By Phil Stewart
BRASILIA (Reuters) -Brazil on Wednesday assured U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that its armed forces were focused on providing security to ensure a safe, secure and transparent election in October, Austin said.
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 the country’s electronic voting system.
Brazil’s Defense Minister Paulo Sergio Nogueira offered the assurances to Austin during gathering of defense ministers from the Americas, held in Brasilia.
“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.
“He appeared confident in his ability to provide security,” the secretary told reporters.
Austin also commented broadly about the importance of firm civilian control of militaries in the region, a theme he publicly stressed during the conference.
“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, 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.
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.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by David Holmes and Richard Pullin)