The American Museum of Natural History Will No Longer Host a Gala Honoring Brazil’s Far-Right President Jair Bolsonaro

Museum staffers had issued an open letter calling on the museum's president “to stay true to its values by canceling this event."

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attends a joint news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden at the White House March 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attends a joint news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden at the White House March 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to reflect the museum’s decision to cancel the event.

After widespread outcry, the American Museum of Natural History has canceled plans to host a private gala honoring Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. The Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce had rented out the museum’s Milstein Hall of Ocean Life for its event, where it plans to name Bolsonaro, who has a stark anti-environment record, “person of the year.”

“With mutual respect for the work and goals of our individual organizations, we have jointly agreed that the Museum is not the optimal location for the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce gala dinner,” the museum said in a joint statement with the chamber of commerce. “This traditional event will go forward at another location on the original date and time.”

Last week, employees and researchers at the American Museum of Natural History joined protests by issuing an open letter addressed to museum president Ellen Futter. In it, scientists and students from the museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate Center urged the institution “to stay true to its values by canceling this event.”

“The Museum claims to be a champion for protecting and promoting biodiversity, which is wholly inconsistent with honoring a president who has pushed an agenda of aggressive anti-environmentalist policies, climate change denial, and extractive development in the Brazilian Amazon,” the letter reads. “Further, hosting an event to honor a president who is so openly hostile to indigenous, black, women’s, and LGBTQIA causes is a stain on the Museum’s reputation which negates the nominal efforts it has recently made to grapple with its legacy of colonial violence and racism.”

The museum issued an earlier statement on Twitter on Saturday in both English and Portuguese: “The Museum wants to thank the people who have taken the time to express their views on the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce event. We want you to know that we understand and share your distress. We also want to make it clear that the Museum did not invite President Bolsonaro; he was invited as part of an external event. Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned about the stated policy aims of the current Brazilian administration, and we are actively working to understand our options related to this event.”

The museum did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The letter, which went live last Friday, has 590 signatories so far, many of whom identify as museum employees, students, university scientists, patrons, and anonymous museum goers..

New York mayor Bill de Blasio has also weighed in, saying Bolsonaro is a “very dangerous human being” and that he would “certainly urge the museum not to allow him to be hosted there.”


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