Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced on Saturday that he has canceled a scheduled trip to New York City to receive an award after employees at the original venue hosting him protested, corporate sponsors dropped out, and Mayor Bill de Blasio referred to the conservative head of state as “dangerous.”
The Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce had planned to honor Bolsonaro with its annual award for his work to improve economic ties to Washington after nearly two decades of socialist rule in the country. The gala will go on, the organization confirmed, but Bolsonaro will not attend.
Bolsonaro spokesman General Otávio do Rêgo Barro expressed gratitude to the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce on behalf of the president and blamed the “politicization of the event” for the president’s decision to withdraw, according to Brazilian newspaper O Globo.
“Given the resistance and deliberate attacks coming from the Mayor of New York, as well as the pressure from special interest groups over companies that organize, sponsor and host the event annually, the politicization of the event became clear,” he said in a statement.
Bolsonaro was scheduled to arrive in New York on May 12 and is the first incumbent Brazilian president to receive the award. The gala’s last Personality of the Year, Judge Sergio Moro, is currently Bolsonaro’s minister of justice. Moro’s visit did not generate any controversy in New York despite his having already become a high-profile figure in “Operation Car Wash,” the legal initiative to uncover the extent of a widespread corruption scheme believed to have begun under former socialist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and ensnaring seemingly every political party in the country.
For months, the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce has faced backlash from leftist activists over the Bolsonaro award. Last month, the longtime host of the gala, the American Museum of Natural History, announced it would no longer host the gala, though it had allegedly made the move “with mutual respect for the work & goals of [their] individual organizations.” Environmentalists and graduate students associated with the museum launched a campaign to keep Bolsonaro out, calling him a “fascist” and threatening to resign from their positions with the institution.
The scholars accused Bolsonaro of attempting to destroy the Amazon rain forest. Bolsonaro has reportedly considered eliminating the federal “National Council of the Environment,” a bureaucratic entity of more than 100 people, and replacing it with a more streamlined mechanism to achieve the same goal of protesting Brazil’s rich natural resources.
Bill de Blasio, a leftist who made fundraising for the violent communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua one of his first acts in the political sphere, waded into the controversy, disparaging Bolsonaro for his alleged “overt racism and homophobia” and calling him “a very dangerous human being.”
The pressure not only forced the gala to relocate, but resulted in sponsors dropping out from the event. Delta Airlines, the Financial Times, and Bain & Co. announced they would no longer participate. Bain & Co. – a company that published a column in 2008 arguing that “a recession may in fact be good for your company” – cited “celebrating diversity” as its reason.