BRASILIA – The CEO of Brazilian state-run oil giant Petrobras was fired on Friday in the wake of President Jair Bolsonaro’s repeated attacks on the company for hiking fuel prices.
The right-wing head of state said that reserve army Gen. Joaquim Silva e Luna, a former defense minister, will take charge of Petrobras, whose shares trade on the Sao Paulo, New York and Madrid stock exchanges.
Silva e Luna, whose appointment is subject to the approval of the Petrobras board of directors, has been serving as the top Brazilian executive of the Itaipu hydroelectric complex, a binational enterprise with Paraguay.
Economist Roberto Castello Branco was appointed to run Petrobras at the start of Bolsonaro’s administration in January 2019.
“The government decided to designate Mr. Joaquim Silva e Luna to fulfill a new mission as chairman and CEO of Petrobras, after the end of the cycle, greater than two years, of the current CEO, Mr. Roberto Castello Branco,” the Ministry of Mines and Energy said in a statement released by Bolsonaro.
The president has intensified his complaints about continuing increases in the price of fuel that have led Brazil’s truckers to threaten a strike like the one that virtually shut down the country in May 2018.
Gasoline prices have risen nearly 35 percent, while the cost of diesel for freight trucks is up by around 30 percent.
Bolsonaro said on Thursday in his weekly online video message to supporters that the government would temporarily suspend federal taxes on diesel and he dropped hints about imminent changes at Petrobras.
“I tell you we will certainly have changes in Petrobras,” the president said on Friday during the inauguration of a public works project.
Bolsonaro’s comments spurred a 7.92 percent drop in the price of Petrobras shares on the Sao Paulo stock exchange.
The official announcement of Castello Branco’s dismissal came after the close of trading in Sao Paulo.
If his appointment is approved by the board, Silva e Luna will become the first military officer to lead Petrobras since the restoration of democracy in 1985 after 21 years of rule by the armed forces.
Though his own military career ended with his forced transfer from the active-duty army to the reserves, Bolsonaro is an outspoken admirer of the former military regime.