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Embattled former Brazilian President might return home from U.S. in coming weeks

By Sarah May
|
February 16, 2023

Though reportedly facing the risk of arrest if he sets foot in his home country, former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has suggested a possible return in the coming weeks, according to The Hill.

The embattled politician has been in a sort of exile in Florida since December 31, when he arrived in Orlando just ahead of the inauguration of left-wing leader, now president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Bolsonaro floats return

Though he was sparse on detail, Bolsonaro declared Saturday his intention to return to Brazil “in the following weeks,” leaving observers to speculate as to precisely what that might mean.

According to the Associated Press, Bolsonaro's statement came at an event at a Florida evangelical church, and it represented the first time he has publicly spoken about a potential return to Brazil.

The AP further noted that the event itself was conducted in Portuguese for the benefit of the many Brazilian nationals in attendance.

Bolsonaro's remarks were reportedly greeted with thunderous cheers and applause during the event, which was orchestrated by the Yes Brazil USA organization.

Visa status unclear

As Politico notes, Bolsonaro entered the United States in late December on a one-month diplomatic visa, which would have expired on Jan. 31.

When he first arrived, the former president was with his wife as well as a team of advisers, all of whom departed the U.S. in January.

Notably, attorneys for Bolsonaro have informed Brazilian journalists in recent days that the former leader is in the process of seeking a tourist visa which would permit him to extend his stay in America for a period of six months, as The Hill reported separately, something that seems to contradict the former president's weekend statement.

However, Bolsonaro's move comes as a number of Democratic lawmakers have urged the Biden administration to revoke the diplomatic visa and prevent him from continuing to seek refuge in the U.S., citing accusations in Brazil that he played a role in inciting massive post-election riots in his home country demanding that the results be overturned.

Legal woes mount

As the U.K. Guardian explains, the legal difficulties awaiting Bolsonaro back home are not at all insignificant, with a criminal probe into his alleged role in the aforementioned uprising perhaps the most serious.

The supreme court in Brazil has initiated no fewer than five inquiries into the unrest, ranging from investigations of financial backers to the rioters themselves, with hundreds of charges having already been presented for prosecution.

In the estimation of Brazilian political pundit Kennedy Alencar, any attempt by Bolsonaro to linger in the U.S. for much longer is essentially an acknowledgment of guilt, with the commentator declaring, “He is one of the instigators, one of the main instigators, of the attempted coup on 8 January, there is not the slightest doubt about that. He gave guidance, encouragement, and he knows that he can be held responsible.”

In recent weeks, it was also announced that Bolsonaro is facing a criminal probe regarding his government's possible involvement in genocide against Brazil's Yanomami Indigenous people, as Politico noted, making his legal situation all the more precarious as he ponders the pros and cons of a return.

Sunny reprieve

Bolsonaro's stay in Florida has been the subject of great curiosity on the part of his supporters and detractors alike, as he seems to have made himself quite at home in the Sunshine State, as the U.K. Independent reported.

Camped in the vacation home of MMA fighter Jose Aldo, Bolsonaro was the subject of much online jocularity after being photographed indulging fast-food feast at a local KFC.

Considering the mounting legal challenges poised to descend upon him the moment he touches down in Brazil – and the leisurely existence he is enjoying while in exile – the likelihood of Bolsonaro's imminent return home remains an open question.

Indeed, amid the seemingly conflicting messages gleaned from the former president's words and deeds, respectively, Sen. Flavio Bolsonoro recently said of his father's future travel plans, according to The Hill, “It could be tomorrow, it could be in six months, he might never return. I don't know. He's relaxing.”