General Carlos Alberto Santos Cruz joined the Podemos today.
The military’s entry into the party of former judge Sergio Moro, who is now a political rival of Jair Bolsonaro, represents for the former captain a symbol and a threat.
Santos Cruz is the only Brazilian general alive who went to war. In 2013, he led the first offensive mission in the history of the UN in Congo (with a license to kill). He commanded 22,000 blue helmets in an experience that changed the organization’s action parameters and resulted in a manual named after him, the “Santos Cruz Report”.
In 2019, the military decided to lend its stars to the nascent Bolsonaro government. Four other retired generals did the same: Augusto Heleno, Fernando Azevedo e Silva, Eduardo Villas Bôas and the vice president, Hamilton Mourão.
With the exception of Heleno, everyone else either left the government or distanced themselves from Bolsonaro, in a process that reflected the deterioration of the president’s relationship with the military in general, especially those in the army.
Now, Santos Cruz’s departure for Moro’s party symbolizes something more than the cooling of the relationship between Bolsonaro and the Armed Forces: it means the official transfer of a respected and influential general to the trench opposite that of the former captain. And the general enters the field ready to open fire.
In conversation with this column, Santos Cruz, usually discreet, spared no ammunition against Bolsonaro, who, according to him, “has no military characteristics, such as respect for hierarchy, discipline and loyalty”; projected a “grotesque” photograph of Brazil abroad; “did everything to demoralize the right” and caused “incalculable damage to the image of the Armed Forces”.
Bolsonaro and his “WhatsApp superheroes”, said Santos Cruz, are just pretending to be patriots. “Patriots are the ones who unite the country, not this bunch of madmen.”
The military will still decide whether to dispute a seat in the House or in the Senate. It is true, however, that he will speak with relish at Moro’s rallies.
It will be one of the first times a general will speak from a podium what the category has long said of Bolsonaro under his breath — and that includes allies as close to the president as General Heleno.
In August 2018, at a meeting that brought together then-candidate Jair Bolsonaro and a dozen heavyweight businessmen from São Paulo at the home of former government secretary Fabio Wajngarten, General Heleno was caught by one of those present at the time when, talking on the phone with an unknown caller about the former captain’s performance in front of the audience, he said unflattering things about him, including that he was “very unprepared.” The conversation — which Heleno did not realize was being recorded and filmed by cell phone — reached the president, who at the time decided to leave it out.
Santos Cruz’s affiliation with Podemos is a symbolic and welcome milestone for Bolsonaro. But it also represents a threat to the former captain: that of being stripped of the military credentials he never had, only now in public.