The World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth has not been deterred by activists’ and local leaders’ calls to disinvite Brazil’s controversial president, Jair Bolsonaro, from a speaking event on Thursday. Bolsonaro will be accompanied by a cadre of Brazilian politicians and will meet with business executives from across Texas, the U.S. and Brazil, said Jim Falk, the council branch’s president and CEO.
Bolsonaro, who started serving his first four-year term this year, is a far-right-wing firebrand who came to power amid fears of rising crime and frustration about widespread corruption. While on the campaign trail, Bolsonaro pledged to militarize the police and give officers expanded freedom to use deadly force — saying a “good criminal is a dead criminal.”
Bolsonaro has drawn fire from environmental, human rights and LGBTQ activists for such stances and other statements. The Brazilian president administration shut down a section of Brazil’s education ministry devoted to diversity and human rights. Environmentalists worry about his administration stripping away many protections meant to prevent deforestation and rampant resource development in the Amazon forest.
Various groups in Dallas, including the LGBTQ and HIV community wellness nonprofit Resource Center, railed against Bolsonaro and the World Affairs Council event, which is hosted by billionaire Ray Hunt and philanthropist Nancy Marcus.
“By allowing a man with staunch opposition to our lives into our city, the World Affairs Council sends a clear message to our youth and the LGBTQ community as a whole that we are ‘less than,’” Resource Center
CEO Cece Cox wrote in a letter to Falk, shared with the Dallas Voice. “You send a message that violence and hatred toward LGBTQ persons is acceptable. You send a message that hatred is welcome in Dallas. That, simply put, is shameful.”
Falk, the council’s local leader since 2001, said the council’s role in the event “certainly was not” an endorsement of Bolsonaro’s views or policies. The council often serves as a liaison between foreign governments and both public and private entities in North Texas. And the council did not invite Bolsonaro to Dallas, Falk said, but was informed by his administration that he would be in Dallas to meet with business leaders.
“The World Affairs Council was founded on a foundation that the United States needed to engage the American public on a discussion of public policy from all viewpoints,” Falk said. He added that while his group does not have a policy on hosting heads of state, he felt it had “a responsibility to do so.”
But five Dallas City Council members — mayoral candidate Scott Griggs, Omar Narvaez, Adam Medrano, Philip Kingston and Mark Clayton — and two incoming members, Chad West and Jaime Resendez, penned a letter encouraging Falk to “disinvite” Bolsonaro immediately, and “rethink its policy of hosting any head of state to speak.”
“President Bolsonaro’s regime represents a deep disdain for democracy and civil society,” the letter read.
On Wednesday, Mayor Mike Rawlings said he would neither attend the event nor meet with Bolsonaro. “I have no problem speaking out against his policies,” Rawlings said.
The mayor added that Bolsonaro’s statements in favor of development in parts of the Amazon forest were “very concerning to me, being a citizen on planet Earth. His strong opinions on the gay community does not reflect this city and I think does not reflect the country of Brazil.”
Nevertheless, Rawlings said he would not ask for the World Affairs Council event to be canceled, because Dallas “is a welcoming city.”