SAO PAULO ( Associated Press) — Elon Musk arrived in Brazil for his first visit, not knowing his cachaça from his churrasco, and within hours he had a coveted medal draped around his neck as he held President Jair Bolsonaro’s hand.
According to an Associated Press review of recent records, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO was the first foreign national without a government position to receive the honor of the Ministry of Defense since its 2002 creation.
But it was little surprise given Bolsonaro’s altruism in decorating ideological allies, ministers, loyalists and family – sometimes based on questions. Bolsonaro himself has received six medals from his administration.
A medal has practically come with a job in Bolsonaro’s cabinet. The country’s three medals that are considered the most prestigious are the Order of Defense Merit, the Order of Rio Branco and the Medal of Victory, and Bolsonaro was awarded at least one to more than three-quarters of current or former ministers.
He has distributed at least 76 of the top three medals to ministers since 2019, more than any of his three elected predecessors in his two terms.
Bolsonaro also presented three medals of different types to his wife Michele and senator son Flavio. His son Eduardo, a lawmaker, got at least six.
“The awards are meant to “create the appearance of being surrounded by people of high potential,” said Carlos Melo, a professor of political science at Insper University. “Maybe one or the other, but you can’t say the same for all of them.” “
In a November article titled “The Fares of the Medals”, the magazine Isto wrote that Bolsonaro had turned the government into a medal dispensary. The presidential palace did not respond to Associated Press questions about the medal’s purpose.
Heads of State often award awards on controversial grounds. Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner received Mexico’s highest honor, the Order of the Aztec Eagle, for helping to renegotiate a North American trade deal. Barack Obama has awarded more Presidential Medals of Freedom than any American leader since his inception, one for billionaire Warren Buffett and another for then-Vice President Joe Biden.
But it’s rare for presidents to adorn themselves. The same medal given to Musk by the Defense Ministry was given to Bolsonaro on his first day in office, January 1, 2019. The former army captain has accumulated others of varying importance over the three years, mostly from the armed forces. In March, he received two medals from his Ministry of Justice, one of which honors philanthropic service to indigenous peoples.
It infuriated environmentalists, human rights activists and Indigenous groups, who see the president’s push for development within indigenous territories as deeply damaging.
Veteran ethnographer Sidney Posuelo, who once headed the country’s indigenous agency and demarcated indigenous territories across the country, was shocked when he heard the news. He protested by returning his own medal, which he had received 35 years ago.
“If I had seen it on the same day, I would have run and threw the medal at the entrance of the presidential palace,” Posuelo, 83, told the Associated Press over the phone. “How can a president who promises to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision on the demarcation of indigenous lands give himself that praise?”
There are no public records to show whether former presidents have received multiple medals from their own administrations. The Associated Press filed freedom of information requests to the President’s Office and several ministries for year-over-year information on medals awarded since the country’s return to democracy in 1988, but received little response.
Former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Fernando Henrique Cardoso accepted the same medal as Musk while in office. Dilma Rousseff won it while a minister before her election. The medal was created in 2002, replacing a similar honour.
Da Silva’s spokesman, Jose Crispiniano, said his boss had “the slightest idea” of how many medals he received from his own government. “He never cared much about it,” the spokesman said. Da Silva leads all elections to win the October election, with Bolsonaro seeking a second term.
Ruth Ben-Gyat, a history professor expert on authoritarian leaders at New York University, said she was not aware of other presidents receiving so many medals from their own administrations.
“Such behavior is often in line with leaders’ fears about their political future, and they try to buy and buy people respect and, among other things, to maintain their loyalty,” she said by email. “I think this behavior will increase as the election gets closer.”
In at least one instance, Bolsonaro rejected expert recommendations on awarding the award, cutting two scientists from a technical committee’s list of recipients: one who worked on improving the health of transgender people and the other a study. published which showed that the anti-malarial drug chloroquine was ineffective against them. COVID-19. Bolsonaro insisted it was a cure.
The Brazilian Academy of Sciences issued a statement calling the hoax “unprecedented and typical of authoritarian regimes in the country”. And 21 other intended recipients declined the accolade, which has long been seen as a major professional honor. Among them was Carlos Gustavo Moreira, a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.
“His intervention was a step forward,” Moreira said. “Many of us were feeling uncomfortable getting it from this administration. After deleting two names, it was easy to fix. ,
Bolsonaro did not explain why Musk received the Defense Ministry medal, but within days SpaceX launched two satellites for the Brazilian Air Force from Cape Canaveral. At the event in the Brazilian countryside, Bolsonaro said the billionaire’s plan to conduct satellite monitoring of the Amazon rainforest lies about environmental destruction, calling his potential purchase of Twitter a “breath of hope” and calling the man Considered the “Legend of Freedom”. Many of Bolsonaro’s boosters see Musk as a champion against social media speech restrictions.
“Bolsonaro supporters want to see him award a medal to someone they believe is a supporter of freedom, freedom of speech,” Joo Martins Filho, former head of the Brazilian Association of Defense Studies, told the Associated Press over the phone. “So he happily does it.”
___ lvares reported from Brasilia