On Thursday afternoon (6/25), President Jair Bolsonaro (without a party) announced Professor Carlos Decotelli as the new Minister of Education.
The choice represents a sudden change in the political chessboard of the Bolsonaro government: the ideological group linked to the philosopher Olavo de Carvalho loses space, in favor of one appointed by the “moderate” wing of the military of the Planalto Palace.
With the departure of former Education Minister Abraham Weintraub, officially exonerated from his post on Saturday (6/20), the “olavistas” lose control over one of the main government portfolios and over an authorized budget of R $ 141.8 billion for 2020.
The other portfolio still under the command of this group is that of Foreign Relations, with Ernesto Araújo – although important, the Itamaraty has just over R $ 4 billion in this year’s Budget.
Bolsonaro’s choice for Education, announced via social media, took the current MEC summit by surprise: the possibility of choosing Decotelli was ignored in the portfolio.
“The name of Sérgio Sant’Ana (special advisor to the MEC) circulated, that of (Carlos) Nadalim (secretary of Literacy for the portfolio), then that of Antonio (Paulo) Vogel (de Medeiros, who temporarily took over the ministry after his departure. de Weintraub), Paraná’s Secretary of Education (Renato Feder). And then suddenly … I don’t remember anyone saying his name (Decotelli) inside MEC. In no conversation I had, nobody talked about him “, an MEC secretary tells BBC News Brasil, anonymously.
“It really was a very well constructed name (that of Decotelli), because it did not leak (to the press),” says another official at the top of the MEC.
Within the government, Decotelli is considered an indication of the more moderate military men who dispatch at the Planalto Palace, directly with Jair Bolsonaro.
According to palace advisers, his name would have reached the President of the Republic through the work of Admiral Flávio Augusto Viana Rocha, current head of the Special Secretariat for Strategic Affairs (SAE) of the Presidency of the Republic – like Rocha, Decotelli is linked to the Navy. He is an officer in the Force reserve and has coordinated activities at the Naval Warfare School.
In March of this year, Decotelli would even receive an award from the Brazilian Navy. The ceremony, however, would not have happened because of the new coronavirus pandemic.
In addition, people who know the new minister say he has a good relationship with the current Attorney General, Augusto Aras.
With a more moderate profile than his predecessor, Decotelli is an academic and also Bolsonaro’s first black minister – he is the third to hold the post, after Weintraub and professor Ricardo Vélez Rodríguez.
For a few months last year, between February and August, he headed the National Education Development Fund (FNDE), an autarchy linked to the MEC that is usually the target of disputes in any government, for managing a billionaire budget (of R $ 55 billion in 2019) and be responsible for financing some of the main public basic education programs in the municipalities, such as transportation and school infrastructure.
One of the programs prioritized by the fund at the time, Educação Conectada, made headlines months later, when the Comptroller General of the Union found inconsistencies in a R $ 3 billion bid for a purchase of educational technology equipment.
According to his profile on the FNDE website, Decotelli is a financier, professor and co-author of books on banking and financial administration. He has a doctorate in financial administration from the National University of Rosario (Argentina) and a postdoctoral degree at the Bergische Universitat Wuppertal, in Germany, also according to the agency.
Relationship with Bolsonaro comes from the transition
Decotelli’s relationship with the Bolsonaro government, however, is older than the post at FNDE. At the end of 2018, the academic joined the so-called Bolsonaro transition team, which met at the Banco do Brasil Cultural Center, in Brasília, to formulate the government’s first plans even before the new president took office.
The team was responsible for receiving information from the administration of former President Michel Temer (MDB) and preparing a diagnosis to assist the new occupant of the Planalto.
“Like Bolsonaro, Decotelli is from Rio, and has known him for a long time. He has been a prominent figure there in Rio for many years, because of his activities at Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV, of which Decotelli is a professor)”, says Paulo Kramer, a political scientist and retired professor at the University of Brasilia (UnB), who met Decotelli on the transition team.
