President's Medals

Image: Susy Hazewoold


The emptiness aesthetics of Bolsonaro's decorations

The first time we went to the Real Gabinete Português, we were kids. We were surprised by the strength of the books, the magnitude of it all. Like the cosmos, this place reminded us of how small we are. One of those who were with us said: all this is just a book cover, there's nothing inside. In a second, it turned a paradisiacal place into a desert. And the books ceased to have meaning, to have only appearance. The obstinacy and obsession of the current Brazilian president with medals and decorations is reminiscent of this anecdote. His way of turning the magnanimous into being cowardly and empty.

Decorations are distinctions awarded to honor someone. They demonstrate honesty, symbolize value, courage, merits to memorable actions. Not everyone gets recognition like that. The meaning of a medal or decoration is synonymous with value. There are many types of decorations and medals, by area, sector; by type of action; by charge; there are also honorary distinctions based on age. Many of them given to those who are closer to the farewell. There are those decorations that have more to do with diplomacy than with the content of an action. One earns for the position, not for the own merit of the subject in the position.

Decorating has a lot to do with the military scope. In the field of science, there is, for example, the National Order of Scientific Merit. But their impact is not the decorations, but the transformations they generated in society. In politics, there are those for the position itself and not for the merit that was made in office. In itself, decorations are something from other times. Young people don't aspire to be decorated, that's something from an old war movie. Medals seem to be camaraderie between elders. Yes, among old people, because they have a lot of machismo.

But the president has an obsession with decorations and medals. Due to his military background, even though he was expelled from this area and reformed, the representative appears to want to be recognized by force and not on merit. It seems he wants to be recognized for everything he is not and has not done. In this way, the president, like a spoiled child, screams to have what nobody believes should be displayed on his chest. With this movement, the current president of Brazil delegitimizes and reduces all those decorations that were awarded to personalities who really had reason to be publicly recognized. The more he embraces the medals, the more they lose meaning. They are now decrepit, decaying and discredited, like the Armed Forces, which are part of the game.

The following is just a tiny and not complete list of the value recognition emptying party:

Before entering the Planalto, the then-elected candidate received the Peacemaker Medal with Palm, received for an act of bravery performed in 1978. According to Decree No. 4.207, of April 23, 2002: to the Brazilian military and civilians who, in times of peace, in the exercise of their functions or in the fulfillment of missions of a military nature, have distinguished themselves by personal acts of selflessness, courage and bravery, at the risk of their lives”.[I]

This recognition, with the participation of the former Army commander, General Villas Bôas, was for the act of preventing a soldier from drowning during military training in 1978.[ii] No joke, we clarify. This medal was awarded in December 2018, days before taking office. An image that would repeat itself: olive green, decorations and exclusion from reality. The arrival of a Bolsonarist aesthetic, old and masculine (fragile). And smells like mothballs.

Days before taking office, the expelled and retired captain was recognized again, this time by the Navy. On January 8, 2019, the President of the Republic received the Order of Merit Naval, Grade-Cruz, at the Clube Naval de Brasília. According to Decree No. 3.400, of April 3, 2000: “The Order of Naval Merit, created by Decree No. 24.659, of July 11, 1934, is intended to reward Navy personnel who have distinguished themselves in the exercise of their profession and, exceptionally, military corporations and civil institutions, national and foreign, their flags or standards, as well as civil and military personalities, Brazilian or foreign, who have rendered relevant services to the Navy.”[iii]

Typical setting, old whites, long tables and empty senses. The medal is the highest grade of Naval Merit. Let's remember, this was the third time that Bolsonaro was awarded by the Armed Forces since December 2018.[iv] Decree-Law No. 5.961, of November 1, 1943, defines the honor as follows: “This Order will be awarded to Air Force personnel, national or foreign, who have rendered notable services to the Country, or have distinguished themselves in the exercise of your profession. Single paragraph. It will also be granted to civilians who have rendered relevant services to the Air Force.”[v] It is noteworthy that the honor was awarded in a private session. Yes, there is no more fake medal than the one that is bestowed in a reserved and hidden way. Almost a medal steal.

