Brasilia: Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro is in no rush to leave Florida, making life deeply uncomfortable for the White House as it gets ready to welcome his successor and bitter rival next month.
Back home, Bolsonaro is under investigation on multiple fronts, including his alleged involvement in the January 8 riots by supporters who refused to accept his loss in last year’s election to Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. His continued presence in the US was already awkward but he had indicated he would cut his holiday short for medical reasons and leave at the end of January.
Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro greets people outside the home where he’s staying in Kissimmee, Florida, on January 8Credit:The Washington Post by Thomas Simonetti
Instead, he’s applied for a six-month visitor visa, according to a person familiar with the matter. That will add to the diplomatic discomfort for the Biden administration. Bolsonaro, a close ally of Donald Trump, decamped to Orlando two days before Lula’s inauguration on January 1.
Felipe Alexandre, a lawyer who says he is representing Bolsonaro in the visa status change, said his office was first approached by an adviser to the former president, but then had a face-to-face meeting with Bolsonaro himself. Contacted by The Associated Press, the lawyer’s firm, AG Immigration, confirmed the report.
Word of the visa application touched off internal discussions within the Biden administration about how to handle the situation, one person familiar with the matter said. No decision has been made.
The former president had been travelling on a diplomatic visa that expired when he left office, leaving him with a 30-day window to apply for another type of visa that would permit him to stick around.
Not only was he intending to stay in the condo he has occupied in the Orlando area but he was also expected to participate at an event — $US50 ($71) a head — prepared in his honour by the Brazilian diaspora.
Police officers and security patrol outside a home, where former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro temporarily resides during his visit to the US, in Kissimmee, Florida.Credit:Bloomberg
According to Alexandre, the US government received the request to change the status of the visa from diplomatic to visitor on January 27. “We made a change to the tourist visa, so he can stay here, enjoy his time a little, breathe, see what his next plans are.”
He said he saw no grounds for Bolsonaro’s extradition or deportation and that it’s advisable for the former president not to leave the country while he is awaiting a visa. “He has to be careful not to do anything that could be interpreted as paid work in the US,” Alexandre added.
The US informed Brazilian officials about Bolsonaro’s request, according to another person familiar with the matter.
At least 30,000 Brazilians have settled in Orlando, according to city estimates, and hundreds of thousands come as tourists every year. Brazilian voters in Florida cast ballots for Bolsonaro by a 4-to-1 margin, in stark contrast to his narrow loss to Lula back home, according to official Brazilian election results.
Over the weekend, his eldest son, Flavio Bolsonaro, told reporters that his father didn’t have a deadline to return to Brazil and dismissed the idea of extradition by the US.
“The far left in the US plays the role of the far left here,” he said. “I believe that the US is a serious country that won’t do anything illegal.”
Flavio Bolsonaro and his father’s lawyer in Brazil did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Bolsonaro’s whereabouts is a problem both for the US and the new Brazilian government.
The Supreme Court judge that heads the case could order his return but Lula’s administration would be wary of turning Bolsonaro into a political martyr after his narrow defeat in the October run-off.
Bolsonaro’s presence in the US also looms over Lula’s visit to the White House, which is expected to take place in early February. Biden has quickly moved to rebuild relationships with Brazil after the leftist president took office, seeking compromises in topics from the environment to green energy.
Two close advisers to Lula, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations, said the president didn’t want to waste any energy thinking about Bolsonaro. One of them acknowledged that Lula’s advisers were split over the best way to handle the question.
The State department declined to comment on Monday. Earlier in January, State Department spokesman Ned Price said government officials in the US no longer doing “official business” have 30 days to request to change their immigration status.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in Brasilia.Credit:Bloomberg
Meanwhile, Germany has pledged €200 million ($308 million) to help Brazil defend the Amazon rainforest, a global ecosystem devastated during the Bolsonaro years.
The sum, in credits and donations, was announced in the capital Brasilia where German Chancellor Olaf Scholz became the first Western leader to visit since Lula’s inauguration.
The visit was a show of German support for Brazilian democracy following the January 8 riots, Scholz told a news conference.
German Development Minister Svenja Schulze said her government recognised Brazil’s new leftist administration was working hard to show results in reducing deforestation in its first 100 days in office.
The sum includes a donation of €35 million to the Amazon Fund to strengthen a billion-dollar initiative funded by Norway and Germany to protect the South American rainforest and fight deforestation.
The Amazon Fund was re-activated by Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva the day she took office. It had been frozen since 2019, when Bolsonaro abolished its governing board and action plans. As president Bolsonaro said Brazilians had the right to develop natural resources in the Amazon.
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