“Without a doubt, his choice is a victory for the moderate military wing, as opposed to the ideological wing,” says Kramer.
“He understands that his legacy as a minister will be evaluated not by the ideological battles he fights (ahead of the MEC), but by the extent to which he will make Brazilian education climb positions in international assessments, such as Pisa”, says the professor.
According to Kramer, Decotelli will also have a certain “role playing” to deal with entities in the Education sector that do not support the government – different from what happened in the management of Abraham Weintraub.
The conservative wing’s reaction
Meanwhile, in the so-called ideological wing of the government, the minister’s arrival was not well received.
Carlos Nadalim is the current secretary of Literacy at MEC and the main follower of Olavo de Carvalho remaining at the top of the ministry. He was even quoted to take the post when Weintraub left – when the ex-minister announced his departure, Nadalim posted a tribute to him on his Twitter account.
On Thursday, Nadalim reacted angrily to questions about the appointment of the new minister. “Call him (Decotelli) and the president,” he said when asked by BBC News Brasil. “I’m focused on my secretariat. If you want information, call the president and the new minister,” he said.
Bolsonarista deputy Carlos Jordy (PSL-RJ) used social media to wish Decotelli good luck, but warned the new minister about the supposed “cultural war” underway in the country. “At the slightest sign of weakness, the left will not forgive,” warned the deputy.
Former acting secretary of Culture and defender of conservative ideas, pastor Jane Silva said that some of Bolsonaro’s supporters were left without understanding Decotelli’s choice.
“What is happening to the conservative group? We are very scared. The president is beginning to… lose strength. But among conservatives there is a conversation about whether Bolsonaro… We have no doubt that he is conservative, but is he the type that only speaks and doesn’t act? Are the military responsible for the government, and the president only accepts? “, she says.
“This week I saw him nominate (actor) Mário Frias, and together with him Pedro Horta (as assistant secretary), who is the iron forehead of João Doria”, says the pastor.
“I don’t know if that person (Decotelli) is the ideal one for the MEC or not. Weintraub should have been paid for by the president and remained. ‘Ah but he was at risk of life’. Why did the government not give him security and conditions to continue? “, she asks.
Choice surprised civil society
Decotelli’s appointment as MEC command surprised the leaders of education organizations consulted by BBC News Brasil. Some recall that, despite being an academic, the new minister never researched public policies in the area of education. On the other hand, he seems to have a more appeasing profile than Abraham Weintraub.
For Daniel Cara, a member of the National Campaign for the Right to Education and a professor at the Faculty of Education at USP, Decotelli “is not a reference” in the sector because it is a name that is very little known in educational policy discussions.
Cara sees with concern concern the fact that Decotelli is seen as someone who pleases the Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, for fear of further cuts in budget expenditures or privatizations in education.
In turn, Priscila Cruz, president of the organization Todos Pela Educação, believes that Decotelli has “the right profile” to rebuild bridges between MEC and states, municipalities and Congress, after the controversial Weintraub administration.
“I had little contact with him at the FNDE, (but) he is an excellent person, very polite, the opposite of Weintraub. His outstanding characteristic is being very austere, serious and focused on management”, says Cruz to BBC News Brasil. “One of your main tasks will be to rebuild the bridges that Weintraub blew up.”
Other urgent challenges facing Decotelli will be the resumption of face-to-face classes after quarantine, currently being defined by States and municipalities with virtually no participation from MEC; the holding of Enem (National High School Exam), amidst increasing educational inequalities due to the pandemic; and the approval of Fundeb, a billionaire fund for basic education that, by law, expires this year.
Abraham Weintraub was sacked after months of political controversies that increased government wear and tear on other Powers – chief among them was the fact that Weintraub called the ministers of the Federal Supreme Court “vagabonds” during the April 22 ministerial meeting that its secrecy was suspended.
Before him, Ricardo Vélez had held the position for only three months.
* With information from Paula Adamo Idoeta, from São Paulo
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