BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Former President Jair Bolsonaro returned Thursday to Brazil after a three-month stint in Florida following his election loss, and the right-wing populist told supporters he doesn’t think leftists will be in power in the country for long.
Bolsonaro, who is the subject of several investigations that could stymie any attempts at a political comeback, arrived in a capital under tight security. Authorities sought to avoid any repeat of Jan. 8 events when supporters who didn’t accept his defeat stormed government buildings. Police in Brasilia blocked the main artery to those buildings.
Hundreds of supporters dressed in Brazil's national colors of yellow and green chanted for Bolsonaro as they awaited his arrival, but his return did not draw the huge crowds many of his allies had expected.
The former president said in his first speech after touching down that his leftist successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and his allies “will not do whatever they want to the fate of our nation” and added that the left will only keep power “for now, for a little while.”
Speaking in front of a banner that read “today Brazil woke up stronger,” Bolsonaro said he would spend as much time as necessary at the headquarters of his Liberal Party to help the campaign for next year’s municipal races when the country elects 5,500 mayors nationwide.
Bolsonaro left Brazil just before the end of his presidential term. In so doing, he broke with tradition by declining to hand the presidential sash to his successor, Lula, who won the October election with the narrowest finish since Brazil’s return to democracy over three decades earlier.
While in the U.S., Bolsonaro mostly kept a low profile, although he delivered several speeches to Brazilian expats and conservatives, including at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.
The Brazilian leader said his three months in Florida had helped give him a vision for the future. "Everything we saw there is what we want to implement here. The most important thing is liberty.”
For the first time in 30 years, the lawmaker-turned-president does not hold elected office.
“I am coming here in the position of an elder, an experienced person who will be consulted by whomever wishes. I will give opinions,” Bolsonaro said. “We are not in the opposition. We are in favor of Brazil.”
Carlos Melo, a political scientist at Insper University in Sao Paulo, said Bolsonaro had to return to confront his many legal problems, and to fend off rivals who might claim his role as leader of the right. But the new political landscape will be a challenge for him, Melo said.
"It is hard for him to lead the opposition because his career was as an outsider. He has more visibility now, but without the presidency it is a different game for him,” Melo said. “Now he is no outsider and he is no president. He will have to build a new path.”
The hundreds of Bolsonaro supporters who gathered at Brasilia International Airport early Thursday did not not get to see the far-right leader come out the main exit and instead gathered outside his Liberal Party’s headquarters. The former president was welcomed by his son, Sen. Flavio Bolsonaro, and Liberal Party chairman Valdemar da Costa Neto at the airport.
“Bolsonaro was the best president we’ve ever had, I had never seen an administration like his,” said Marinalva Wanderley, 71, who brought five members of her family from Sao Paulo to the Liberal Party’s headquarters. “I think he was in the U.S. with Donald Trump to see what is best for Brazil and the U.S. We will have a much bigger opposition (to Lula), that’s for sure."
Bolsonaro’s aim to reassume political prominence may be blocked by a series of investigations, including whether he incited the Jan. 8 uprising. Recent revelations by newspaper Estado de S.Paulo regarding three boxes of expensive jewelry allegedly brought to Bolsonaro from Saudi Arabia have exposed the former president to greater legal jeopardy.
Next year’s municipal elections would be an important step toward gaining political momentum for a possible 2026 presidential run. Bolsonaro is expected to throw his support behind his Liberal Party’s mayoral candidates who, if victorious, can then use their stature to stump for him.
In addition to probes into the diamonds, Bolsonaro is the subject of about a dozen investigations by Brazil’s electoral courts into his actions during last year’s campaign, particularly related to his unsubstantiated claims that the electronic voting system is susceptible to fraud. If Bolsonaro is found guilty in any of those cases, he would lose his political rights and be unable to run for office in the next election.
On Thursday, the former president denied any wrongdoing in the case of the jewels he received. “I didn't hide anything," he said.
Hughes reported from Rio de Janeiro and Bridi reported from Brasilia.
AP journalist Mauricio Savarese contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.
Eléonore Hughes And Carla Bridi, The Associated Press