Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, was met with cheers and jeers as he visited a small Italian town on Monday to collect honorary citizenship.
Bolsonaro’s great-great-grandfather was born in Anguillara Veneta, a town of 4,200 people in the Veneto region. Tensions have been brewing since its far-right mayor, Alessandra Buoso, approved granting honorary citizenship to the far-right leader.
Last week, protesters spray-painted the wall of the town hall with the words “Bolsonaro Out” while the bishop of nearby Padua described the honorary citizenship as “a great embarrassment”.
Bolsonaro arrived in Anguillara Veneta after attending the G20 summit in Rome, where he was filmed walking around the city’s cultural sites and sampling food.
He was greeted with cheers by supporters who had wrapped themselves in the Brazilian flag, while about 200 protesters held banners saying: “Justice for the Amazon” and “No citizenship for dictators”. The visit comes days after Brazilian senators recommended that Bolsonaro face criminal charges for the country’s more than 600,000 Covid-19 deaths.
Andrea Zanoni, an environment councillor in the Veneto region for the centre-left Democratic party, was among the protesters.
Zanoni said the honorary citizenship was an “incomprehensible choice” amid accusations of “crimes against humanity” against Bolsonaro and his “nefarious” handling of the pandemic.
“But not only that: Bolsonaro’s policies are a disaster for the planet,” said Zanoni. “He has laid out the red carpet for multinationals that are devastating the Amazon and dismantled environmental controls. Bolsonaro’s policies are dangerous not only for Brazil but the whole world.”
The ANPI, an Italian anti-fascism organisation, described the visit and citizenship as “shameful”.
Buoso, from the far-right League party, defended the decision, saying the move was not a vote on Bolsonaro’s politics but a recognition of the Italians who had emigrated to Brazil, like Bolsonaro’s great-great-grandfather Vittorio, who was 10 when his family emigrated to Brazil.
The Italian press reported that hosting Bolsonaro and his entourage had cost the town’s council about €10,000 (£8,500).
Bolsonaro’s approval ratings have slumped before his 2022 reelection campaign, in large part because of the country’s coronavirus death toll, which is the second highest in the world. Last week, the Brazilian senate committee formally approved a report calling for prosecutors to try Bolsonaro on charges ranging from charlatanism and inciting crime to misuse of public funds and crimes against humanity.