NYC’s Museum of Natural History Expels Brazil Gala Honoring ‘Fascist’ Bolsonaro

The front entrance of the American Museum of Natural History is shown January 21, 2004 in New York City. Architects Calvert Vaux and J. Wrey Mould began construction of the museum in 1874 and it was completed in 1877. However, the main entrance shown was completed in the 19th century. …
Stephen Chernin/Getty

New York’s American Museum of Natural History expelled a scheduled gala hosted by the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce after the entity chose to honor President Jair Bolsonaro at the event.

The gala, which the museum hosted last year when it honored Bolsonaro’s now Minister of Justice Sergio Moro, will take place at the same date and time, but not at its original location: under the famous blue whale in the museum’s Hall of Ocean Life. In a statement on Twitter, the museum said the move to expel the event from the premises was taken “with mutual respect for the work & goals of our individual organizations.” The event is scheduled for May 14th but does not yet have a new venue at press time.

The American Museum of Natural History had come under fire from dozens of employees, affiliated researchers, and leftist Mayor Bill De Blasio this week over Bolsonaro’s scheduled appearance at the event. In an open letter to the museum’s leadership, a group of graduate students from the Richard Gilder Graduate Center and scientists denounced Bolsonaro as a “fascist” and accused the museum itself of having “a legacy of colonial violence and racism.”

“One of the ways that we can protect the future for Brazilian Indigenous populations, scientists, citizens and bioconservation efforts is in the refusing access to our collective institutional home to the fascist president who would see these peoples and efforts actively harmed and destroyed,” the letter asserted.

The New York-based online publication Gothamist reported Friday that the museum was facing “the threat of staff resignations and boycotts” over Bolsonaro’s honor.

“Anything that happens in the museum reflects on us, and Bolsonaro represents just about everything we oppose: His treatment of indigenous people, his disrespect for the environment, his views and recent actions to defund scientific research,” Dr. Susan Perkins, a museum curator and professor, told Gothamist.

Bolsonaro, a conservative, has called for significantly reducing government spending on what he considers extraneous social programs, among those several environmental initiatives launched under the socialist government of now-imprisoned former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Infuriating environmentalists, he also promised as a presidential candidate to complete several Amazonian infrastructure projects that would help guarantee more access to electricity for those regions, some of which still rely on Venezuela for their power. Opponents argue that the projects will severely damage the Amazonian ecosystem and that Bolsonaro’s quest to promote business investment will cause irreparable harm to the indigenous communities still present in the rain forest.

Infrastructure projects are controversial in Brazil following the reveal, largely under the leadership of then-federal judge Sergio Moro, of “Operation Car Wash,” a sprawling corruption scheme that relied on private companies comfortable with partaking to enrich politicians. Under Lula, the government would sign infrastructure contracts with corporations like Odebrecht, which would significantly overcharge for projects. The corporations would then kick back some of the taxpayers’ funds they received to the politicians that made the deal possible. Bolsonaro, then a lawmaker, was among the few prominent Brazilian politicians not ensnared in Operation Car Wash in the past three years.

In an interview last week, De Blasio joined the chorus against Bolsonaro, calling him “a very dangerous human being.”

“He’s dangerous not just because of his overt racism and homophobia, but because he is unfortunately the person with the most ability to be able to impact what happens in the Amazon going forward,” he told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer.

The Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce has made no public statements on the matter, nor has Bolsonaro himself. His son, lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, dismissed De Blasio’s comments. “The cultural movement which has occurred in Brazil has occurred as well in the USA, England, France, and Chile,” he said on Twitter, referring to the resounding socialist defeat last year in which Jair Bolsonaro became president.

Foreign policy adviser Filipe Martins also attacked De Blasio, saying it would “be a surprise if one of these imbecils compliments him [Bolsonaro].”

“It is no surprise to see Bill De Blasio, an individual who collaborated with the Sandinista Revolution, who considers the USSR an example to follow, and who conducts meetings at a monument dedicated to [leftist Antonio Gramsci] in the Bronx criticizing Bolsonaro,” he wrote.

As a youth, De Blasio organized money collections to help the communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas are still in power and have killed at least 325 in the past year, when students and Catholic groups organized to call for an end to leftist dictatorship.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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