Bolsonaro to Skip New York Gala Amid Swelling Controversy
RIO DE JANEIRO — President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil decided on Friday to cancel a trip to New York this month following weeks of controversy over the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce’s decision to honor the far-right leader at its gala this year.
The chamber has been scrambling to keep the event on track since it announced last month that Mr. Bolsonaro had been selected to receive its person of the year award.
The honor set off outrage among environmental groups, gay activists and New York politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, who called Mr. Bolsonaro “a dangerous man” whose “overt racism, homophobia and destructive decisions will have a devastating impact on the future of our planet.”
The pushback began when the American Museum of Natural History, which had agreed to host the event before the honoree had been announced, reacted with dismay to Mr. Bolsonaro’s selection.
Mr. Bolsonaro supports making it easier for miners, loggers and farmers to get access to protected parts of the Amazon and believes indigenous groups have too much land set aside for their control.
Chamber officials arranged to move the May 14 gala to the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, which, along with corporate sponsors, came under pressure to pull out.
Arne Sorenson, Marriott’s chief executive, signaled his own discomfort in a blog post, writing that the company was committed to welcoming “even individuals whose views we may consider to be intolerant and noninclusive.”
But in recent days Delta Air Lines, The Financial Times and Bain & Company announced they had decided to drop out as sponsors.
In phone conversations and emailed statements, representatives of some sponsors conveyed unease about celebrating Mr. Bolsonaro, who has a long history of making sexist, racist and homophobic remarks.
Several prominent American banks and other financial institutions remained committed as of Friday to sponsor the event. They included Bank of America, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan and BNY Mellon.
In a statement, BNY Mellon said that it saw the event as an opportunity to “reinforce our commitment to furthering L.G.B.T.+ rights, both in Brazil and across the globe.”
In a statement issued Friday evening, a spokesman for Mr. Bolsonaro said the president decided to scrap the trip “in the face of deliberate attacks from the mayor of New York and pressure from interest groups.”
The event had been seen as a valuable opportunity for Mr. Bolsonaro and his team to pitch growth opportunities to investors, many of whom drew hope from the election of a conservative leader but grew wary as they watched his turbulent first months in office.
Last month, Mr. Bolsonaro said Brazil should not market itself as a gay tourist destination, because there “are families” in the country.
A woman who answered the phone at the Chamber of Commerce Friday night said no one there was in a position to comment. The website promoting the event had an error message on Friday. The chamber had also planned to honor Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, who is gay and a loud critic of the event, expressed delight.
“VICTORY: We took on the homophobic President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro and we won,” he wrote on Twitter. “Hate has no home in New York.”