions about the real importance of foreign policy changes. They remember that, basically, Itamaraty is carrying out directives emanating from the Presidency of the Republic.
Besides the profile of the new minister, they underline that the autonomy of the command of the house will depend on the influence of the ideological wing of the government, in particular Eduardo Bolsonaro. The president’s son is considered a “parallel chancellor” – he has free transit in Itamaraty and does not want to see his influence over the chancellery diminish.
Jair Bolsonaro’s interlocutors say that, despite the pressure, the president loves Ernesto and preferred to keep him in office. But he would have understood that the Chancellor is facing a very large coalition of opponents and that it will be difficult to preserve him on the Esplanade.
The minister himself tried to make a living on Thursday (25), by requesting a meeting with the mayor, MP Arthur Lira (PP-AL), and to appoint assistants to contact the offices of the senators.
In conversations, Ernesto and his team presented data and defended Itamaraty’s current handling in the pandemic, but, according to reports, there was little receptivity. Planalto interlocutors say that if he decides to change, Bolsonaro would have to wait until a new chancellor is found.
Ambassadors and politicians are cited. In Itamaraty, the best known names are those of Ambassador Maria Nazareth Farani (Consul in New York) and Ambassadors Nestor Forster (United States) and Luís Fernando Serra (France). Bolsonaro collaborators also claim that former president Fernando Collor (PROS-AL) is in the running. This assumption is however viewed with skepticism, because it would mean the loss of influence of the president and the ideological wing on the chancellery.
Any replacement for Ernesto, to be chosen, must retain at least some features of Bolsonaro’s conservative agenda. In diplomats’ assessment, it is more likely that a new chancellor will abandon the rhetoric of confrontation with China and adopt a more emphatic defense of the environment, in an attempt to wave the President of the United States, Joe Biden.
On the other hand, the elected must be obliged to preserve the characteristics of the Bolonarist agenda, such as alignment with Israel in the conflict with the Palestinians and the anti-abortion agenda in international organizations.
The effectiveness of the substitution also depends on the solution of a problem: what to do with Ernesto?
A career diplomat, the most obvious is to appoint him to an embassy abroad, but palace advisers fear that he will be disapproved by the Senate. One of the hypotheses is the choice of a representative post abroad which does not depend on parliamentary approval.