Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who decamped to Florida soon after his narrow election loss to leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at the end of October, has applied for a six-month tourist visa to remain in the United States.
According to Bolsonaro’s lawyer, Felipe Alexandre, the former president submitted his application on Friday, and will remain in the U.S. while it is processed. Alexandre, the founder of an immigration law firm, said Bolsonaro might pursue a more permanent arrangement if his six-month tourist visa is approved.
Bolsonaro is believed to have traveled on a diplomatic visa that technically expired on his last day in office, which was January 1, although he traveled to Florida two days before that. The expired diplomatic visa included a 30-day grace period, which would conclude on Tuesday.
“He would like to take some time off, clear his head, and enjoy being a tourist in the United States for a few months before deciding what his next step will be,” Alexandre told Reuters on Monday.
Jair Bolsonaro has applied for a six-month tourist visa to remain in the United States. The former Brazil president will remain in the U.S. while his application is pending, according to his lawyer https://t.co/hK0Kq6O46v pic.twitter.com/V15s6cErWH
— Reuters (@Reuters) January 31, 2023
“Whether or not he will use the full six months will be up to him and whatever strategy we agree to embark on based on his plans as they develop,” Bolsonaro’s lawyer said.
“I think Florida will be his temporary home away from home. Right now, with his situation, I think he needs a little stability,” Alexandre told the Financial Times (FT).
Bolsonaro, who is facing multiple investigations back home, has applied for a six-month visitor visa to remain in the US https://t.co/0OJIYiensh
— Vera Bergengruen (@VeraMBergen) January 30, 2023
FT noted that Bolsonaro’s continuing presence in the United States is “becoming uncomfortable for the Biden administration,” since his supporters rioted after the election, an outburst compared by Bolsonaro’s critics to the January 2021 disturbance at the capital after Bolsonaro’s ally Donald Trump lost his own re-election bid.
“We must not allow Mr. Bolsonaro or any other former Brazilian officials to take refuge in the United States to escape justice for any crimes they may have committed when in office,” 41 Democrat members of the U.S. Congress wrote in a January 12 letter urging President Joe Biden to revoke Bolsonaro’s diplomatic visa and deny his requests to remain in America.
“Two years ago, the United States faced a similar assault on our democracy. We know firsthand the impact – both immediate and long-term – when government officials subvert democratic norms, spread misinformation, and foment violent extremism,” the congressional Democrats wrote to Biden.
Brazil's Bolsonaro applies for 6-month U.S. visitor visa (from @AP) By @DLBiller https://t.co/EaimByv8jx
— E. Eduardo Castillo (@EECastilloAP) January 30, 2023
The letter blamed Bolsonaro for “months of pre- and post-election fabrications” that fomented the riots, but Alexandre argued there was no evidence Bolsonaro committed any crime and he condemned the violent rioters.
“If you’re going to kick someone out of the country, you have to have legal justification to do so,” Alexandre told FT.
The Brazilian Supreme Court opened an investigation of Bolsonaro on January 13 for alleged “instigation and intellectual authorship of the anti-democratic acts that resulted in vandalism and violence.”
Former Justice Minister Anderson Torres, a Bolsonaro ally who was in Florida during the January 8 riot, was arrested upon returning to Brazil on January 14. Lula’s Justice Minister Flavio Dino had threatened to issue extradition orders if Torres did not return immediately to face prosecution, and Torres complied.
Brazilian police detained thousands of people in Brasilia for allegedly participating in the riots, but were quickly obliged to release hundreds of women, children, homeless people, and the elderly due to humanitarian concerns. In mid-January, the Lula administration froze about $1.2 million in assets belonging to 52 people and seven companies accused of financing the Brasilia riot, through actions such as providing transportation to the capital for protesters.
Bolsonaro told Brazilian media in early January that he was scheduled to remain in Florida on vacation until the end of the month but might cut his trip short and return to Brazil early, in part because he required medical treatment in Florida due to complications from being stabbed in 2018. His plans have evidently changed over the past few weeks.
Bolsonaro’s son Flavio, a Brazilian senator, said on Saturday that his father was merely “relaxing” in Florida, not hiding from prosecution, and plans to return to Brazil in his own time.
“It could be tomorrow, it could be six months from now, he could never come back. He has no fear at all because he bears no responsibility for what happened in Brazil,” Flavio said.
Flavio Bolsonaro said his father was not worried about the “far left” dragging him back to Brazil with an extradition order because he believes “the U.S. is a serious country that won’t do anything illegal.”
Political analyst Mario Sergio Lima told the Associated Press on Monday that Bolsonaro is probably concerned with the legal and political consequences of returning to Brazil too quickly, despite his son’s denials, and might be hoping for a less aggressive prosecution if he keeps some distance from the Lula administration.
“He is giving it some time, staying away a bit from the country at a moment when he can begin to suffer legal consequences for his supporters’ attitudes. I don’t think the fact of him staying away is enough. The processes will continue, but maybe he thinks he can at least avoid some sort of revenge punishment,” Lima said.
The BBC reported that Bolsonaro is presently staying at the home of former mixed martial arts competitor Jose Aldo in Kissimmee, Florida, where roughly a fifth of the Brazilians in the United States live, the vast majority of them ardent Bolsonaro supporters.
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