While Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro spoke with Dallas business leaders Thursday at the Old Parkland hospital campus, dozens of demonstrators lined the street outside, some denouncing him as a fascist despot and others welcoming him to Texas.
The far-right head of state was in Dallas to meet with members of the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth, a nonprofit organization that holds discussions on international business, culture and foreign policy. Activists here, as well as several members of the Dallas City Council, called on the group to cancel the visit because of Bolsonaro's policies and rhetoric on LGBT rights, education, labor and other issues.
"This is the tropical Trump," said Gene Lantz, a member of the Dallas AFL-CIO.
Lantz, 78, was one of dozens of anti-Bolsonaro protesters lined up on the south side of the entrance to Old Parkland, which is now headquarters of the real estate firm Crow Holdings. Lantz did his protesting from a lawn chair because of a bad leg.
Lantz said he came out to show solidarity with union workers in Brazil. Since taking office last year, Bolsonaro has made a number of moves that have worried labor union leaders in Brazil, including lowering the national minimum wage and shuttering the country's Ministry of Labor. Lantz said he sees Bolsonaro as "the most ugly example" of a rising tide of global fascism.
A number of anti-Bolsonaro protesters were LGBTQ activists who were angry about his anti-gay rhetoric. In a 2011 interview with Playboy, Bolsonaro said he would "prefer my son to die in an accident than show up with a mustachioed man." More recently, he has discouraged gay tourists from visiting Brazil.
“If you want to come here and have sex with a woman, go for your life," Bolsonaro told reporters in Brasilia last month. "But we can’t let this place become known as a gay tourism paradise. Brazil can’t be a country of the gay world, of gay tourism. We have families."
Rafael McDonnell, a spokesman for the Resource Center, said the nonprofit brought a group of protesters out to the demonstration to show that Bolsonaro isn't welcome in Dallas.
"That cannot be tolerated," he said. "You cannot reward that with a visit to Dallas, Texas."
During the protest, members of the anti-Bolsonaro group waved rainbow flags and held signs, some bearing the Portuguese phrase "Ele Nao" — in English, "Not him," a slogan used regularly by Brazilian anti-Bolsonaro protesters. A few yards away, on the north side of the entrance to the Old Parkland campus, a smaller group of pro-Bolsonaro demonstrators stood, most wearing Brazilian soccer jerseys. Some of them chanted, "Globalistas, globalistas!" at a Brazilian TV news crew that was set up on the opposite side of Maple Avenue.
Among the Bolsonaro supporters was Arthur Ferreria, a Brazilian national who moved to Dallas a year ago. Ferreria held one end of a banner that bore a picture of Bolsonaro in a cowboy hat and a message welcoming the Brazilian president to Dallas.
Ferreria, 48, said he came to show his support for Bolsonaro's economic policies. He said he doesn't want Brazil turning into a socialist state like Venezuela or Cuba.
"Socialism does not rhyme with freedom," he said.
The visit came just weeks after Bolsonaro canceled a planned visit to New York following a series of protests there. Ahead of his visit, Dallas City Council members Adam Medrano, Omar Narvaez, Scott Griggs, Phillip Kingston and Mark Clayton, as well as incoming council members Chad West and Jaime Resendez, wrote a letter to leaders of the World Affairs Council asking them to cancel the event.
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The group wrote that Bolsonaro's regime "represents a deep disdain for democracy and civil society, and an unprecedented attack on Afro-Brazilians, women, indigenous peoples, and Brazil's working-class majority since the dark years of Brazil's military dictatorship.
"With the rise in authoritarian and fascist regimes across the globe, we encourage the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth to rethink its policy of hosting any head of state to speak," they wrote. "History may not look kindly on these leaders or the organization."
But some of Texas' political class was more receptive. On Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted that he and his wife, Heidi, had dinner with Bolsonaro in Texas.
"After years of tension btwn leaders in Brazil & US, it’s good for Western Hemisphere to have Brazilian President who wants to be strong ally to America," Cruz tweeted. "We extend the hand of friendship."