Bolsonaro uses medals to honor allies, his family, and himself

SAO PAULO -- Elon Musk arrived to Brazil for his first-ever trip.

Bolsonaro uses medals to honor allies, his family, and himself

SAO PAULO -- Elon Musk arrived to Brazil for his first-ever trip. He didn't know his cachaca and his churrasco but within hours had a prestigious medal wrapped around his neck.

According to an Associated Press review, the Defense Ministry honor was first awarded to a foreign civil without a government post since 2002's creation.

It was not surprising, given Bolsonaro’s generosity in decorating ideological allies and ministers, loyalists, and families -- sometimes on unquestioned grounds. Bolsonaro has six medals himself from his own government.

Bolsonaro's cabinet has a medal almost as a part of the job. The Order of Defense Merit and Order of Rio Branco are the most highly regarded medals in the nation. Bolsonaro has awarded at least three quarters of all former or current ministers at least one of these medals.

Since 2019, he has given at least 76 of three of the top medals to ministers, more than any of his elected predecessors during their terms.

Bolsonaro also presented three medals of different types to Michelle Bolsonaro and Flavio, his senator son. Eduardo, his son and lawmaker, received at least six.

Carlos Melo, an Insper University political science professor, stated that the awards were meant to "forge the appearance" of being surrounded with people of merit and high caliber. "One could be the best, but it's impossible to say for all."

Istoe claimed that Bolsonaro had turned the government into a medal dispensary in a November magazine article entitled "The Farce of the Medals." The AP asked the presidential palace about the motives behind the medals.

Sometimes, heads of state bestow awards on controversial grounds. Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son in law, was awarded Mexico's highest honor, the Order of the Aztec Eagle. He helped to renegotiate the North American Trade Agreement. Barack Obama has given out more Presidential Medals of Freedom to American leaders than any other leader since the creation of the program, including one for Warren Buffett, a billionaire, and another for Joe Biden.

It's much more common for presidents to make their own decorations. Bolsonaro received the same medal that the Defense Ministry gave to Musk on his first day of office, January 1, 2019. In the three years that have followed, the former army captain has amassed many other medals of different importance, most of them from the armed forces. He was awarded two medals by his Justice Ministry in March. One of these honors Indigenous peoples' altruistic service.

This scandalized environmentalists, activists for human rights and Indigenous groups, who consider the president's push to develop Indigenous territories as deeply damaging.

Sydney Possuelo was shocked to hear the news. He was a veteran ethnographer and headed the nation's Indigenous agency. He returned his 35-year-old medal to protest.

Possuelo (83), said that if he'd seen the medal the same day, he would have rushed down to throw the medal at the entrance of the presidential palace." AP phone interview. "How is it possible for a president to claim that he will ignore a Supreme Court decision on the demarcation Indigenous lands?

Public records don't show which former presidents were awarded as many medals by their own governments. The AP submitted freedom-of-information requests to the president's office, several ministries and for year-by–year information about medals since 1988's return to democracy. However, there was little response.

Ex-Presidents Luiz Iacio Lula Da Silva and Fernando Henrique Cardoso received the same medal as Musk during their time in office. Dilma Russoff won the medal while she was a minister. This medal replaced an earlier similar award in 2002.

Jose Chrispiniano, spokesperson for da Silva, stated that his boss had no idea how many medals he has received from his government. The spokesperson stated that "he never cared about that." Bolsonaro seeks a second term and Da Silva is leading all polls.

History Professor Ruth Ben-Guiat at New York University is a specialist in authoritarian leaders and said that she didn't know of any other presidents who received so many medals from their respective administrations.

She said via email that "behaviors such as these often correspond to leaders’ fears about their future political power, and they try to buy people off with honors to keep their loyalty." I expect these behaviors to increase as the election draws nearer.

Bolsonaro ignored expert recommendations and cut two scientists from a technical panel's list of recipients. One had been working on improving the health of transgender people, while the other had published a study that showed the anti-malarial drug, chloroquine, was not effective against COVID-19. Bolsonaro had insisted on it being a cure.

The Brazilian Academy of Sciences released a statement calling this snub "unprecedented" in Brazil and typical of authoritarian regimes. 21 other recipients declined the award, which was long considered a high professional honor. Carlos Gustavo Moreira is a member of The Brazilian Academy of Sciences.

Moreira said that "His intervention was beyond what we expected." "Many of our discomfort with receiving it from this administration. It was simple to decide after he had taken the names off.

Bolsonaro did not make it clear why Musk was awarded the Defense Ministry Medal, but SpaceX launched two satellites within days for the Brazilian Air Force out of Cape Canaveral. Bolsonaro, a billionaire who plans to monitor the Amazon rainforest from satellites, said that the plan would prove falsehoods about environmental destruction. He also called Musk's potential purchase of Twitter "a breath of hope" and described him as "the legend of liberty."

"Bolsonaro supporters would like to see him award a medal to somebody they believe is in support of what they call liberty and freedom of speech," Joao Marts Filho, ex-head of the Brazilian Association of Defense Studies told the AP via phone. He does it with pleasure.

------ Alvares from Brasilia

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