To close the decorations bestowed by the three forces, the president received, at the end of March 2019, the Grand Cross of the Military Judiciary Order of Merit, in a ceremony at the Army Club, in Brasília[vi]. The Order's regulations describe the honor as follows: “The OMJM insignia is awarded to: (i) members of the Union Military Justice (JMU) who have distinguished themselves in the performance of their duties and have not received any punishment; (ii) Magistrates, Jurists, members of the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Federal Public Defender's Office, the Federal Attorney General's Office, the Armed Forces and other institutions, public or private, national or foreign, that, due to the services provided, have become JMU tribute creditors; (iii) citizens, Brazilian or foreign, who have rendered recognized services or shown exceptional appreciation to JMU; and (iv) Institutions or Organizations, public or private, national or foreign, represented by their flags or standards, by actions that accredit this claim of recognition. Single paragraph. Those awarded must have attributes of moral, ethical, personal or professional conduct, compatible with the values ​​worshiped by JMU.”[vii]

The Military Judicial Order of Merit was created by the Superior Military Court, in June 1957, to recognize people and institutions that have rendered relevant services to the Military Justice of the Union. Everything that the president himself did in the first months of misgovernment. And recognition came from the Military Justice created by Dom João, in 1808. A decoration for the lack of democracy and for the institution that during the dictatorship was a guarantee of impunity. Let's remember, it's the same Military Justice whose president Gomes Mattos recently indicated that he doesn't have to give any answer about human rights violations in the last dictatorship[viii]. Thus, as the current representative wins recognition and decorations, the medals take on new meanings.

Considering the sole paragraph quoted above from the OMJM insignia regulation, we see an alignment between values ​​worshiped by the institution and the profile of the laureate. If the fact that the honoree, as we have already said, was not enough, was a soldier with a poor career, dishonorably expelled from the Army, in the exercise of the Presidency of the Republic, he collects statements and postures expressive of his bad character. It would be useful for him to wear the medals he received from the Armed Forces on his chest when he said, “Just poop every other day”, as a suggestion for improving environmental conditions.[ix]. Or, still, when he replied, “I'm not a gravedigger, okay”, when asked about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of victims of covid-19 in Brazil[X].

Already in the first months of the government, the three Forces of the military scope and the Military Justice embraced the president on his arrival at the Planalto. And this scenario and senses will be reinforced. The president of the barracks, and not of the democracy, is seduced by the forces that sustain him and benefit from him. The president's recognition is a guarantee of always keeping him close to sectoral and corporate interests. Hunger gallops, the military loves it.

But with the passage of time, new types of decorations would open up, three special ones: (a) the celebration of decorations “of Ours”, (b) the delegitimization of honors in certain sectors, (c) the decorations of the opposite senses. The last two always together, hand in hand.

The revelry is part of the presidential militia logic: “All ours! While we are in the Plateau, we take what we can”. No merits, no technical evaluation, or evaluation at all. It is on the basis of force without control. It's not the logic of my mush first, it's the logic of make it or break it. During the celebration of the medals, the First Lady was awarded several honorary treats. She, who gained notoriety in the press for having received BRL 89 from Fabrício Queiroz, an advisor to her stepson, accused of operating a “crack” scheme when he was a state deputy.[xi]

In three years of government, he awarded eleven medals to his family members, three to his son 01, senator Flávio, five to 03, deputy Eduardo, and three to his wife Michelle, without them having done anything notable. They were all arbitrary and without justification other than family ties and nepotism.[xii].

In general, the distinctions have a military origin, demonstrating the existing symbiosis between the Armed Forces and the current government, co-opted by military personnel in civilian positions.

But in addition to the medal festivities, acknowledgments to delegitimize agendas are crucial in Bolsonarista aesthetics. It is a way of phagocytosing the efforts of these sectors.

