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LATIN AMERICA | 21-02-2021 08:12

Bolsonaro appoints Army reserve general to head Petrobras

Brazil's far-right president appoints Army reserve general Joaquim Silva e Luna to lead state-owned energy giant Petrobras, after criticising several successive increases in the price of fuel. 

Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, appointed an Army reserve general to lead state-owned energy giant Petrobras, after criticising several successive increases in the price of fuel. 

"The government decided to appoint Joaquim Silva e Luna to fulfill a new mission, as... president of Petrobras, after closing the cycle, exceeding two years, of the current president Roberto Castello Branco," said a brief note from the Ministry of Mines and Energy, published by the president on his Facebook account. 

Silva e Luna, formerly the defence minister under president Michel Temer, had been serving as general director of the Itaipu Binacional dam. 

His nomination will have to be confirmed by the Petrobras board of directors. 

Earlier Friday Bolsonaro had announced that there would be "changes" at Petrobras.

"We will never interfere in this great company, nor in its pricing policy, but people cannot be surprised with certain increases," Bolsonaro said during a morning event in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. He did not give further details.

His statements were followed by a sharp drop in the oil company's share prices. They closed down 7.92 percent Friday, with preferred shares down 6.63 percent. 

Petrobras has increased fuel prices four times so far in 2021, a cumulative rise of nearly 35 percent.

The price of gas cylinders, widely used by poor families, has also increased considerably this year, a new blow to people already severely affected by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Bolsonaro's criticism of the increases, which he called "excessive," calls into question the liberal agenda of his economic minister Paulo Guedes, according to analyst Leandro Giabati.

On Thursday, the president announced he would eliminate federal tariffs on diesel and gas for two months, while his government finds a solution to the price hikes. 

While the situation "is far from signalling that the minister will fall or resign," it "reveals that Guedes has been constantly adapting to the political demands of President Bolsonaro, to the detriment of ... the interests they both represent," Giabati said. 

Leftist former president Dilma Rousseff froze fuel prices several times in 2014 and 2015 despite the price of oil increasing at the time. But that state intervention into Petrobras prices ended when Rousseff was impeached in 2016 and removed from office. Now prices are fixed by the company according to market variations.


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