Jair Bolsonaro’s Disney adventure

Former Brazilian president in Florida limbo but could face extradition following mob attack on capital

Jair Bolsonaro campaigning for re-election on 30 October 2022
Bolsonaro has kept a relatively low profile in the US with sightings of the former president eating at a KFC
(Image credit: Joao Laet/Getty Images)

Joe Biden is facing mounting pressure to expel his Brazilian former counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro, from the US. The ex-president has been living in self-imposed exile in Florida since he left office at the end of last year.

Bolsonaro has disavowed the “pillaging and invasions of public buildings” in the capital Brasilia by his supporters on Sunday, yet still faces accusations he was ultimately responsible for encouraging the mob takeover that was condemned around the world.

Bolsonaro is staying in the gated community of the Encore Resort in Kissimmee, Florida, next door to Disney World, where, he said, he was visiting friends and family. Lawmakers both in the US and Brazil have called for his extradition, but any attempt to deport him could take months and turn into a political quagmire for the Biden administration.

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Why is he in Florida?

Bolsonaro, “who faces investigations from his time as president including into allegations of spreading election misinformation, has been staying in self-imposed exile in Florida for about two weeks”, the Financial Times (FT) reported.

According to The Telegraph he is in Florida, “the preferred home of many conservative Latin American exiles, partly – it is said – because he fears potential legal action” after he lost his political immunity when his successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, took office at the beginning of the year.

Since arriving in the US, Bolsonaro has kept a relatively low profile, being sighted eating at a KFC and wandering around a supermarket, “treated with a mix of mockery and befuddlement”, said Politico.

His Florida “vacation” took a bad turn on Monday when he was admitted to hospital in Orlando with “abdominal pain,” Brazilian newspaper O Globo first reported. He had undergone several operations after being stabbed in the abdomen while campaigning in 2018. He has since been discharged.

The Trump connection

Much like Donald Trump, Bolsonaro “has coped with his election loss by escaping to Florida”, said Vanity Fair.

This has not been lost on locals, with the Palm Beach Post arguing “we need to set a quota on deposed wannabe dictators relocating in Florida. If not, we could get a reputation here of being the Elba of the Americas.”

Yet “Bolsonaro’s fate isn’t just about Brazil” said Bloomberg. “There are heavy political overtones for the US, too. Bolsonaro and Trump are political allies who pursued nationalist agendas and endorsed each other’s re-election bids. Both also fanned suspicions about their country’s election systems and refused to concede after their defeats”.

What will happen to him?

Following near-universal international condemnation of the storming of government buildings by his supporters over the weekend, Bolsonaro’s presence in the US has turned into a “diplomatic quandary” for US President Joe Biden, said Bloomberg.

The financial news service said Biden “appears to have the power to revoke Bolsonaro’s visa and kick him out of the country, and is already coming under pressure from progressives to do so”.

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Brazilian politicians have also joined calls to bring Bolsonaro back to the country, with prominent senator Renan Calheiros calling on Brazil’s supreme court for the “immediate” extradition of the former president, saying his involvement in the riots on Sunday was “undeniable”.

Reuters reported that Bolsonaro may face a Supreme Court probe in Brazil as a result of these anti-democratic protests, “which would likely only escalate Democrats’ demands to kick him out of the United States” said Vanity Fair.

In response to questions about the former president’s immigration status, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the US had not received any extradition requests from Brazil’s new government, but added that if it did, “we’d treat them seriously”.

However, any legal battle over Bolsonaro’s status in the US could go on for months or even years if he chose to fight it, aside from “the question of whether Lula and his supporters actually want him back in their country” at all, concluded Bloomberg.

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