Drama gripped Museum Mile this month with heightened debates about the Sackler family’s contributions to the Met, Guggenheim…and the opioid epidemic. This weekend, the American Museum of Natural History made controversial news of its own when it was discovered that the museum had rented space to a nonprofit planning to honor Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, nicknamed “The Trump of the Tropics,” with its Person of the Year Award.
Political and environmental advocates and activists criticized the museum for associating with a leader who has appointed a climate denier as foreign minister and threatened to open up protected parts of the Amazon to development.
To be fair to the museum, it explained in a tweet that, “The external, private event at which the current President of Brazil is to be honored was booked at the Museum before the honoree was secured. We are deeply concerned, angoogd we are exploring our options.”
However, activists are urging the museum to cancel the event. Two Facebook events cropped up over the weekend protesting Bolsonaro’s presence in NYC: “No Bolsonaro in NYC!” and “Cancel Bolsonaro Immediately.”
The “No Bolsonaro in NYC!” event, scheduled for this Saturday, demands that the Museum of Natural History cancel the gala and calls out the Museum’s legacy as a pro-science institution.
“The Museum has said it is concerned about the event ( a “rental”) being hosted there, but despite the pressure and their statements on Twitter, has not cancelled the event,” the protest’s organizer writes. Additionally, “the museum has also refused to remove climate science denier and mega donor, Rebekah Mercer, from its board of trustees.”
Bolsonaro became internationally controversial last year while running for President of Brazil, when his thoughts on women, human rights, immigration, gun control and homosexuality came to light. “I wouldn’t rape you because you don’t deserve it,” Bolsonaro said to a Brazilian congresswoman in 2014. And, “the scum of the earth is showing up in Brazil, as if we didn’t have enough problems of our own to sort out,” he stated about immigration in 2015.
The nonprofit honoring Bolsonaro is the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit business membership organization that promotes trade and investment between the U.S. and Brazil. The Chamber has stayed out of social media debates about Bolsonaro’s appearance, and has continued posting as normal about the World Trade Organization and oil distribution. The Chamber has hosted its Person of the Year Awards Gala since 1970 to honor an American and a Brazilian leader who have promoted closer cultural or commercial ties between the two countries, but has not clarified why it selected Bolsonaro as this year’s honoree.
New York-based activist groups Decolonize This Place, Take Back the Bronx, NYC Shut It Down, Hydro Punk, Comité Boricua En La Diáspora, and Mulheres da Resistência no Exterior have organized the protests of Bolsonaro’s appearance. And, over 23,000 people have signed a Change.org petition asking the museum to cancel Bolsonaro’s appearance.
Some 301 people have said they are going to the “No Bolsonaro in NYC!” Facebook event, with another 1,200 indicating their interest in attending. Meanwhile, activists are planning ongoing protests. Defend Democracy in Brazil has arranging small daily protests at the museum, including one today at 3:30pm.
“We support the staff of AMNH who are against the Gala of Climate-change denier, Amazon attacker Bolsonaro,” Defend Democracy in Brazil wrote on their Facebook page this morning.
If you’re tired of flipping off Trump Tower on your walk down Fifth Avenue, maybe try heading west this week to protest Trumpian politics in Brazil.