Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro cancels US visit amid protests

Brazilian president drops plan to attend New York gala in his honour, citing 'resistance and deliberate attacks'.

    Bolsonaro won Brazil's presidency during an October election after running a campaign centred on anti-establishment, anti-corruption and tough on crime messages [Adriano Machado/Reuters]
    Bolsonaro won Brazil's presidency during an October election after running a campaign centred on anti-establishment, anti-corruption and tough on crime messages [Adriano Machado/Reuters]

    Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has cancelled a trip to the United States after major protests in New York City prompted several companies to withdraw sponsorship for a gala event in his honour.

    Bolsonaro, who was named 2019 Person of the Year by the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce, was due to receive the award at a May 14 event in New York.

    But on Friday, Bolsonaro's spokesperson Otavio Rego Barros said the president would not attend the gala, citing "resistance and deliberate attacks by the New York mayor and the pressure of interest groups on the institutions that organise, sponsor and host the event annually".

    Bill de Blasio, New York's mayor, welcomed the announcement, saying Bolsonaro "just learned the hard way that New Yorkers don't turn a blind eye to oppression".

    "We called his bigotry out. He ran away. Not surprised - bullies usually can't take a punch. Jair Bolsonaro, Good riddance. Your hatred isn't welcome here," de Blasio said in a Tweet.

    Bolsonaro swept to power in a highly divisive October election on an anti-establishment, anti-corruption and tough on crime ticket.

    He is revered by his supporters for his outspoken pro-gun, conservative family values and military stances but is despised by critics for his frequent homophobic, racist and misogynist remarks.

    'Bad for Brazil'

    The gala was originally scheduled to be held at New York's Museum of Natural History. But the venue ditched the event last month amid heavy criticism for potentially hosting Bolsonaro, who has pushed to deregulate existing environmental policy since taking office.

    In particular, Bolsonaro's plan to open up the Amazon for commercial activities such as mining, logging and farming has drawn fierce censure from scientists, climate activists and environmental NGOs.

    At the time, de Blasio praised the museum's move, denouncing the 64-year-old Brazilian leader as a "dangerous man".

    The event was then moved to the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square, prompting protesters to gather outside the venue seeking the gala's complete cancellation.

    Amid the demonstrations, major sponsors such as Delta Air Lines, The Financial Times and Bain & Co this week pulled their support for the event.

    Analysts said the events in New York were "bad for Bolsonaro and bad for Brazil".

    "This is a direct result of Bolsonaro's rhetoric and it is something that he will have to deal with in the upcoming years; he might change his narrative and try to demonstrate more empathy to some topics, or he might present it as an attack on him and spin it around," Thiago de Aragao, director at the Brasilia-based political consultancy Arko Advice, told Al Jazeera.

    Bolsonaro-Trump ties

    The Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce confirmed the event will still take place as planned, however, with Bolsonaro now set to be acknowledged in absentia for his "strongly stated intention of fostering closer commercial and diplomatic ties between Brazil and the United States".

    Bolsonaro has actively courted a closer relationship with the US since assuming office and repeatedly expressed admiration for President Donald Trump.

    The pair met for talks at the White House in March, after which the Brazilian leader said the two countries were "tied by the guarantee of liberty, respect for the traditional family, the fear of God our creator, against gender identity, political correctness and fake news".


    Mauricio Santoro, a professor of international relations at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said Bolsonaro's cancelled visit to New York was an "embarrassment" for his administration as it seeks to pivot to Washington. 

    "Bolsonaro is facing an international backlash that is without precedent for any democratic Brazilian president," Santoro told Al Jazeera, adding more censure and protest would likely accompany the president's overseas trips in the future.

    "In general, Brazil has had quite a lot of soft power abroad … and that has been important for Brazilian foreign policy, but it's very different with Bolsonaro," he added.

    "If he goes on with the kind of policies he is pursuing concerning the environment, education, human rights, and sexual and ethnic minorities we are going to see many other cases of international reaction against him ... it's a difficult moment in Brazil right now."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News