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Outrage as Controversial Brazilian President to be Honored by American Museum of Natural History

- Deputy Jair Bolsonaro speaks to the press about being a defendant in the STF, for his statement that "I would not rape Maria do Rosário because she does not deserve it" (Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom / Agência Brasil)
- Deputy Jair Bolsonaro speaks to the press about being a defendant in the STF, for his statement that "I would not rape Maria do Rosário because she does not deserve it" (Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom / Agência Brasil)

“In a moment when there’s been a rise of authoritarianism around the world, they’re giving a positive nod to a man who is rolling back human rights protections and scientific knowledge.”

The American Museum of Natural History is facing widespread criticism for its decision to host a black-tie gala dinner on May 14 to honor Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Activists are expressing outrage in what they perceive to be the glorification of a person diametrically opposed to the values of the museum. Bolsonaro is a devout climate change denier who has made developing the Amazon rainforest for agribusiness and mining a centerpiece of his platform.

Critics View Bolsonaro as Opposed to the Integrity of History and Human Rights

Critics see Bolsonaro as not only opposed to the preservation of nature, but the integrity of history and human rights norms. Bolsonaro has famously praised his country’s former military dictatorship, in which thousands were murdered, tortured, or disappeared. He recently ordered the military to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the military coup on March 31st.

Bolsonaro’s foreign minister Ernesto Araújo ardently denies anthropogenic climate change, calling it a “Marxist plot,” and argues Hitler’s Nazi regime was leftist. Bolsonaro also believes the Nazis were left-wing, because their name, “the National Socialist German Workers Party,” has the word socialist in it.

Historians and experts widely agree that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party was a radical right-wing group. Under the Nazi regime, trade unions were outlawed and communists and socialists were sent to concentration camps. Hitler said in a 1923 interview: “I shall take socialism away from the socialists.”

Bolsonaro’s education minister Ricardo Vélez wants to rewrite the country’s history books to give a positive spin to the military coup and dictatorship that lasted from 1964-1985, saying it was “a democratic regime of force, because it was necessary at that moment,” to prevent communism.

Lilia Schwarcz, a historian and co-author of a bestselling history of Brazil, called Vélez’ attempts to whitewash the brutal dictatorship “historical revisionism of the worst quality.”

Outcry at the Museum

The outcry at the museum’s decision to host Bolsonaro is part of a broader trend in scrutinizing the sources behind altruistic funding. The American Museum of Natural History has taken donations from the Sackler family, widely condemned for their role in the opioid crisis, as well as David Koch and Rebekah Mercer, who have spent millions funding climate change denialist groups.

“AMNH claims to care about biodiversity and climate change—they certainly employ scientists who study these things—but they’ll take the money of people who would see the whole world burn to line their pockets,” wrote graduate student Alexandra Walling.

In addition to denying climate change and appointing a cabinet of historical revisionists, Jair Bolsonaro recently froze almost half of Brazil’s science spending. “As a Brazilian scientist working at the museum I’m embarrassed that this event is happening here,” said the evolutionary biologist Marcelo Gehara.

“In a moment when there’s been a rise of authoritarianism around the world, they’re giving a positive nod to a man who is rolling back human rights protections and scientific knowledge,” said Brazilian activist Priscila Neri.

Bolsonaro, who has been called the “Trump of the tropics,” visited the American president last month in hopes of strengthening ties between the leaders. Bolsonaro visited a CIA base during his time in the U.S., an unprecedented move for a South American leader, a region which has seen numerous governments destabilized and directly overthrown by CIA operations.

While the extent of CIA involvement in the Brazilian military coup of 1964 is unknown, unveiled documents show the White House was expecting the military to take action against the country’s leftist president. Oval office recordings from 1962 reveal President Kennedy’s ambassador to Brazil advising the American leader to strengthen ties with the Brazilian military, saying the U.S. “may very well want them to take over at the end of the year.”

Venezuela was a central focus of the leaders of the two largest democracies in the hemisphere, and Bolsonaro expressed his desire to cooperate militarily with the U.S. and allow a U.S. military base in Brazil.

Wall Street Expresses Approval of Bolsonaro

Despite Bolsonaro’s history of homophobic, racist, misogynistic, anti-science, and militaristic remarks, Wall Street investors have expressed enthusiasm for the president’s potential to open his country for profitable foreign investment. Bolsonaro’s economy minister Paulo Guedes, a graduate of the Chicago school and a student of Milton Friedman, seeks to sell off state assets and deregulate industry.

Critics fear deregulation will lead to more incidents like the Vale SA dam rupture, which killed at least 165 Brazilian citizens earlier this year. Vale, the largest iron ore mining company in the world, knew the dam was at risk of rupturing, according to leaked documents.

Multiple other Chicago school alumni hold high posts in Bolsonaro’s administration. They will seek to reverse a deep economic recession initiated by a massive corruption scandal in the state-owned Petrobras company.

After the first 100 days of Bolsonaro’s presidency, hopes for a swift economic recovery have waned, with the Brazilian president holding the lowest approval rating since the country returned to democracy three decades ago.

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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