Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro on Nov. 30 named a Navy admiral as mining and energy minister to oversee Latin America’s top oil industry, the eighth veteran of the armed forces to be tapped for a senior government post.
Bolsonaro, a former army captain, tweeted the appointment of the first Navy official to his cabinet, Bento Costa Lima Leite de Albuquerque Junior, who heads the Navy's nuclear and technology development program.
An avowed fan of the 1964-85 military dictatorship, Bolsonaro surged to victory in October elections on a law and order platform. He pledged to empower ex-generals to help him tame spiraling violence and corruption and embark on an ambitious infrastructure program.
Albuquerque will take the helm at the ministry as oil production expands from Brazil’s coveted offshore presalt layer, where billions of barrels of oil are trapped under a thick layer of salt under the ocean floor.
Oil majors like ExxonMobil Corp. have dropped big money to lock in stakes to the world-class oil area in recent auctions, and have been further energized by efforts by Bolsonaro’s team to speed a huge oil auction of the so-called transfer-of-rights area.
He will also steer policy for mining, dominated by the world’s top iron ore producer Vale SA after Bolsonaro pledged to ease mining restrictions in the Amazon.
Some oil industry executives described the appointment as odd, flagging Albuquerque’s lack of experience in the sector. But some said it was too early to judge.
“Fernando Coelho Filho did not even know where the sea was and did a wonderful job,” said one oil industry executive, referring to a former mining and energy minister. “Let’s see the spots before calling it a cat.”
In a tweet, current minster Wellington Moreira Franco described Albuquerque as “very well prepared” for the technical responsibilities of the job. “He knows the functioning and challenges of getting on in Congress,” he said.
Albuquerque has experience in dealing with the Brazilian Congress, having served as chief parliamentary adviser to the Cabinet of the Minister of the Navy. He also served as an observer for United Nations troops in Sarajevo and Croatia.
Bolsonaro had already announced his intention to appoint a member of the Navy to his ministry, but was frustrated on his first attempt after Navy commander Eduardo Bacellar rejected an invitation to take over the Defense Ministry.
Beyond his appointed vice president Hamilton Mourao, former military men in Bolsonaro’s cabinet will also include Augusto Heleno, designated as defense minister, and Tarcisio Freitas, named as infrastructure minister.