Brazil's Bolsonaro militarizes his inner Cabinet

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro said on Thursday he had picked Army General Walter Braga for his chief of staff, cutting links to political parties in his closest circle of advisors that are now all military men.

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Braga, currently the Army’s chief of staff and its second highest-ranking officer, will take office on Tuesday,replacing Onyx Lorenzoni, who will move to head the Citizenship Ministry.

Bolsonaro tweeted the announcement of the long-awaited ministerial shuffle that removes Lorenzoni as the last politician in his inner Cabinet.

The appointment of Braga, the second active-duty general in the Cabinet, raises to seven the number of military men in the 20-member Cabinet, not counting Vice President Hamilton Mourao, a retired general.

“This militarization, especially of the inner circle of ministers in the Planalto Palace, reinforces the image Bolsonaro wants to have, that he is not allied to any political group,” said Leonardo Barreto at Vector Analysis political consultancy.

Distrust of politicians likely was another reason Bolsonaro, a former Army captain, preferred to rely on military advisors to help run the government, Barreto said.

Bolsonaro took office last year on a wave of conservative sentiment by Brazilians fed up with corrupt politics and vowed to break away from traditional parties. He has since broken with the small party he piggy-backed on to get elected and launched his own movement called the Alliance for Brazil.

The replacement of Lorenzoni, one of the first politicians to back Bolsonaro’s presidential 2018 bid, was expected since last year. He failed to mobilize political support for the government’s agenda in Congress, a job that went to Army General Luiz Eduardo Ramos in June.

The chief of staff post also lost power with the recent transfer to the Economy Ministry of a program responsible for drawing investment for the privatization of state assets.

Among the most active military cabinet members is Infrastructure Minister Tarcisio Freitas, a retired Army engineer, who is heading efforts to modernize Brazil’s roads, ports, railways and airports.

A third active-duty officer in the government is Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Marcos Pontes, Brazil’s first and only astronaut and now minister of science and technology.

Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Sandra Maler and Marguerita Choy