The American Museum of Natural History has expressed its concern that an event booked at one of its halls next month will honor Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. It says some of Bolsonaro’s politics, particularly regarding environmental policy, are in contradiction with the museum’s mission and values. “We are exploring our options,” the museum said in a statement released today, April 12, after it received complaints from civil rights and environmental activists from Brazil and the United States.
The disputed event, scheduled to take place on May 14 under the famous blue whale of the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, is an annual “Person of the Year Awards” gala dinner hosted by the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce. The gala honors two people — one Brazilian, one American — who have had a major contribution to the economic ties between the two countries. Bolsonaro will receive the honor this year, as he rounds out a contentious first 100 days in office. His American counterpart has not been named yet. Past honorees include Mayor Michael Bloomberg, President Bill Clinton, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
In just a few hours after he entered office in January, President Bolsonaro issued an order to roll back rainforest protection in his country, allowing for more development and tree-clearing in the Amazon. In his first official visit to White House in March, Bolsonaro propositioned President Trump to join a “development plan” for the Brazilian Amazon region, the world’s largest rainforest.
Activists point to the irony of hosting a leader like Bolsonaro at a museum dedicated to the celebration of the natural world, also naming his long list of homophobic and misogynist comments, and his attacks on Indigenous communities in Brazil.
On Friday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called Bolsonaro a “very dangerous human being.” The mayor told WNYC radio, “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.” De Blasio also compelled the museum “not to allow him to be hosted there.”
The “external, private event” was booked at the Museum before Bolsonaro was secured as an honoree, The American Museum of Natural History told Hyperallergic in a comment, adding:
We are deeply concerned, and the event does not in any way reflect the Museum’s position that there is an urgent need to conserve the Amazon Rainforest, which has such profound implications for biological diversity, indigenous communities, climate change, and the future health of our planet. We are exploring our options.