BRASILIA – Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro was awarded a medal Wednesday by the army for an act of “selflessness, courage and bravery” in 1978, when he rescued a soldier who was at risk of drowning in a lagoon.
After receiving the Peacemaker Medal with Full Palm in a closed-door ceremony, Bolsonaro told reporters that the event that earned him the award happened when, during a military exercise, he jumped into a lagoon to rescue a fellow soldier, identified as Celso Negao, who had fallen into the water and did not know how to swim.
Bolsonaro, who studied at the Agujas Negras Military Academy and is a reserve army captain, at the time was part of an artillery and paratroop company based in Rio de Janeiro.
“Some say I’m a racist, but Celso is an Afro-descendant, a human being, and I risked my life to save him,” said Bolsonaro, who was criticized for statements interpreted as discriminatory against blacks, while standing next to the soldier he rescued from the lagoon in the late 1970s.
The decoration was granted to him for his “selflessness, courage and bravery, with particular risk to his own life,” and it had been approved by the army in the middle of this year although the award ceremony was postponed until after the October election so as not to “interfere” with that process, he explained.
Bolsonaro, the leader of the emerging Brazilian ultra-right who will take office on January 1, recalled that when he jumped into the water to rescue Negao his intention was to “to save a life” and “serve the country,” something he said is a duty of all citizens.