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Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro has applied for a six-month visa to remain in the U.S. as his home country continues to investigate whether he’s partially responsible for an attack on Brasilia’s capital buildings last month.
Bolsonaro left Brazil for Florida on Dec. 30, two days before the inauguration of his rival, the leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and a week before his supporters rioted in Brasilia, claiming without evidence that Bolsonaro’s reelection loss had been rigged.
Analysts say Bolsonaro most likely entered the U.S. on a special A-1 visa reserved for heads of state. Such a visa would have expired by default on Tuesday, 30 days after his presidential term ended.
AG Immigration Group, a California-based firm known for its work with Brazilians, confirmed to NPR that it’s representing Bolsonaro as an immigration client, and that the former president is seeking a six-month visa.
Bolsonaro is likely to remain in the country while his claim is being processed, which could take months.
Brazil’s Supreme Court is investigating the election fraud riots
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Bolsonaro lost all legal immunity as a politician when his term ended on Jan. 1.
Two weeks later, on Jan. 13, Brazil’s Supreme Court launched an official probe into Bolsonaro’s possible “instigation and intellectual authorship of the anti-democratic acts that results in vandalism and violence in Brasilia,” according to a public prosecutor’s statement reported by Reuters.
Bolsonaro has lightly condemned his supporters’ actions, saying that invasions of public buildings were not the same as peaceful protests. He’s also said he bears no responsibility for what transpired.
But for months, Bolsonaro refused to concede election defeat and continued to stoke beliefs that Brazil’s electronic voting system was prone to fraud, even as mounting terrorism threats left the country on edge.
The investigation into the capital attacks is just the latest into Bolsonaro’s conduct. Allegations levied against the former president in at least four different investigations span from using the federal police to protect his sons to harboring a disinformation troll farm within his own office.
Biden is under pressure from Democrats to send Bolsonaro home
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Living the U.S. has kept him a few steps ahead of legal peril.
For a month, he’s been residing in a Florida home owned by a Brazilian mixed martial arts fighter in a gated Orlando community not far from Disney World.
Reports and snapshots shared on social media show he’s living much like a local, wandering around supermarkets, chowing down on Kentucky Fried Chicken and checking into the hospital for an old stab wound.
But he’s still a man of international interest. Twice a day he ventures outside his residence to greet the crowds who gather across the street, often draped in Brazilian flags and speaking Portuguese.
Bolsonaro’s retreat has sparked questions from U.S. lawmakers. Over 40 House Democrats signed a letter to President Biden earlier this month, saying the U.S. “must not provide shelter” for Bolsonaro, especially given his ideological connections to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Nearly 2 years to the day the US Capitol was attacked by fascists, we see fascist movements abroad attempt to do the same in Brazil.
We must stand in solidarity with @LulaOficial’s democratically elected government. 🇧🇷
The US must cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida. https://t.co/rzsZl9jwZY
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 8, 2023
“Two years ago, the United States faced a similar assault on our democracy,” the letter reads. “We know firsthand the impact—both immediate and long-term—when government officials subvert democratic norms, spread misinformation, and foment violent extremism.”
Bolsonaro’s son says there are no firm plans for the ex-president to return
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to NPR’s latest request for information about Bolsonaro’s visa status and has denied previous requests.
The U.S. doesn’t need a legal justification to revoke or deny a foreigner’s visa.
John Feeley, who served as ambassador to Panama during a presidential extradition case, told NPR earlier this month that “there’s nothing that prevents Biden from saying to Bolsonaro, ‘You have to be out in 24 hours.'”
A decision to keep Bolsonaro in the U.S. might come down to safety, Feeley said. Sending Bolsonaro home at the wrong time could spark more violence among his supporters.
Bolsonaro’s son, Flávio Bolsonaro, who is also a sitting senator, told local reporters on Saturday that his father hadn’t made firm plans to return home, according to several reporters who were present.
“It could be tomorrow, it could be six months from now, he could never come back,” he said. “He has no fear at all because he bears no responsibility for what happened in Brazil.”