Opinion, by Michael Royster
Ribeirão Preto, SP – On the eve of the May Day holiday, when no one was paying attention, President Bolsonaro officially honored numerous public figures by making them members of the Order of Rio Branco. This honorific has as its official objective “distinguishing the meritorious service and civic virtues, stimulating the practice of actions and deeds worthy of honorable mention.”
The Order of Rio Branco comprises five classes: Grand Cross, Grand Officer, Commander, Officer and Knight. Thus, it superficially resembles the Queen’s Honours Lists in the UK, but without the appendices of noble titles like “Sir” or “Dame”.
The Order regulations specify the eligible recipients of each class. The Grand Cross can be awarded only to the heads of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, as well as to “foreign Ambassadors and other persons of equivalent rank.” The Grand Officer class may be conferred upon less exalted officials of those governmental branches and military.
President Bolsonaro’s list contains several controversial nominations and surprising omissions. We will start with the most controversial appointments, those involving the Grand Cross.
This year’s Grandcrucians include Brazil’s Vice President and the President of the Senate, but exclude both Chamber of Deputies President Rodrigo Maia and Presiding Justice Toffoli of the Federal Supreme Court, although both are eligible.
The Grand Cross went to no fewer than 11 civilian cabinet ministers, 10 military commanders, 9 state governors, assorted other worthies, and a figurative partridge in a pear tree—the soi-disant philosopher Olavo de Carvalho.
The laureled cabinet ministers are the usual suspects–Superministers and conservative ideologues; only one of them is under investigation for election crimes. The governors are all fervid supporters of the Bolsonaro regime.
So, what to think of the nomination of Olavo de Carvalho? For starters, under the Order’s regulations he is clearly not entitled to his honorific: he is neither a governmental figure nor a foreign ambassador or “person of equivalent rank”.
Unless, of course, you are so benighted as to deem a non-resident guru as having equivalent rank to a foreign ambassador.
Olavo de Carvalho has lived in self-imposed exile abroad since 2005. There are those in power who venerate him as someone “stimulating the practice of actions and deeds worthy of honorable mention.” Among those are the Bad News Bairns—Bolsonaro’s three sons—as well as the Foreign Relations and Education Ministers, devout disciples all of the foulmouthed astroloblogger.
The Curmudgeon has envisioned a putative dubbing ceremony; the film script follows.
- Bolsonaro stands at a Round Table flanked by 9 Ministers and 3 Bairns; he invites de Carvalho to swear the usual oaths of fealty to himself and the Table, then lays his sword on his shoulders and says “Arise, Sir Olavo!”
- Beknighted, Sir Olavo rises. The camera pans to his hands, showing them held behind his back during the oath ceremony with all his fingers crossed, unbeknownst to all save the smug-looking Bairns.
- Benighted Bolsonaro remains clueless.
- In the wings, a Mourish Veep lurks and lours behind a phalanx of uniformed centurions, staring daggers into Sir Olavo.
Have you seen this film? Who dies in the end? Clue: President João Goulart, who decreed the Order of Rio Branco in 1963, was ousted by the military coup of 1964.