Brazil Defense Minister Resigns as Comments Rattle Rousseff

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff lost the third member of her Cabinet since taking office seven months ago, as her defense minister was forced to resign after making comments that angered the president.

Nelson Jobim had served as the civilian head of Latin America´s biggest military since 2007, one of 12 top officials that Rousseff retained when she took over from her political mentor and predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Jobim resigned after a meeting with Rousseff last night and will be replaced by Lula’s former foreign minister, Celso Amorim, Social Communications Minister Helena Chagas told reporters yesterday.

“Unfortunately, this phase has come to an end and we are turning the page,” President Rousseff said today during an interview on Radio Grande Rio. “Amorim is taking over because he has proved to be a Brazilian who is committed to his country.”

Jobim is a member of the government-aligned Democratic Movement Party of Brazil, known as the PMDB, the biggest party in Rousseff’s coalition, with 80 deputies in the 513-seat lower house and 20 senators in the 81-seat upper chamber. His exit won’t strain relations with the PMDB, but the timing amid deepening concerns about the global economy could cause problems for Rousseff, said Rafael Cortez, a political analyst at Sao Paulo-based Tendencias Consultoria.

“The government was trapped in a negative agenda, Dilma has to deal with global economic instability and at the same time has to make tough political decisions,” Cortez said in a telephone interview from Sao Paulo. “The resignation of a minister is never a small thing.”

Rousseff’s Rival

Jobim, a former Supreme Court chief justice, stirred controversy last week after acknowledging that he voted for Rousseff´s rival, Jose Serra, in last year´s elections. Pressure to resign increased yesterday when newspapers reported that he had criticized two of Rousseff´s closest aides.

Jobim, in an interview published in Revista Piaui magazine today, said Institutional Relations Minister Ideli Salvatti is “weak” and that Cabinet Chief Gleisi Hoffmann “doesn’t know Brasilia.”

The comments angered Rousseff, who decided yesterday that Jobim would have step down as soon as he returned last night from a trip to the Amazon rain forest, according to a government official who could not be named because he isn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

‘Everybody Knew’

Jobim earlier yesterday denied that he had criticized Salvatti, according to an e-mailed statement. After revealing that he voted for Serra, Jobim said during an Aug. 1 interview on the Roda Viva television program that “everybody knew” he and Serra are good friends.

Last month, Rousseff forced another Lula holdover, Transportation Minister Alfredo Nascimento, to resign amid allegations of kickbacks and overbilling at a ministry whose budget is the size of Paraguay´s $18 billion economy. Nascimento´s Party of the Republic this week withdrew its support of the government in the Senate.

Amorim, 69, was foreign minister from 1993 to 1994, under former President Itamar Franco, and from 2003 to 2010, under Lula.

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