SAO PAULO — Elon Musk arrived in Brazil for his very first visit, not knowing his cachaca from his churrasco, and within hours had a prestigious medal draped around his neck as he shook hands with President Jair Bolsonaro.
The Tesla and SpaceX CEO was the first foreign civilian without a government position to receive the honor from the Department of Defense since its inception in 2002, according to an Associated Press review of recent records.
But that came as no surprise given Bolsonaro’s benevolence in decorating ideological allies, ministers, loyalists and family – sometimes on disputed grounds. Bolsonaro himself received six medals from his own administration.
In Bolsonaro’s cabinet, a medal practically came with the job. The country’s three medals considered the most prestigious are the Order of Merit for Defense, the Order of Rio Branco and the Medal of Victory, and Bolsonaro has awarded at least one to more than three-quarters of current or former ministers .
He has handed out at least 76 of the top three medals to ministers since 2019, more than any of his three elected predecessors during their two terms.
Bolsonaro also presented three medals of different kinds to his wife Michelle and his son Senator Flávio. His son Eduardo, a legislator, had at least six.
The awards are meant to “forge the appearance of being surrounded by deserving, high-caliber people,” said Carlos Melo, professor of political science at Insper University. “Either could be, but you can’t say that for all of them. of them.”
In a November article titled “The Medal Farce,” Istoe magazine wrote that Bolsonaro had turned the government into a medal dispensary. The presidential palace did not respond to questions from the AP about the reasons for the medals.
Heads of state often give awards for controversial reasons. Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, received Mexico’s highest honor, the Order of the Aztec Eagle, for helping renegotiate the North American trade deal. Barack Obama has awarded more Presidential Medals of Freedom than any American leader since his inception, including one for billionaire Warren Buffett and another for Vice President Joe Biden.
But it is rarer for presidents to decorate themselves. The same medal the Department of Defense awarded Musk was presented to Bolsonaro on his first day in office, Jan. 1, 2019. The former army captain has racked up others of varying prominence over the course of his career. for the next three years, mainly from the armed forces. In March, he received two medals from his Department of Justice, one of which honors selfless service to Indigenous peoples.
This has outraged environmentalists, human rights activists and indigenous groups who see the president’s efforts for development in indigenous territories as deeply damaging.
Veteran ethnographer Sydney Possuelo, who once ran the country’s indigenous agency and delineated indigenous territories nationwide, was shocked when he heard the news. He protested by returning his own medal, which he had received 35 years previously.
“If I had seen him on the same day, I would have rushed and thrown the medal at the entrance to the presidential palace,” Possuelo, 83, told the AP by phone. “How can a president who promises to ignore a Supreme Court ruling on the demarcation of Indigenous lands give himself that distinction?”
There are no public records to show whether past presidents have received so many medals from their own administrations. The PA filed freedom of information requests with the president’s office and several ministries for year-by-year information on medals awarded since the country’s return to democracy in 1988, but has not received few answers.
Former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Fernando Henrique Cardoso accepted the same medal as Musk while in office. Dilma Rousseff won it before her election, when she was a minister. The medal was created in 2002, replacing a similar honor.
José Chrispiniano, da Silva’s spokesman, said his boss “hasn’t a clue” how many medals he has received from his own government. “He never cared much about it,” the spokesperson said. Da Silva leads all polls to win the October election, in which Bolsonaro is seeking a second term.
History professor Ruth Ben-Guiat, an expert on authoritarian leaders at New York University, said she was unaware that other presidents had received so many medals from their own administrations.
“Behaviours like this often align with leaders’ fears about their political future, and they start trying to bribe people with honors and other things to keep their loyalty,” she said per E-mail. “I imagine these behaviors will increase as the election draws nearer.”
In at least one case, Bolsonaro rejected expert recommendations on awarding prizes, removing two scientists from a technical committee’s list of recipients: one had worked on improving the health of transgender people and the other published a study showing that the antimalarial drug chloroquine was ineffective against COVID-19[FEMININEBolsonarolhadtouteditasacure[FEMININEBolsonarol’avaitprésentéavecinsistancecommeunremède
The Brazilian Academy of Sciences issued a statement calling the snub “unprecedented in the country and typical of authoritarian regimes”. And 21 other recipients declined the distinction, long considered a major professional honor. Among them was Carlos Gustavo Moreira, a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.
“His intervention was a step beyond that,” Moreira said. “Many of us were uncomfortable receiving it from this administration. After removing the two names, it was easy to decide.
Bolsonaro didn’t explain why Musk got the Department of Defense medal, but within days SpaceX launched two satellites for the Brazilian Air Force from Cape Canaveral. At the event in Brazil’s countryside, Bolsonaro said the billionaire’s plans to monitor the Amazon rainforest by satellite would debunk lies about environmental destruction, calling his eventual Twitter purchase a ‘breath of hope’ and called the man a “legend of freedom”. Many Bolsonaro boosters see Musk as a champion against social media restrictions.
“Bolsonaro’s supporters want to see him present a medal to someone they believe is in favor of what they call freedom, freedom of expression,” said João Martins Filho, former director of the Association. Brazilian Defense Studies, to the AP by phone. “So he does it willingly.”
——— Álvares brought back from Brasilia