Facing potential legal troubles upon his return to Brazil, former president Jair Bolsonaro files for US visa
Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has applied for a six-month visitor visa to stay in the US, indicating he may not immediately intend to return home, where legal issues await.
Key points: Mr Bolsonaro is being investigated over whether he played any role in inciting the January riots in Brazil’s capital. He no longer enjoys special legal protections that require any trial to be held at the Supreme Court. Mr. Bolsonaro has been staying in a vacation home in Florida since leaving Brazil. after his election loss
Mr Bolsonaro left Brazil for Florida on December 30, two days before the inauguration of his leftist rival, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The ceremony went off without incident, but a week later thousands of Mr Bolsonaro’s staunch supporters stormed top government buildings in Brasilia and demanded that Mr Lula’s election be overturned.
Mr Bolsonaro is being investigated as to whether he played any role in instigating that uprising. It’s just one of several investigations targeting the former president that could cause a legal headache upon his eventual homecoming, and could disqualify him from future races — or worse.
For the first time in his more than three-decade political career, he no longer enjoys the special legal protection that requires any trial to be held at the Supreme Court.
It is widely believed – though not confirmed – that Mr Bolsonaro entered the US on an A-1 visa reserved for sitting heads of state. If so, he would have 30 days from the end of his presidential term to either leave the US or adjust his status with the Department of Homeland Security.
The application for a six-month stay was first reported by The Financial Times, citing Mr Bolsonaro’s immigration lawyer, whose firm confirmed the report when contacted by The Associated Press.
Facing an uncertain future
The shape of Mr Bolsonaro’s political future and his potential return to Brazil has been a matter of rumor and speculation.
Mr Bolsonaro meets with supporters outside the Florida holiday home where he has been staying. (AP: Skyler Swisher)
Mr Bolsonaro’s calculation appears to be to distance himself from the radicals whose destruction in the capital could implicate him in the short term, with the aim of one day returning to lead the opposition, said Mario Sérgio Lima, a political analyst at Medley Advisors, said.
“He’s giving it some time, staying a little bit away from the country at a moment when he can start to suffer legal consequences for his supporters’ attitudes,” Mr Lima said.
“I don’t think the fact that he’s staying away is enough. The processes will continue, but maybe he thinks he can at least avoid some kind of retribution.”
Mr Bolsonaro was staying in a home outside Orlando, Florida, and videos showed him taking pictures with supporters in the gated community and walking around a supermarket.
In the wake of the rampage in the Brazilian capital this month, a group of 46 Democrats sent a letter to US President Joe Biden demanding that Mr Bolsonaro’s visa be revoked.
“The United States should not shelter him, or any authoritarian who inspired such violence against democratic institutions,” they wrote.
Mr Bolsonaro’s son, a senator for Rio de Janeiro, told reporters at an event that he was not sure when his father would return to Brazil.
“It could be tomorrow, it could be in six months, he might never return. I don’t know. He’s relaxing,” Flávio Bolsonaro said.
Asked whether Mr Bolsonaro had submitted any requests for documentation or help with visa processes, Brazil’s foreign ministry referred AP to US authorities.
The State Department has repeatedly declined to comment on questions about Mr Bolsonaro’s visa status in the US.