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Cablegate: Brazil: Resignation of Defense Minister Viegas

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BRASILIA 002763

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/04/2014
TAGS: PREL MARR BR POL MIL
SUBJECT: BRAZIL: RESIGNATION OF DEFENSE MINISTER VIEGAS

REF: BRASILIA 2684

Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR DENNIS HEARNE. REASON: 1.4
(B)(D)

1. (C) Summary. Brazilian Minister of Defense Jose Viegas has
presented his letter of resignation to President Lula da
Silva, according to a 4 November Defense Ministry
announcement. Vice President Jose Alencar will formally take
over the defense ministry portfolio on 8 November (Minister
Viegas retains authority until that date). A senior MOD
official confirmed that the resignation came as a result of
months of tensions and disagreements between Viegas and
senior military commanders over military pensions and other
institutional problems, culminating in the recent Herzog case
(see reftel), in which senior army officials had not cleared
with Viegas a controversial communiqu concerning human
rights abuses during Brazil's military era. Viegas has been
an effective interlocutor with the USG on key issues, notably
implementation of Brazil's air bridge denial (shootdown)
program against aerial narcotrafficking. Mission does not
view this development as an indication that Brazil's armed
forces are restive and challenging civilian authority, even
though Viegas' tenure will not be remembered for reinforcing
the stature and effectiveness of the civilian MOD. It also
remains to be seen how his successor will handle challenging
issues, such as shootdown, Brazil's leadership of MINUSTAH in
Haiti or complex civil aviation matters. End summary.

2. (U) Brazilian Minister of Defense Jose Viegas has
presented his letter of resignation to President Lula da
Silva, according to a 4 November Defense Ministry
announcement. Vice President Jose Alencar will formally take
over the defense ministry portfolio on 8 November, while
retaining his duties as vice president. No official reason
was offered for the resignation in the announcement, but
there has been media speculation for several months that
Viegas might depart the ministry soon after Brazil's October
municipal elections.

3. (C) PolCouns spoke on 4 November with Fernando Abreu,
Viegas' chief of staff. Abreu confirmed that Viegas' recent
embarrassment in the Herzog case (see reftel) had been the
"gota da agua" ("last drop of water," a Portuguese colloquial
equivalent for "straw that broke the camel's back"),
following months of tensions and disagreements between Viegas
and senior military commanders over military pensions,
budgets and other institutional problems. In the Herzog case,
the release of a truculent communiqu by the Brazilian army
that appeared to justify human rights abuses during the
military era in Brazil, and which had not been cleared by
Viegas, pointed up his continued difficulty in establishing
coordination and authority with the armed services. Abreu
told PolCouns that the army commander, with whom Viegas has
had previous difficulties, should have resigned "as a matter
of honor," and that his continuation as force commander made
Viegas' remaining as minister unviable.

4. (C) Abreu said that the appointment of Alencar is "a good
solution" and he opined that Alencar may retain the defense
portfolio indefinitely (but see para 7 below). He did not
know whether Alencar would physically spend most of his time
at the MOD or in the vice presidency. Abreu also confirmed
speculation that Viegas, a career diplomat, would be posted
as Brazil's Ambassador in Madrid once the GOB receives
agrement.

5. (C) During the transition period, Abreu said it is
possible that Viegas, working out of the foreign ministry,
may be available to work with the USG on resolving the final
issues in the bilateral effort to revise the 2000 Brazil-U.S.
Technology Safeguards Agreement on participation of U.S.
firms in commercial space launches at Brazil's Alcantara
spaceport. Abreu and PolCouns agreed that the issue is
well-advanced with good potential for a successful
resolution,

6. (C) During a lunch at the Ambassador's residence on 4
November, PolCouns also discussed Viegas' resignation with
Aldo Rebelo, Lula's Minister for Political Coordination.
Rebelo opined that the Viegas resignation "had been
predictable for some time" owing to the tensions between the
minister and the senior levels of the armed forces. Rebelo
said that Viegas had "performed admirably" in many of his
duties, and he noted specifically Viegas' successful effort
with the USG on the shootdown issue.

7. (C) But Rebelo, who was formerly chair of the foreign
affairs and defense committee in Brazil's chamber of
deputies, said Viegas' tenure as DefMin had personified "a
clash of cultures" between two of Brazil's oldest
institutions -- its foreign ministry and its armed forces.
Rebelo said military officers had told him that Viegas,
trained as a diplomat "to listen, negotiate and compromise,"
was out of step with military services that expect their
senior leader "to issue orders and get results." Rebelo said
the problem is not one of lack of respect in the military for
civilian authority, but rather the military's preference in
its civilian minister for a political figure capable of
engaging with congress and the treasury to secure funding and
protect perogatives. Unlike Abreu, Rebelo opined that
Alencar's assumption of the defense portfolio "could be only
temporary." Rebelo has often been named as a possible
replacement for Viegas, but Rebelo denied that possibility to
PolCouns, saying such speculation is "media exaggeration."

8. (C) Comment. Viegas has been an effective and reliable
interlocutor for the Mission and the USG on key policy issues
in his broad area of responsibility, and he has been
especially valuable in working with us on shootdown and
Alcantara. Alencar, a likable and successful businessman,
has not been especially distinguished as vice president, has
no known experience with military matters, and does not
strike us as having either the intellectual or diplomatic
skills of Viegas. It remains to be seen how he will handle
challenging issues, such as shootdown, Brazil's leadership of
MINUSTAH in Haiti or complex civil aviation matters that fall
in the purview of the defense ministry. However,his position
as vice president and political saavy may make him an
appealing choice, or at least a neutral one, in the armed
forces' view. We do not see this development as an
indication that Brazil's armed forces are restive and
challenging civilian authority. On the contrary, today's
Brazilian military is thoroughly apolitical. Nonetheless,
the civilian ministry remains small and anemic compared to
the armed services it ostensibly governs, and the Viegas era
-- despite its accomplishments -- will not be remembered for
reinforcing the institutional stature and effectiveness of
the civilian MOD.

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