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UPDATE 1-Brazil's Petrobras says Rodrigo Costa Lima e Silva to lead refining unit

(Adds details on Silva, company details, political background)

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras, said in a statement on Tuesday it has approved Rodrigo Costa Lima e Silva as the firm’s new refining head, after signing off on the exit of Anelise Lara amid a push to sell refineries and generate cash.

With a 15-year career at Petrobras, Silva takes the job amid a process of divestment of eight refineries, which correspond to about half of Brazil’s fuel production capacity.

The departure of Lara, who was leading the company’s efforts to sell off its refineries, came the same day the chief executive of state-run power firm Eletrobras resigned, saying he had lost faith that the privatization drive would receive the necessary political backing.

Their exits led some analysts to question whether the government of President Jair Bolsonaro remains committed to keeping state-run companies free of political interference, a promise that helped get Bolsonaro elected in 2018. It also raised doubts about the commitment to sell off billions of dollars’ worth of assets at fair prices.

Political interference by past administrations in both Petrobras and Eletrobras led the companies to register multibillion-dollar writedowns for bad investment decisions and corruption, leading to Brazil’s largest graft investigation ever, known as Carwash.

Bolsonaro won office with a pledge to kick-start Brazil’s economy but the coronavirus pandemic has derailed growth and is draining his popularity after generous state handouts to fight poverty expired at the end of last year. (Reporting by Marta Nogueira and Sabrina Valle in Rio de Janeiro Editing by Franklin Paul and Matthew Lewis)

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