RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s sports minister is resigning four months before the country hosts the Olympics, the office of embattled President Dilma Rousseff says, amid continuing uncertainty over the fate of six other Cabinet ministers.
Rousseff’s office announced late Wednesday that George Hilton had asked to leave the position and would be temporarily replaced by a top ministry official.
Hilton’s departure is unlikely to have much effect on preparations for the Aug. 5-21 Olympics as his role in the project was marginal. He had been sports minister for slightly over a year.
Wednesday’s announcement capped weeks of confusion about whether Hilton would stay on as minister. He left his party after it pulled out of Rousseff’s fragile governing coalition this month, in an apparent bid to hold onto his job. But a top Rousseff aide said last week that Hilton would resign, although his ministry declined to confirm it at the time.
A similar back-and-forth also affects six other Cabinet positions held by members of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, known by the Portuguese initials PMDB, which decamped from Rousseff’s coalition on Tuesday. Party leaders said all their Cabinet ministers, as well as hundreds of other federal government employees, would have to resign immediately.
But Agriculture Minister Katia Abreu said on Twitter late Wednesday that she didn’t plan on leaving either the government or the party. Her tweet suggested the other five PMDB Cabinet ministers held the same stand.
Abreu is a close confident of Rousseff.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the PMDB — Brazil’s largest party — would respond to the minister’s defiance.
Brazilian news media have suggested Rousseff planned to offer the vacated ministries to the six smaller parties that remain in her coalition in a bid to help her secure their support in an upcoming Congressional vote on impeachment proceedings against her. Rousseff faces impeachment on charges she violated fiscal rules and needs 172 out of 513 votes in the lower house to bury the proceedings.
But the defection of the PMDB, which has been a key part of the governing coalitions since Brazil emerged from military dictatorship in 1985, appears to have made it more difficult for her to avoid impeachment.
Rousseff’s approval rating has plummeted amid the worst recession in decades, rising unemployment and an outbreak of the Zika virus, which has been linked to a spike in cases of a rare birth defect.