Bolsonaro returns to Brazil after 3-month stay in Florida

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro waving to supporters
Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro waves to supporters at Liberal Party headquarters in Brasilia on Thursday.
(Gustavo Moreno / Associated Press)
Share via

Former President Jair Bolsonaro returned to Brazil on Thursday after spending three months in Florida following his election loss, telling supporters that leftists would not be in power for long.

A right-wing populist and the subject of several investigations, Bolsonaro arrived in Brasilia under tight security. Authorities sought to avoid a repeat of the events of Jan. 8, when supporters who didn’t accept his defeat stormed government buildings. Police in Brasilia blocked the main route to those buildings.

Hundreds of people in yellow and green, the national colors, chanted for Bolsonaro as they awaited his arrival, but the crowd was not as large as many
allies had expected.

In his first speech back in Brazil, Bolsonaro said that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the left “will not do whatever they want to the fate of our nation” and were in power only “for now, for a little while.”


Speaking in front of a banner that read, “Today Brazil woke up stronger,” Bolsonaro vowed to help his Liberal Party campaign for next year’s municipal races, when 5,500 mayors will be elected nationwide.

Bolsonaro left Brazil just before the end of his term, breaking with the tradition of handing the presidential sash to his successor. Da Silva, known as Lula, won October’s election with the narrowest finish since Brazil’s return to democracy more than three decades ago.

The rioters who stormed Brazil’s capital buildings Sunday used coded language on social media to coordinate and carry out their plans in plain view.

Jan. 12, 2023

Bolsonaro kept a low profile for most of his time in the U.S., although he delivered several speeches to Brazilian expatriates and U.S. conservatives, including an address this month at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.

The former leader said Thursday that his time in Florida had helped give him a vision for Brazil’s 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, Bolsonaro does not hold elected office.

“I am coming here in the position of ... an experienced person who will be consulted by whoever wishes. I will give opinions,” he said. “We are not in the opposition. We are in favor of Brazil.”

Biden and the Brazilian president are focusing on their fight to save democracy and the environment while putting predecessors in the rearview window.

Feb. 10, 2023

Carlos Melo, a political scientist at Insper university in Sao Paulo, said that Bolsonaro had to return to confront his many legal problems and to maintain his leadership of Brazil’s right, but that the new political landscape would be a challenge for him.


“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 get to see the far-right leader come out of the main exit and instead gathered outside the 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.”

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is sworn in as president of Brazil after defeating Jair Bolsonaro in the tightest presidential race in over three decades.

Jan. 1, 2023

Bolsonaro’s aim to resume political prominence may be blocked by a series of investigations, including whether he incited the Jan. 8 riot in the capital. Recent revelations by the Estado de S.Paulo newspaper regarding three boxes of expensive jewelry allegedly brought to Bolsonaro from Saudi Arabia have also 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 Liberal Party mayoral candidates who, if victorious, could then use their stature to stump for him.

In addition to investigations 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 Brazil’s nationwide 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.