Obama cancels public-square appearance in Rio

First he cancels his award presentation for openness on a day when he held no open events for press coverage.  Now Barack Obama has canceled his triumphal appearance in Rio de Janeiro after criticism arose over his travels to Brazil.  But which criticism shut it down?

President Barack Obama has cancelled a public speech he was scheduled to deliver Sunday in a Rio square during his upcoming visit to Brazil, the US embassy in Brasilia said.

The speech in the historic plaza known as Cinelandia, in the heart of Rio de Janeiro, “is cancelled,” an embassy spokeswoman told AFP.

Obama has taken a lot of heat at home for this trip, to the point where the President felt the need to defend it this morning in USA Today.  Most of that criticism has focused on Obama’s absence during the continuing budget crisis and the potential for military intervention in Libya.  Some in the US have wondered whether Obama is more interested in self-aggrandizing grand receptions by an adoring public abroad than in dealing with specific problems at home, where Obamamania has long ago worn thin.

The White House gave no explanation to AFP for the change in plans, but AFP’s report suggests that it wasn’t domestic criticism that prompted the cancellation.  Yesterday, the US security team scoped out the Cinelandia and found a series of anti-US signage hinting at a counterdemonstration.  It turns out that while American unions love Obama, Brazilian unions and “social groups” have a different take:

Some social and union groups have declared Obama a “persona non grata” and called for a protest, accusing him of a “bellicose policy of occupation” in foreign countries, and of attacking people “in the name of the war on terror.

So Obama has lost the community organizers in Brazil, eh?  One might imagine that a military intervention in Libya would have exacerbated the issue with these groups, who apparently think Obama is too conservative for their tastes.  The optics of a major protest at a massive outdoor rally doesn’t appear to have appealed to Obama regardless of what the protest message turned out to be.

The speech has been moved indoors to a much smaller venue, the Municipal Theatre.  Obama’s team wouldn’t specify if the speech would be open to the public, but given the circumstances, it seems likely that they will control access to avoid messy displays of disapproval.  The White House has apparently decided to take  a much lower profile on this trip than first planned, and given the circumstances both at home and abroad, it’s the second-wisest course to take — other than postponing it altogether.