President-elect Jair Bolsonaro has named privatization advocate Roberto Castello Branco as chief executive of Brazil’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras.
Generals, 'Chicago Boy' Loom Large in Brazil's Next Government
Castello Branco has called for an “urgent” privatization of the petroleum company, in line with Bolsonaro’s campaign promises.
He will replace Ivan Monteiro who took over from Pedro Parente as CEO after a truck drivers’ strike earlier this year. "We need several private companies to compete in the fuel market," Castillo wrote in an op-ed for Brazilian newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo.
He is Bolsonaro’s third top nominee who is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where the notorious 'Chicago Boys' studied, following Paulo Guedes and Joaquim Levy.
The Chicago Boys were at the helm of Chilean former dictator Pinochet’s economic policies. Those policies opened up Chile to free-market economics at the cost of the Chilean people’s welfare.
“[Castello Branco] is a name that arrives with quite a lot of strength,” Gilberto Braga, a finance professor at the Ibmec university in Rio de Janeiro, told the Associated Press referring to his time as a board member of the company he will now lead and as a the director of a major mining company in the country.
Free-market economists are welcoming Bolsonoaro's move as they see policies in favor of foreign corporations and investment as well as the liberation of the Brazilian economy. "We basically have the University of Chicago economics department taking over the Brazilian economy," said James Gulbrandsen, chief investment officer for Latin American investments at NCH Capital, welcoming Castello Branco's appointment.
"He's been public in the past about advocating for less government intervention ... all the way to privatizing parts of Petrobras."
Bolsonaro, who has confessed that he understands "nothing" about economics, appointed Guedes to head a "super-ministry" bringing together the current ministries of finance, trade and planning, plus the secretariat for public investment.
Experts predict that complete privatization of Petrobras is unlikely, despite a strong push from Guedes and Costello Branco.
"Some of [Petrobras] could be privatized, but not all of it. It is a strategic company," said Bolsonaro.
Castello Branco was a member of Petrobras' board during the peak of the Car Wash corruption scandal in 2015, in which over 100 people were arrested for their alleged involvement in bribery and corruption schemes. He left the company in 2016.
That scandal is tied to a greater ongoing corruption case with the Brazilian multinational parent company, Odebrecht.