Brazil's Bolsonaro shuffles Cabinet as COVID-19 pressure mounts

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro made six Cabinet changes on March 29 in the biggest ministerial reshuffle since he took office as pressure mounts on the far-right leader over his handling of the pandemic that has killed over 300,000 in the country.

Three ministers left the government, including Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo, a China hawk whose departure followed mounting criticism from lawmakers of his failure to guarantee additional COVID-19 vaccine supplies from Beijing and Washington.

Araujo had been under pressure for weeks. His verbal attacks on China, environmentalists and the left were increasingly seen as noisy distractions, especially given the change in U.S. leadership and the worsening health crisis in Brazil.

Bolsonaro seized on the loss of one of his most loyal allies to shore up support in his Cabinet, putting his chief of staff in charge of the Defense Ministry and placing a federal police officer close to his family in charge of the Justice Ministry.

"Bolsonaro is under enormous pressure and reacted to regain the political narrative," said Creomar de Souza, founder of Dharma Political Risk and Strategy in Brasilia. "The change at the Ministry of Defense was completely unexpected, and created a lot of confusion."

Latin America's largest economy is suffering its worst phase of the pandemic, with deaths topping 3,000 a day as a contagious new variant rages through the country. Bolsonaro has gained international notoriety for railing against lockdowns, sowing doubts on vaccines and pushing unproven "miracle" cures.

Brazil trails only the United States in total COVID-19 cases and deaths.

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