by Lisaandra Paraguassu
BRASILIA (Reuters) -After awarding the Order of Scientific Merit to researchers Marcus Vinícius Lacerda and Adele Schwartz Benzaken, critics of the government’s actions, President Jair Bolsonaro ordered the award revoked in an extra publication in the Official Gazette this Friday.
Physician and researcher at the Dr. Heitor Vieira Dourado Tropical Medicine Foundation, in Manaus, Lacerda was one of the first Brazilians to research the use of chloroquine against Covid-19 and suspended the study after he found that, in fact, the drug increased cardiac risk of patients.
Threatened with death and attacked in the networks by pocketnaristas, Lacerda became one of the enemies of the Bolsonaro clan and was even accused of using above-normal doses of chloroquine to “kill patients” and discredit the drug repeatedly defended by the president.
Adele Schwartz Benzaken, now director of the Oswaldo Cruz Amazônia Foundation, has been director of STDs and AIDS at the Ministry of Health since the Temer administration, when she was fired in January 2019. Communicable Diseases – authorized the production of a booklet aimed at trans men.
In January 2019, shortly after Bolsonaro took office, then Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta ordered the booklet removed from circulation and Benzaken was exonerated. Mandetta justified the decision by stating that “the government needed to re-encourage HIV prevention, but without offending the families”, but the fact is that the booklet had also been a target of the Pocketnalist networks.
The revocation affects only the two researchers, highlighted in articles on the Order of Scientific Merit. But it leaves others equally critical. Among them, the anthropologist Alfredo Wagner Berno de Almeida, from the State University of Maranhão, a constant critic of the government’s intention to release the exploration of minerals in indigenous lands, and the epidemiologist Cesar Victora, who has already received the Gairdner Prize, considered the Nobel Prize of Epidemiology, which pointed out several times the errors of the policy of cutting resources for science adopted by the government.
Later, Victora released a letter in which she decided not to accept the honor. According to him, the distinction left him divided, citing the fact that he does not consider the homage offered by a “government that not only ignores, but actively boycotts the recommendations of epidemiology and public health” relevant.
The new decree also does not alter the self-decoration in the degree of Grand Master given by Bolsonaro to himself and to the Minister of Science and Technology, Marcos Pontes. This decoration is provided for in the decree that created the order, in 2002.
Asked by Reuters whether the president knew of the position of the decorated when signing the decree, the Palácio do Planalto did not respond.
The list of decorated members signed by the president is chosen by a scientific committee in which the government has a minority: there are three from the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC), three from the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC) –both very critical of the government– and three freely chosen by the Minister of Science and Technology, which leaves those appointed by the government without the strength to stop names.
(Edition by Eduardo Simões and Alexandre Caverni)
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