Brazil names former leftist guerrilla as foreign minister

Aloysio Nunes (L), 71, replaces Prime Minister Jose Serra who stepped down in February, citing health concerns

Brazil's president on Thursday named Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, a onetime leftist guerrilla who took part in a train robbery and was exiled to France, as foreign minister.

Nunes, 71, replaces Jose Serra who stepped down in February, citing health concerns.

Despite being Latin America's biggest country and economy, Brazil has a relatively lowkey foreign policy, with few international disputes and no involvement in armed conflicts.

However, the position is important at a time when Brazil is trying to lure back foreign investors in the wake of a huge corruption scandal and the downgrading of its credit rating to junk.

Relations with the United States are a priority and Brazil's G1 news site was quick to pull up a tweet from Nunes the day after the US vote in which he characterized newly elected President Donald Trump as "the worst, the most uncontrolled" face of the Republican party.

President Michel Temer's spokesman called Nunes "a public figure with broad political experience... with a long history of engagement in the causes of Brazilian diplomacy and Brazil's international agenda."

The presidency highlighted Nunes' chairmanship of the Senate foreign relations committee. He was also justice minister in 2001-2002.

However, Nunes has the more unusual item on his CV of having participated in the underground guerrilla movement against Brazil's 1964-1985 military dictatorship, before abandoning his radical political roots.

In a 2014 interview with Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, he said that during his time in the far left Acao Libertadora Nacional group he drove the stolen getaway car for a 1968 armed attack on a money train. He recalled "being very afraid" before the assault, wondering if he would be captured and tortured.

He was forced into exile in France between 1968 and 1979.

Nunes told Epoca weekly that he'd turned his back on his guerrilla past, saying "that period was over-hyped, it was not decisive in bringing down the military regime."

He is a senior figure in the center-right PSDB party, a crucial ally for Temer's center-right PMDB at a time when the president is trying to maintain congressional support for austerity reforms and to stem the damage from a sprawling corruption scandal that has already brought down several ministers.

The new foreign minister is not the only former urban guerrilla to have survived to reach high level politics in modern Brazil. Temer's predecessor, Dilma Rousseff was imprisoned and tortured under the dictatorship and rose to become Brazil's first female president until her impeachment last year.

Nunes was on the losing ticket with the PSDB's Aecio Neves in the 2014 elections against Rousseff and her then vice president Temer.