moral rapture

Image: G. Cortez


The real meaning of the Barra Torres letter

It is profoundly contradictory – to say the least – the supposed moral outburst of Admiral Barra Torres against the captain occupying the Planalto Palace. After all, even having insufficient credentials for the post, Barra Torres was appointed in 2019, by the same occupant of the Palace, to one of the most important positions in the Brazilian State – the director of the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) – in yet another step to impress on every public body the military logic of permanent and preventive war.

The dubious behavior of the admiral (who has a mandate until December 31, 2024 and cannot be dismissed from Anvisa) was expressed on Saturday (January 8) in an unusual open letter. Two days earlier, the captain had launched on his live weekly suspicions about non-republican interests of the Agency, when releasing the vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 against Covid-19.

The public letter is unusual, it should be noted, because top military personnel (such as Barra Torres) manifest themselves in conspiracies and conspiracies – and not in an open and transparent way.

And no less important, although not evident: the admiral's strife is not only aimed at responding to the attack on his personal honor. 10 months before the presidential election, the apparently harsh response to his superior also expresses the ambivalent behavior of the top of the armed forces in relation to his failed Bolsonaro project.

Since the beginning of the captain's term, the leadership's strategy has been to permanently emit contradictory signals in relation to the government they planned, helped to shape, integrate and which they smear with privileges. It's a way of being inside the government, but without fully assuming it.

But, as Bolsonaro's popularity decreases in poll after poll, while that of his main opponent (Lula) only shows growth, Barra Torres also needed to send signals to a possible future boss, even if he is in the opposition.

Thus, Barra Torres' act had an evident dimension and another, subliminal one.


The public dimension: defense of honor

If Barra Torres was effectively committed to children's health, as he tried to imply in his open letter, the admiral should begin an immediate process in the governing body to cancel the registration of glyphosate, the most widely used pesticide in Brazil. Approved in part by Anvisa, in 2021 glyphosate was one of the main causes of death of at least 503 children, only in the mega soy plantations for export.

But, as these huge portions of territory are exploited by Bolsonaro's political and economic base, Barra Torres turns a blind eye to this tragedy, whose information is already public and accessible.

They are included, for example, in the study conducted by researchers Rodrigo Soares, Mateus Dias and Rudi Rocha. Dealing with the matter, the Folha de São Paulo noted (on May 5, 2021) that “the spread of glyphosate in soybean crops has led to a 5% increase in infant mortality in municipalities in the South and Midwest that receive water from soybean growing regions”.

In other words: glyphosate – which has already been banned in more than 20 countries, including Austria and Mexico, and which will be out of production by 2023 in Germany – killed more children than those 300 who were murdered last year by the criminal policy of not availability of vaccines against Covid-19 for Brazilian men and women. Despite the seriousness of the situation, there is no record of any manifestation by Barra Torres in this regard.

This contradiction shows that the military who is outraged by the attack on his personal honor also fails to reduce the rate of children killed in Brazil by glyphosate – the same product that the Americans used in the war against Vietnam as a defoliant, a chemical weapon of mass destruction, to murder thousands of peasants.

The admiral's selective insensitivity was to be expected. After all, the Anvisa he presides over has been transformed, with emphasis from the coup leader Michel Temer, into a house of convenience and tolerance with the commercial interests of the international pesticide industry.

Along with the Ministry of Agriculture, another axis of agrobolsonarism, and Ibama, Anvisa is part of the authorization and registration system for pesticides. As a consequence, the numbers of poisons authorized in the last five years leave no doubt about the convergence between the captain's interests and the projects of soybean groups with transnational capital.

The number of new approvals for these poisons has skyrocketed since 2016, the year of the most recent coup d'état in Brazil.

In 2021 alone (accounted until December 2), the toxic group (Anvisa, Ibama and the Ministry of Agriculture) approved the registration of 500 new pesticides – a record number in the historical series that started in 2000, and which is 1,4% higher than that seen in 2020, the year of the previous record.

Anvisa is one of the main means of meeting the demands of Bolsonaro’s agro-export base – and the admiral proves to be an important element of this strategy, by not putting obstacles to the disproportionate expansion of new pesticides, one of the most important inputs in the commodity industry.

Hence, perhaps, the reason why the mouthy Bolsonaro remained silent after being publicly urged by a subordinate to recant.

Release of new pesticides in Brazil*

2014 – 148
2015 – 139
2016 – 277
2017 – 404
2018 – 449
2019 – 474
2020 – 493
2021 – 500, until December 2nd.

Source: Ministry of Agriculture cited in


Looking forward to the election year

There is also a clear second component to guide the publication of the open letter: the election year. We are ten months away from the presidential election, and even if the admiral cannot be dismissed from Anvisa until the end of 2024, he knows that he needs to show his next boss “independence” now – and there is a great possibility that this boss will be Lula , from the opposition to Bolsonaro.

For Barra Torres personally, always being on good terms with his civil superior means the possibility of getting a good budget for the Agency, achieving political space in the government and even receiving support in the dispute for some elective position.

