Brazil’s Tourism Minister Resigns Just Weeks Before Olympics

Henrique Eduardo Alves

Henrique Eduardo Alves visits the construction site of the Olympic Park in June 2015.

Photographer: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images
  • Alves is Temer’s third minister to leave over graft scandal
  • Temer said allegations won’t sidetrack economic program

Brazil’s Tourism Minister Henrique Eduardo Alves resigned on Thursday, just seven weeks before the start of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The presidential press office confirmed his departure in a statement. His resignation came a day after the Supreme Court published testimony from a former corporate executive that Alves had lobbied for illicit campaign donations. Alves wrote on his Twitter account that all campaign financing he requested as head of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party was within the law.

The minister wrote in the resignation letter that he’s confident his name will be cleared, adding he would step down so as not to become a distraction. "I don’t want to create difficulties or any problems for the government."

The administration hasn’t said when it will appoint a permanent replacement for Alves, who was tasked with promoting tourism at a time when Brazil is receiving negative press for the Zika virus outbreak and infrastructure problems in the Olympic host city of Rio.

For a look at challenges facing Olympic organizers, click here.

Alves is also the third cabinet member to leave Michel Temer’s administration since he took over the presidency last month. Two ministers resigned amid allegations that they tried to cover up a corruption probe. The two said they did nothing illegal.

The tourism minister’s departure renewed questions whether Brazil’s sweeping graft scandal would weaken Temer’s administration, as some of his closest allies -- and the president himself -- face allegations of wrongdoing. Opposition leaders including Congressman Afonso Florence said the government is starting to unravel. Yet Temer supporters such as Senator Ronaldo Caiado said it’s a positive sign that ministers are leaving before corruption investigations distract them from their jobs.

Brazil’s currency and equity markets closed up Thursday after trading down for much of the day on investor concerns that the U.K. would leave the European Union.

Temer’s Response

Speaking just hours before he was informed of Alves’s resignation, Temer denied allegations that he too had sought donations of illicit origin. He pledged to remain undeterred in his efforts to pull the country out of an economic and political crisis.

“Nothing will keep us from continuing to work for the good of Brazil,” he told reporters.

The allegations against both Temer and Alves were made by Sergio Machado, a former executive of state-run oil company Petrobras’s Transpetro unit who has turned state witness.

Temer took over Brazil’s top job after the Senate voted to suspend Dilma Rousseff during her impeachment trial. Financial markets cautiously welcomed the new government with the hopes that Temer’s economic team would shrink the budget deficit and get Latin America’s biggest economy growing again.

Temer originally planned a national TV address for Friday night, but decided last minute to speak with the press on Thursday to refute the allegations. He promised more policies to help Brazil’s economy, saying he has broad support from Congress and the Brazilian people.

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