Brazilian Soldiers Respond to Jair Bolsonaro’s Handshake Invite with Elbow Bumps

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (C) gestures during a ceremony to commemorate the 300 days of Bolsonaro's administration at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, November 5, 2019. (Photo by Sergio LIMA / AFP) (Photo by SERGIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images)
SERGIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images

Brazilian soldiers appeared to refuse to shake the hand of President Jair Bolsonaro, respecting social distancing guidelines, during an event on Thursday, instead offering their elbows to show respect.

The greetings took place during a meeting of the president and military personnel at the Southern Military Command base in Porto Alegre, where he attended a ceremony to mark the appointment of Gen. Valerio Stumpf as the new commander, the highest authority within the organization.

Stumpf; outgoing Cmdr. Gen. Antonio Miotto; and the head of the Brazilian military, Gen. Edson Pujol, all opted to give Bolsonaro the alternative gesture, presumably to prevent accidentally spreading the Chinese coronavirus.

In addition to the elbow, Bolsonaro also received a pat on the back from the mayor of the state capital, Nelson Marchezan Jr., as well as a fist bump from his vice president, Gen. Hamilton Mourão, referred to in Portuguese as a soquinho.

Given the size of the division, which has over 50,000 troops spread across three states, the ceremony would normally have attracted thousands of guests. On Thursday, only 40 were present as a result of the pandemic. Despite being closed to the press, the event was broadcast online, where attendees were seen keeping one meter away from each other and some wearing masks.

Bolsonaro did not speak at the ceremony, although his presence attracted both protests and counter-protests. Many opponents blew whistles and banged pots, while his supporters chanted attacks against the press, sharing the view that Brazilian media is aggressively biased to the left.

Over recent weeks, protests have broken out across Brazil by mainly Bolsonaro supporters opposed to the lockdown measures imposed by regional governments, which they argue are strangling the country’s economy and putting future prosperity at risk.

Bolsonaro has shared some of that skepticism. Last month, he attended one of the rallies and gave a speech promising to oppose lockdown measures.

“Count on your president to do everything necessary so that we can maintain our democracy and that which has been the most sacred among us, our freedom,” he told the crowd. “Everyone in Brazil has to understand that they are subjects of the will of the Brazilian people.”

With its population of 200 million, Brazil has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases across Latin America. As of Friday, around 92,000 people had contracted the virus, leading to 6,412 fatalities. At least 38,000 people have made a full recovery.

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