Another importance of the good speeches is the maintenance and possibility of expanding the great political project of the military leadership. With Bolsonaro, the uniformed caste dedicated itself to infiltrating all kinds of cadres in the federal public administration (there is even talk of nine thousand military personnel in commissioned positions) not only because of the immediate material gains – although they are many and very important.

From the increase in wages at standards much higher than that of the rest of the civil service – making senior officers equal in salary to the elite of the civil service enshrined in the Central Bank, the Federal Revenue Service, the Attorney General's Office, the state-owned companies and the Justice – to the maintenance of social security privileges (while the entire the rest of the civil service is almost dwindling), the occupation of key posts in the structure of the State goes far beyond Bolsonaro’s mandate.

The long-term project at the top of the armed forces seems to be to install a certain type of functioning to make the State a machine to think and act in a military way.

Part of this project involves occupying the state with a hierarchical leadership of the armed forces that received postgraduate degrees from centers of excellence in neoliberal thinking – the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (RJ and SP), Dom Cabral (MG) and the postgraduate institute Insper (SP), in addition to exchanges with centers of military excellence in the USA.

The long-term objective is probably to install in the various fractions of the State a type of management that guarantees all sorts of privileges to the uniformed, in order to transform them into soldiers ideologically committed to ultraneoliberal icons – the minimal state, the free flow of capital, the complete denationalization of the Brazilian economy and even permission for the US to install unprecedented US military bases in Brazilian territory, as seen in the process of transferring the rocket launch base located in Alcântara (MA).

An indication that the top of the armed forces develops this mission is the number of general officers, active and reserve, who, with Bolsonaro, systematically began to occupy first-line positions in various fractions of the State.

A constant source of sectors of Brazilian academia that study national defense, reserve colonel Marcelo Pimentel published on January 3 on his Twitter account a preliminary and non-conclusive list of senior officers who hold or have held strategic management positions (sic ) Bolsonaro. Pimentel's attention was focused on representatives of the top ranks of the Army. Barra Torres himself, Rear Admiral, was not included in that list.

Thus, suddenly, without the rigor of a doctoral thesis, Pimentel remembered these flagrant cases:

General officers in the federal government – ​​selection

– The Vice-President of the Republic, Hamilton Mourão, is a general graduated in the class of 1975 at the Academia Militar das Agulhas Negras (AMAN), the training school for senior Army officers, located in Resende (RJ);

– General AMAN 76 at the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) advisor;

– general AMAN 72 president of Petrobras;

– general AMAN 72 in Itaipu;

– General AMAN 76 at the Post Office;

– general AMAN 80 advisor at the Superior Court of Justice (STJ);

– General AMAN 69 at the Institutional Security Office (GSI);

– General AMAN 75 at the Embassy in Israel;

– General AMAN 77 at the Northeast Development Superintendence (SUDENE);

– General AMAN 78 at the Ministry of Defence;

– general AMAN 77 at Postalis (private pension fund at Correios);

– General AMAN 77 at APEx (Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, linked to Itamaraty)

– General AMAN 79 at the General Secretariat of the Presidency;

– general AMAN 75 at Ebserh, the state holding company for university hospitals;

– general AMAN 73 and former army commander at GSI;

– general AMAN 78 ex-president Inst. Country of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA);

– general AMAN 76 former chairman Fund. Country of the Indian (FUNAI);

– general AMAN 81 former spokesperson for the current president;

– general AMAN 84 former Minister of Health;

– General AMAN 79 former Minister of the Government Secretariat;

– general AMAN 78 former Minister of the Civil House;

– general AMAN 78, former director of Empresa Brasil de Comunicação (EBC).

Source: Elaboration of Cel. Res. Marcelo Pimentel, published in

This wide use of senior officers without any expertise in such different areas indicates that, in fact, the State's redesign project is broad and has the prospect of being extended to the maximum in time. Regardless of the innumerable specificities of the fractions of the State, the insecticide rule applies to all: if it's military, it's good.


The letter was a smokescreen

Even sectors of the democratic and popular camp were seized with triumphalist fury when reading Barra Torres' open letter – which, until the afternoon of January 11, had not produced any known practical consequences. They did not observe the circumstances and subtext of the letter, which was prominently published in all corporate media, and hence endlessly and uncritically replicated in peer-to-peer media on millions of cell phones, spreading the recurring idea that the military would be the moral reserve in the quagmire into which they themselves have sunk the country.

Barra Torres behaved like the little nun who agrees to participate in an orgy and then pretends to be scandalized by acts dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine. So, in order not to be “surprised” like Barra Torres and the little nun, do as in the film starring Leonardo Di Caprio.

Anyone who looks up will see that an extensive program of militarization and permanent preparation for war has been implemented in the Brazilian State. And that the true feast in which Barra Torres takes part is consecrated to Thanatos, the god of death.

*Carlos Tautz it's jjournalist and doctoral candidate in contemporary history at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).


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