Bolsonaro created controversy when he canceled the delivery of the Order of Scientific Merit to two researchers whose work displeased the government. Sanitary doctor Marcus Vinícius Guimarães de Lacerda, who coordinated a study that showed the ineffectiveness of medicines from the “covid kit” against the disease[xiii]. Adele Schwartz Benzaken had the same luck.[xiv] In response to Bolsonaro's absurd attitude and in solidarity with scientists, 21 researchers who would receive the honor have resigned from the honor.[xv] A demonstration of the changed meanings of decorations: it is an honor to reject a medal nominated by the current mandate.

In a denialist government whose main target is knowledge and education, rejecting a medal is an attitude to be applauded and respected. It is exactly the attitude of affront and reconsideration of the senses that praises the event. We have to take into account that he was awarded even the former Minister of Education Abraham Weintraub with the rank of Grand Officer of the Order of Naval Merit[xvi]. A staunch actor in the fight against education. In the same line, recognition to Olavo de Carvalho, with the highest degree of the Order of Rio Branco[xvii] reinforces the idea of ​​celebrations for decorations in reverse/inside out[xviii]. All this symbolic looting operated by Bolsonarism in power is yet another ostensive demonstration of its authoritarian and patrimonial character. The flags of conversationalism and liberalism are adornments of a political movement adorned with dishonor. It is not, moreover, a new fact in Brazilian political history that liberalism and conservatism are just slogans of backwardness.

Perhaps the great example of the celebration of decorations, delegitimization and reversed honors is the Indigenous Merit Medal given to the current president, ironically granted by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security. It should be noted: the medal is recognition for relevant services related to the defense of indigenous communities[xx]. A medal that would perversely embody the spirit of the current government in its project to destroy indigenous populations and their lands.

But the debauchery was not only due to the decoration bestowed on the president. The following were also recognized in the same ordinance: Walter Souza Braga Neto, Tereza Cristina Correa da Costa Dias, Damares Regina Alves, Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira, among others[xx]. After awarding the president and his court, the former president of Funai (National Indian Foundation), Sydney Possuelo, returned the Indigenous Merit medal he received 35 years ago. Possuelo says he received the news of the honor from the President of the Republic with “immense surprise and natural astonishment”[xxx]. A summary of the current presidency.

The list of medals is huge, decorations and other veterans' gathering ceremonies. But the present list is enough to understand the spirit of the agent and his group of friends.

But we don't want to overlook an important issue: the future of memory. How will it be interpreted that the current president has the highest decorations in the country? In 100 years, what will these decorations mean? Time is sometimes kind to cowards. That's why it's important to put the axes in place, and reframe the value of being decorated. Emphasize the cowardice of those who use their position to decorate themselves and deprive themselves of the sense of distinction that others with efforts and courage have earned.

On the one hand, the memory of the future, on the other, the aesthetics of the present. Because decorations are an aesthetic of Bolsonarism, they radiate hypocrisy, debauchery and impunity. That's why they had already decorated one of those accused of murdering Marielle Franco[xxiii].

Unlike the experience of the Portuguese Real Cabinet that we narrated at the beginning of this text, Bolsonaro is an aesthetic of emptiness. In 2022 we have elections, and the best decoration we can give the current president is to let him rest, preferably in Bangu.

*Andres Del Rio is professor of political science at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

* André Rodrigues is professor of political science at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).



[I] Available in: Accessed on April 21, 2022.


[iii] Available in: Accessed on April 21, 2022.


[v] Available in: Accessed on April 21, 2022. On this website, the Air Force provides a 269-page document entitled “Medalhistics of the Brazilian Air Force” that gathers the history and rules of all honors hidden by the Force. The header of this document already contains the current president as Grand Master of the Order of Aeronautical Merit.


[vii] Available in


[ix] Accessed on April 21, 2022.

[X] Accessed on April 21, 2022.

[xi] Accessed on April 21, 2022.






[xvii] According to the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “The Order of Rio Branco was instituted by Decree No. 51.697, of February 5, 1963, with the aim of, by distinguishing meritorious services and civic virtues, encouraging the practice of actions and deeds worthy of honorable mention.” Available in Accessed on April 21, 2022.





[xxiii] Accessed on April 21, 2022.

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