The Biden administration is under growing pressure from leftists in Latin America as well as U.S. lawmakers to expel Jair Bolsonaro from a post-presidential retreat in Florida following his supporters’ brazen attack on Brazil’s capital over the weekend.
But the far-right ex-president may pre-empt any plans for such a stinging rebuke. On Tuesday, he told a Brazilian media outlet that he would push up his return home, originally scheduled for late January, after being hospitalized with abdominal pains stemming from a 2018 stabbing.
“I came to spend some time away with my family but these weren’t calm days,” Bolsonaro told CNN’s Portuguese-language affiliate in Brazil. “First, there was this sad episode in Brazil and then my hospitalization.”
Bolsonaro arrived in Florida in late December, skipping the Jan. 1 swearing-in of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who became the first elected Brazilian president not to receive the presidential sash from his predecessor since democracy was restored in the 1980s. Bolsonaro is reportedly staying at the Orlando-area home of Brazilian mixed martial arts fighter Jose Aldo, a fervent supporter.
His visit to the Sunshine state went largely unnoticed in the U.S. until Sunday’s attack by thousands of die-hard supporters who had been camping for weeks outside a military base in Brasilia, refusing to accept Bolsonaro’s narrow defeat in an October runoff. Their invasion of Brazil’s congress and presidential palace left behind shattered glass, smashed computers and slashed artwork.
Almost from the moment the images of destruction were broadcast to the world, Democrats voiced concern about Bolsonaro’s continued presence on U.S. soil, drawing parallels between the rampage in Brazil and the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection by allies of Donald Trump who stormed the Capitol to try to overturn the U.S. presidential election results.
Among those calling for President Joe Biden to give Bolsonaro the boot was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“Nearly two years to the day the U.S. Capitol was attacked by fascists, we see fascist movements abroad attempt to do the same in Brazil,” the New York City lawmaker said. “The U.S. must cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida.”
It should be a no brainer for the White House, experts say.
Biden has never had a close relationship with Bolsonaro, who made common cause with Trump’s top allies on the far right. And any action to expel him is likely to play well in Latin America, where Biden is courting a crop of new leftist leaders who have risen to power in places like Chile and Colombia expressing similar concerns about threats to democracy.
“It’s one thing to make statements about support for democracy,” said John Feeley, a longtime U.S. diplomat in Latin America who resigned as ambassador to Panama in 2018 over differences with the Trump administration.
“It’s another to actually take action in your own home, where you have sovereign control, with someone who is clearly in league with the same folks who brought you Jan. 6,” Feeley said.
But so far the Biden administration has proceeded cautiously.
On Monday, State Department spokesman Ned Price, while sidestepping questions about Bolsonaro’s presence, said anyone entering the U.S. on a so-called A-1 visa reserved for sitting heads of state would have 30 days to either leave the country or adjust their status with the Department of Homeland Security at the conclusion of their term of office.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, was similarly circumspect, saying only that any request from Brazil’s government related to Bolsonaro would be evaluated, taking into consideration legal precedent. Typically, the U.S. is reluctant to discuss visa issues out of privacy concerns.
Feeley said the longer the Biden administration waits the weaker its support for democracy will be perceived in the region.
One place Bolsonaro apparently isn’t going is Italy. The former president is the descendant of 19th-century immigrants from northern Italy and Brazilian media had speculated for months that he and his children would seek Italian citizenship out of fear he could be prosecuted in Brazil for corruption or his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.
But Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told state radio on Tuesday that Bolsonaro has never requested citizenship – despite being bestowed honorary citizenship in 2021 by the small town where his great-grandfather was born.
“There are laws that address who gets citizenship, Tajani said, emphasizing his far-right-led government’s strong condemnation of the raid on Brazilian government institutions by Bolsonaro supporters. “It is not a political, discretionary choice.”