Climate-Change-Denying Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Will Be Feted as ‘Person of the Year’ at a Gala at New York’s Natural History Museum

A firestorm of controversy is raging around the American Museum of Natural History in New York following the announcement that Brazil’s recently elected far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, would be feted as the guest of honor at a gala dinner at the institution on May 14—and now even the mayor of New York is wading into the fight.

The event, which will name Bolsonaro as “person of the year,” is sponsored by the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce, which paid to rent the institution’s Milstein Hall of Ocean Life for the night. There, underneath the museum’s famous blue whale—a symbol of the wonder and the power of nature—a crowd will celebrate a man who rolled backed protections for the Amazon Rainforest hours after taking office. (Bolsonaro has also been widely criticized for racist, misogynistic, homophobic views and for dissolving Brazil’s culture ministry.)

According to Gothamist, $30,000 tickets sold out immediately.

“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,” the museum said in a statement to artnet News. “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.”

But New York mayor Bill de Blasio is putting on the pressure. “This guy’s a very dangerous human being,” he said of Bolsonaro on WNYC radio on Friday, calling on the museum to cancel the event.

“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.”

Asked by artnet News when the event was approved, and which institutional body approved it, a spokesperson for the American Museum of Natural History said:  “I don’t have that information. If we have any further updates, we will contact you.”

The Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce did not respond to artnet News’s requests for comment.

Although the museum is not officially involved in the event, groups such as Decolonize This Place are still targeting the institution. “American Museum of Natural History, if you host far-right President Jair Bolsonaro at your gala, we won’t just protest, we’ll shut you down,” the group said. “Prudence dictates you cancel the event.” 

Held annually since 1970 at various locations, the event honors two “persons of the year,” one American and one Brazilian, who have “been particularly instrumental in forging closer ties between the two nations,” according to the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce.

Last year, the second time the gala was hosted at the American Museum of Natural History, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg was honored alongside Sérgio Fernando Moro, a Brazilian federal judge known for combating corruption.

Other notable honorees include President Bill Clinton (2015), Henry Kissinger (1997), and Nelson A. Rockefeller (1971). An American honoree has yet to be named for 2019.

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