As some of Dallas’ business elite met with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday, protesters faced off outside the highly guarded confines of Old Parkland. Around 11 a.m., Bolsonaro’s detractors, wearing the colors of Brazil’s national soccer team and carrying the national flag, attempted to block the entrance off Maple. The pro-Bolsonaro supporters were carrying a large banner with the Brazilian president’s face welcoming him to Texas. Bolsonaro’s protesters shared a variety of messages and flags but the predominant symbol was the gay pride rainbow.
The two groups squared off in front of the usually quiet Old Parkland, the historic former hospital in Oak Lawn. The sprawling, 10 building complex was overhauled in 2008 as a headquarters for Crow Holdings. It serves as offices for a variety of high-profile hedge funds, real estate investors, and other similar tenants. Dallas police officers monitored both sides of the street and both factions of the protest. It’s worth noting that this fairly politically conservative establishment is in the middle of the nucleus of Dallas’ gay community. For the second day in a row, helicopters loomed overhead in Oak Lawn. The previous day was due to a raid by the Dallas Police Department of the Archdiocese of Dallas; on Thursday it was Bolsonaro’s visit.
Since Bolsonaro’s runoff election in October of 2018, his brief tenure has been rife with controversy due to a long list of comments and proposed legislation that has raised alarm in various communities and causes across the South American country: Brazil’s LGBTQ population, in light of the president referring to himself as “homophobic“; the indigenous population of Brazil, by way of reassigning land-rights; and the conservationists and environmentalists concerned with development in the Amazon rainforest.
It was originally reported earlier in May that the World Affairs Council invited Bolsonaro to Dallas, however a spokesperson for the group later denied this. Bolsonaro made use of his time in Texas; he was seen with both former president George W. Bush and Texas Senator Ted Cruz in the past 24 hours. He was at Old Parkland to speak about the Brazilian economy to a group of about 150 that included Ray Hunt and Ross Perot Jr.
The president’s visit became a touchpoint for mayoral candidate Scott Griggs, who organized a letter for his colleagues to sign decrying the visit. Seven of his colleagues signed it, and Mayor Mike Rawlings refused to meet with Bolsonaro as well.
The protesters and supporters were eventually encouraged to line up along the walls of the entrance of Old Parkland. Not a single protester made their way into the complex. Instead, one man chose to lay flat on his back in the middle of the driveway, blocking cars both arriving and leaving the grounds. Another person joined him on the ground. Police officers stood around the two men so passing cars could avoid striking them. Other Bolsonaro protesters eventually brought a Brazilian flag and used it to shield the men from the unrelenting glare of the sun. The high was 86 degrees and it felt considerably warmer in direct sunlight. Well-wishers from nearby office buildings brought the protesters bottled water.
“God is not a fascist” was one of the many chants heard from the protesters, which were in both Portuguese and English.
“He was elected by 57 million people,” one pro-Bolsonaro supporter shouted back. “You have to respect that.”
“You’ve never been to Brazil; you know nothing about politics,” another man said from the pro-Bolsonaro side.
The anti-Bolsonaro protesters outnumbered their pro-president counterparts nearly two to one. The soccer jersey-clad pro-Bolsonaro supporters eventually filed out slowly and walked across Maple Avenue and back to their cars.
“Did the embassy call you back?” asked an anti-Bolsonaro protester as the president’s supporters filed away in small groups. Some handshakes were seen given to the opposition, but it was clear that the president’s opponents felt the victors as they shouted a goodbye chant.
I left the protest after observing for two-and-a-half hours to get the $5.25 lunch special at Liquid Zoo. The bartender asked me what I was shooting with my camera. I told him it was the protest down the street. “The Brazilian president who said he would rather his own son die if he found out he was gay?,” was his response. “Sounds like a great guy.”