Brazil president Bolsonaro fires far-right education minister, replacing him with conspiracy theorist

New cabinet member once claimed communists introduced crack to country to spark a revolution

Tom Barnes
Tuesday 09 April 2019 21:01 BST
Jair Bolsonaro speaks after winning Brazil presidential elections

Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro has sacked his far-right education minister – only to appoint a conspiracy theorist to the position.

The president dismissed the controversial Ricardo Velez Rodriguez from the office just three months into his tenure, following reports of internal disputes.

He will be replaced by Abraham Weintraub, a university professor whose credentials Mr Bolsonaro was keen to emphasise when announcing his appointment on Twitter.

“Abraham is a doctor, a university professor and has extensive management experience and the necessary knowledge for the portfolio,” he wrote. “I take this opportunity to thank Prof Velez for his service.”

Mr Rodriguez had been a controversial figure during his time in government, ordering textbooks be re-written to deny the country’s 1964 coup and subsequent 21-year military dictatorship.

He was also forced to apologise for demanding pupils across Brazil be read a letter containing several of Mr Bolsonaro’s campaign slogans before being filmed signing the national anthem.

However, far from representing a more moderate choice to succeed Mr Rodriguez, Mr Weintraub has a history of promoting right-wing conspiracy theories.

In an interview with Sao Paulo-based newspaper Estadao in August 2018, Mr Weintraub and his brother, Arthur, spoke about their support for the then-presidential candidate Mr Bolsonaro.

During the interview, Mr Weintraub claimed the far-left Colombian paramilitary group FARC had introduced crack cocaine into Brazil as part of a plot to trigger a communist revolution.

He suggested this plan had been concocted at the Sao Paulo Forum, an annual meeting of left-wing parties and organisations in Latin America.

“Today, South America, and Brazil in particular, forms part of the habitat for a clear strategy for seizing power by totalitarian groups socialists and communists,” Mr Abraham told the newspaper. “I did not believe in that, I thought it was a conspiracy theory, but it's all documented – the Sao Paulo Forum is a reality.

“FARC were guests of honour. Crack was introduced in Brazil in as a planned event. Look at the files, it’s on the internet.”

Mr Bolsonaro has seen his far-right administration frustrated by infighting and dogged by allegations of corruption.

With a warring cabinet split into several factions, the government has found itself in a state of paralysis and achieved few of its campaign promises.

The inaction has seen Mr Bolsonaro’s approval rating drop to 32 per cent – the lowest of any first-term president in Brazil.

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Hailed by his supporters as a champion of anti-corruption, the president is now facing claims of familial wrongdoing.

Regulatory authorities said his son Flavio, who is also a senator, received 48 suspicious payments totalling around £19,000 in a single month from his former driver Fabricio Queiroz.

Mr Queiroz is also alleged to have made a payment to first lady Michelle Bolsonaro of about £4,200. All involved deny any wrongdoing and an investigation is ongoing.

Meanwhile, Mr Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has also come under widespread criticism for celebrating 31 March – the day on which in 1964 Brazil’s military launched a coup and seized control of the country.

The president and his allies believe the dictatorship saved Brazil from communist rule. Critics however point to the widespread censorship and human rights abuses carried out by the regime.

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