The Brazilian American Chamber of Commerce intends to go through with a gala celebrating far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, even after the honoree announced that he would be skipping the ceremony because of widespread controversy.
According to an update on the business group's website, the dinner recognizing Bolsonaro as Person of the Year will "take place as scheduled" on May 14th. The event, which was initially set to be hosted by the American Museum of Natural History, was relocated last month to the Marriott Marquis amid threats to boycott and protest the venue.
Critics noted that Bolsonaro has openly embraced homophobia, misogyny, and racism, while dehumanizing Indigenous people as zoo animals or "chicken pox." He has also overseen a campaign to deforest wide swaths of the Amazon—prompting thousands of people to protest outside government buildings last month.
But it was the hostility of New Yorkers that apparently pushed Bolsonaro to bail on his plans to accept the award in person. In a statement released Friday, a spokesperson for the Brazilian president said he'd cancelled the visit because of "resistance and deliberate attacks from the mayor of New York and the pressure of interest groups on the institutions that organize, sponsor and host the event annually."
During an interview with WNYC's Brian Lehrer last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio noted Bolsonaro's efforts to destroy the Amazon, describing him as "very dangerous person." The mayor interpreted the cancellation as a victory, tweeting on Saturday: "We called his bigotry out. He ran away. Not surprised—bullies usually can’t take a punch."
Jair 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. @jairbolsonaro Good riddance. Your hatred isn’t welcome here. https://t.co/GaXXrtdyAP
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) May 4, 2019
In addition to pressure from elected officials and activists, the gala has also begun to bleed corporate sponsors. The Financial Times, Delta, and Bain & Company all dropped out of the event over the last week. While several sponsors were still listed online as of Friday—including UnitedHealth Group, Morgan Stanley, HSBC, Bank of America, JPMorgan, and Forbes—that page was purged from the website entirely this past weekend.
Still, the Brazilian American Chamber of Commerce appears undeterred in their decision to proceed with the gala, which sold out its $30,000 tickets immediately. Around 1,000 guests are expected to attend the fundraiser. In addition to Bolsonaro, awards will be given to "important contributors to Social Responsibility and Digital Innovation" as well as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (it's unclear if Pompeo will attend).
The Marriott does not appear to be budging in its support for the gala either. Last week, the company's CEO, Arne Sorenson, published a LinkedIn post explaining that "everyone is welcome" at the hotel.
"Allowing a group to use our facilities in no way suggests we endorse its views," he continued. "It just means we are trying to live up to our ideals of openness and inclusivity, understanding that we may put ourselves in an uncomfortable position."
The Brazilian American Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit organization that exists to promote trade and investment relationships between the two countries. Several high-ranking members also happen to have business interests before Bolsonaro: the organization's president and board chairman, Alexander Bettamio, currently serves as the head of the Latin American division of Bank of America, and was one of Bolsonaro's choices to run Brazil's state-run bank; the chamber's executive director, Ted Helms, is a former investment manager at the Brazilian oil company Petrobras, which struck a $9 billion deal with Bolsonaro's government last month.
On Monday, a member of the "No! Bolsonaro" coalition told Gothamist that a planned protest and disruption of the gala will go forward, regardless of the Brazilian president's absence.