U.S. President Joe Biden’s defense secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday said Brazil’s defense minister had told him his country’s armed forces were focused on providing security to ensure a “safe, secure and transparent” election in October.
“The Brazilian minister of defense commented that he was very much focused on providing security to ensure that they were able to conduct a safe and secure and transparent election,” Austin said after attending a hemispheric meeting of defense ministers in Brasilia.
“He appeared confident in his ability to provide security,” the secretary told reporters.
Military loyalty to the Constitution has become a central issue ahead of the presidential election in Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has publicly cast doubt on the validity of Brazil’s electronic voting system.
Austin also commented broadly about the importance of firm civilian control of militaries in the region.
“I would just underscore that it’s especially vital for militaries to carry out their roles responsibly during elections,” Austin said, in comments likely to resonate in Brazil ahead of its Oct. 2 vote.
During the conference, Austin told ministers from across the Americas that the proper role of the military in a democratic society involved “protecting democracy, respecting the will of the people, and defending human rights and the rule of law.”
Bolsonaro’s questioning of Brazil’s electoral system has raised concerns he might refuse to accept defeat in October, following the example of former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Some opinion polls show him down almost 20 percentage points against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Bolsonaro, a former Army captain, has based much of his political career on nostalgia for Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, disparaging Congress and the courts while filling his government with current and former armed forces officers.
Earlier this month, he told diplomats that the Brazilian military should be called in to help secure transparency in the election. He has pushed electoral authorities to accept a parallel vote count to be carried out by the armed forces. They have ruled that out.
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