BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao said on Thursday that the president will have to rein in his sons after one of them called a minister a liar on social media, exacerbating tensions in a new government dealing with its first big cabinet scandal.
In an interview with Reuters, Mourao also said far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has yet to decide whether his Secretary General Gustavo Bebianno should quit over accusations of misuse of campaign funds in the October election.
Bolsonaro resumed his duties on Thursday after more than two weeks in hospital and was confronted immediately with his first cabinet crisis since taking office Jan. 1.
The scandal surrounding one of his closest aides, who denies the allegations, stole the thunder from the first news of the government’s proposed pension overhaul - a cornerstone of an ambitious economic reform agenda.
After days of damaging headlines, Bolsonaro had endorsed an attack on Bebianno by his son Carlos, a Rio de Janeiro city councilman who along with two brothers have become high-profile figures in national politics since their father’s election.
Carlos Bolsonaro has been the most combative family member on social media. The president’s son Flavio, a newly elected senator, has been caught up in a money laundering investigation. He denies any wrongdoing.
Younger brother Eduardo Bolsonaro, the most-voted federal lawmaker in the country, has become a foreign envoy for his father, courting allies such as American nationalist firebrand Steve Bannon, who told Brazilian press last week that Mourao was unhelpful and unimportant for Bolsonaro’s foreign policy.
Mourao told Reuters it was time for Bolsonaro to “give a unified order to the kids.”
“It falls to the president to call his sons and say, ‘Look, you work in the Senate, you in the lower house and you in the city council. Go work there to support the government’s ideas’,” he said.
The vice president, a retired general who embraced his role running the government in Bolsonaro’s absence and fills his agenda with meetings with diplomats and foreign executives, played down differences with his boss on international affairs.
He said Bolsonaro’s plan to move the Brazilian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem was a bad idea because it would hurt Brazilian exports to Arab nations, but he said he would support the president’s decision if he did go ahead with the move.
During the campaign, Bolsonaro criticized major investments in Brazil by the Chinese, the country’s largest trading partner. By contrast, Mourao said he plans to visit China in late May to restart meetings of a high-level bilateral commission to spur trade and investment.
“China has a great hunger for commodities that Brazil produces and for investment to control some phases of the logistics, and so we must make the best of it,” he told Reuters.
Mourao said he was unsure how Brazil would be able to provide humanitarian aid to Venezuela, at the request of the opposition to leftist President Nicolas Maduro. He said it would require an airlift by the military to the Venezuelan border.
He said the Brazilian government has lost its contacts with the Venezuelan military commanders backing Maduro, but its intelligence reports show that the lower ranks of the armed forces in Venezuela are “very unhappy.”
Mourao estimated that Maduro will last another three to six months in power and then his government could collapse suddenly “like a house of cards” when high-ranking military officers turn against him, he said.
Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassú, Ricardo Brito and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes and James Dalgleish