Brazil: 21 scientists reject medals because of their row with Bolsonaro

Twenty-one scientists, awarded one of Brazil’s highest honors, refused to hand over their medals on Saturday after President Jair Bolsonaro removed two colleagues from the list whose work appeared to dissatisfy the government.

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The far-right president nominated 25 people for the National Science Merit Medal, which Brazil created in 1992 to honor the authors of the most important contributions to science and technology.

However, two days later, he removed two prominent scientists from this list.

One of them is Marcos Lacerda, who conducted one of the first studies on the ineffectiveness against COVID-19 of chloroquine, although Mr Bolsonaro has long called for the fight against the pandemic.

The other is Adele Benzacken, who was fired as the head of the HIV/AIDS division of the Brazilian Ministry of Health when Jair Bolsonaro became president in 2019.

“This is another clear evidence of the persecution of scientists,” the 21 protesters wrote in an open letter, denouncing the “strategy of systematic attack on science and technology” by the current Brazilian government.

Through “this act of protest that saddens us”, these scholars say they express their “discontent with the destruction of the Brazilian university system and science and technology in general”.

Jair Bolsonaro has come under fire from the scientific community for his cuts in research and technology budget, his continued rejection of scientific findings and the spread of false information, especially regarding COVID-19.

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In addition to his advocacy for the use of chloroquine to treat the disease, despite evidence of its ineffectiveness, the president has also ignored expert recommendations about the use of protective masks or confinement to contain the epidemic.

In an interview with AFP, Ms. Benzaquin said she was “extremely honored” by her colleagues’ decision to refuse their medals in the face of what she called “unwelcome” the government’s treatment of her and the government. His colleague Marcos Lacerda.

“It was the greatest honor of all,” she added.

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