The National Order of the Southern Cross originated from the extinct Imperial Order of the Cross, established by Decree of December 1st , 1822, of Emperor Pedro I, to solemnly mark his Acclamation, Consecration and Coronation as Constitutional Emperor of Brazil and its Perpetual Defender and in allusion to the geographic position of the country, under the Constellation of the Southern Cross and also in memory of the name Terra de Santa Cruz – Land of the Holy Cross – given to Brazil at the time of its discovery. The Imperial Order of the Southern Cross was abolished by the Constitution of February 24, 1891 and later re-established, with its new name, by Decree 22.165, from December 5, 1932, of President Getúlio Vargas.
While the Imperial Order of the Southern Cross was awarded to Brazilians and foreigners alike, the National Order of the Southern Cross (ONCS) is intended to foreigners only. It is awarded by Presidential Decree, as an act of external relations. It is the highest Brazilian honor awarded to foreign citizens.
The Order comprises the following classes: Grand Collar, Grand Cross, Grand Officer, Commander, Officer, and Knight.
The insignia of the Order is a five point white enameled star edged with golden silver, seated on a crown and surmounted by a garland, both made of tobacco leaves and coffee, and, in the center, in a blue sky field, the Constellation of the Southern Cross, enameled in white and, in the circumference, in dark blue circle, the legend "Benemerentium Premium", in burnished gold. On the reverse, the effigy of the Republic, in gold, with the caption “Federative Republic of Brazil” (Art. 2 of the Regulations).
The Council of the Order is composed of the President of the Republic, the State Ministers of Foreign Affairs, of Defense, and by the Secretary General of Foreign Affairs. The President of the Republic and the Minister of Foreign Affairs are, respectively, the Grand Master and the Chancellor of the Order. The Chief of Protocol from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs serves as the Secretary to the Order.