Brazilian Politician Backs Out of Disputed Event at GW

October 13, 2017

Update: After the item below was published, organizers informed Inside Higher Ed that Jair Bolsonaro decided not to appear.

An open letter reported on by the George Washington University student newspaper, The GW Hatchet, calls on the university to rescind an invitation to Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing Brazilian politician who has praised the country’s former military dictatorship and who is viewed by opponents as holding positions that are misogynistic -- he once told a female legislator she was not worthy of being raped by him -- as well as racist and homophobic.

GW's Brazil Initiative is hosting the event, billed as “a conversation” with Bolsonaro, a deputy in Brazil’s National Congress and likely candidate for the 2018 Brazilian presidential election. An online flier for the event, which is scheduled for this afternoon, describes it as part of a “Brazilian Political Leaders Speaker Series.”

The open letter, which has about 900 signatures, many of which include university affiliations, opposes GW giving Bolsonaro a platform.

“Bolsonaro’s event is part of a tour that seeks to validate him as a viable candidate for the Brazilian presidency and soften his bigoted image to court more liberal voters," the letter says. "We are writing this letter to protest his ability to do so in your institution. By welcoming him into your university and allowing him to speak, your institution would be helping a racist, sexist, homophobic right-wing extremist to achieve international recognition and solidify the political viability of his candidacy, effectively putting vulnerable communities in Brazil in great danger of increased discrimination and violence. This letter was written by Brazilian academics and political activists who are based all over the world, and is signed by academics of other nationalities who are committed to antifascist politics and oppose the spread of far-right fascism globally."

The director of the Brazil Initiative, Mark S. Langevin, did not respond to Inside Higher Ed’s request for comment Thursday afternoon. But in a written response to the open letter published Oct. 5, Langevin defended the Brazil Initiative’s commitment to contributing to debate by inviting Brazilian political leaders to speak and described the event as an opportunity "to question Bolsonaro about his commitment to democratic rule and positions on governance."

“Rather than avoiding a discussion with Federal Deputy Bolsonaro, we have chosen to engage him in a conversation about his story, his values and principles, and his vision of governance in Brazil. We trust that such a discussion is vital to better understanding Brazil and its political leadership at this moment while also providing a compelling forum for exploring Deputy Bolsonaro’s views on democracy and human rights. We understand and appreciate the concerns presented by those who oppose Jair Bolsonaro’s presidential candidacy and political views, but are committed to providing a forum for democratic debate on the future of Brazil," wrote Langevin, a research professor in Elliott School of International Affairs.

A spokeswoman for GW said the event is still scheduled to take place today.

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