Hundreds Welcome Jair Bolsonaro Back to Brazil

TOPSHOT - Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters from a window at the

Former President Jair Bolsonaro returned to his native Brazil after three months in the United States on Thursday morning, welcomed at both the Orlando, Florida, airport that saw him go and in Brasilia by supportive crowds.

Bolsonaro returned to a turbulent Brazil divided by the close results of the October presidential election, which saw him lose to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a hardline leftist convicted on multiple appeals of acts of corruption while holding the top office. Brazil’s top court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF), overturned Lula’s convictions in 2021, allowing him to run for office, without offering any evidence exonerating him of taking bribes and using them to buy a luxury beachfront complex, the crime for which he was initially convicted.

Bolsonaro left Brazil for Florida in late December, days before his presidential term was set to expire. Reports in late January indicated that, given the culmination of his presidency, Bolsonaro had to re-apply for admission to the United States and reportedly requested a six-month visa. Bolsonaro and his allies repeatedly stated, however, that the former president had no intention of staying in America for the long term and that Bolsonaro had simply planned a trip to visit friends and decompress after four stressful years.

His stay in America occurred at a turbulent time in his home country. On January 8, a week after Lula’s third inauguration, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters stormed the offices of the Brazilian presidency, the Congress, and the STF, causing massive property destruction but no deaths and few injuries.

Supporters of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro wait for his arrival at the Liberal Party headquarters in Brasilia on March 30, 2023. (EVARISTO JULIANO DE SA/AFP via Getty Images)

Lula accused “psychopath” Bolsonaro of orchestrating the riot and attempting to stage a “coup,” despite no evidence that Bolsonaro had participated in the organization of the anti-Lula rally. Brazilian legal experts have suggested that Bolsonaro could face legal woes at home as a result of the riot, especially as Lula has attempted to directly blame him for a conspiracy to undo the results of the presidential election.

Bolsonaro will reportedly face questioning first, however, in a case regarding Bolsonaro’s handling of a gift of jewels from the government of Saudi Arabia during his tenure.

While in Florida, Bolsonaro was briefly hospitalized with severe abdominal pain – a complication stemming from a 2018 assassination attempt – and made only two major public appearances, one at a talk hosted by the conservative organization Turning Point USA and a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
Bolsonaro departed Orlando late Wednesday, attracting supporters at the Florida airport with which he appeared to chat and take photos before his flight.

“I stayed for three months here, practically in silence, and I have been following everything going on in Brazil,” Bolsonaro told CNN Brasil before his flight. “We will begin to organize and prepare to help the country overcome its challenges.”

Bolsonaro’s flight arrived in Brazil’s capital in the early morning hours of Thursday local time to a crowd of about 200 people waving flags and cheering the ex-president outside of the airport. The Brazilian news network Jovem Pan reported that the local Brasilia government had rejected the possibility of organizing a welcome parade for Bolsonaro due to security reasons, but his supporters convened informally, anyway.

Welcoming Bolsonaro home were multiple conservative senators, including son Flavio Bolsonaro, who then led him to the headquarters of his right-wing Liberal Party (PL). On the immediate agenda of the day is a welcome party by the PL, where Bolsonaro will assume an honorary leadership role.

The speed at which, and degree to which, Bolsonaro will return to active political work in the opposition remains unclear despite his return to the country. The honorary title he has taken within his party suggests that he will not take up the active functions of running the opposition for now. The news network G1 noted on Thursday that the Liberal Party has not clarified if Bolsonaro will host public events advocating for the party’s agenda in the near future, or at all. Yet Bolsonaro’s appearances in the United States indicated that he retained enthusiasm for promoting his conservative agenda and, while he limited his criticism of Lula, presented an alternative to the incumbent’s radical leftist agenda, which he began implementing immediately by limiting Brazilians’ gun rights on his first day in office.

“I think that in my four years as president of the Republic, we managed to awaken many things in Brazil, among them patriotism, respect for the family, private property, the legitimate right to self-defense,” Bolsonaro said in February during his appearance with Turning Point USA, “and turn the heads of many people to see that there is something more important than our lives, which is our freedom.”

“In my campaign, I attracted large crowds in the five regions of Brazil, always mentioning God, fatherland, family, and freedom,” he affirmed. “We faced the entire system. We ended our government without any accusations of corruption.”

Similarly, at CPAC, he touted what he considered the greatest successes of his administration. More directly, Bolsonaro said he believed his “mission” as president of Brazil was “not over,” suggesting another run for the top office.

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