Minions, KFC, insurrection, ER: Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s life in his new Florida hideaway

Brazil Bolsonaro Post Presidency (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Brazil Bolsonaro Post Presidency (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Supporters of Brazil’s right-wing former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the nation’s seat of power on Sunday in a chaotic scene reminiscent of the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol that unfolded two years and two days before.

For anyone who watched as the mob of former president Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the seat of the US legislature in a last-ditch attempt to keep him in office against the wishes of American voters, the scene in Brasilia was all too familiar. Pro-Bolsonaro insurrectionists, egged on by social media-driven lies alleging that widespread voter fraud was responsible for the ex-army general’s defeat at the hands of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, ransacked the buildings used by Brazil’s legislature, Mr da Silva and his staff, and the Brazilian Supreme Court for a period of hours before being driven out by soldiers and law enforcement who arrested more than 400 of them.

But while the January 6 attack came after Mr Trump delivered an incendiary speech near the White House following a months-long campaign of lies about the 2020 election, the Brazilian election was already settled. And, notably, the man who inspired the riots was nowhere near the action.

Mr Bolsonaro, who like Mr Trump never conceded defeat to Mr da Silva, had been out of the country for a week by the time tensions in the nation boiled over. In yet another strange echo of Mr Trump’s final day in office, the defeated soon-to-be ex-president decamped for Florida on 30 December, taking one last trip on the modified Airbus A319 known by callsign Brazilian Air Force 01 when the sitting head of state is aboard.

He spent the final days of his presidency there. He was photographed meeting with supporters in the residential neighbourhood where he has been staying, shopping for groceries, and eating Kentucky Fried Chicken just before his term expired. It’s not known whether the outgoing president’s chicken flavour of choice was regular, extra crispy, or spicy.

As supporters continued to spread conspiracy theories about the election he’d lost — which Mr Bolsonaro frequently bolstered by claiming Brazil’s voting system had somehow been rigged — the former president continued to wander around Florida.

So, what exactly was Mr Bolsonaro up to during his week in the Sunshine State?

The day after he left Brazil, reports began to circulate that the former president fled the country to avoid potential legal blowback under the incoming administration.

After disembarking from the government transport that brought him to the US, he was later spotted entering the home of Brazilian-born UFC fighter Jose Aldo. Mr Aldo owns a home near Orlando and is also one of his most vocal supporters.

That development, along with the revelation that Mr Aldo’s house has an entire room decorated with Minions merchandise, generated widespread mockery on social media from left-leaning US commenters, with many wondering if the former president had been sleeping in a bed adorned with the strange yellow cartoon characters.

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It’s customary in Brazil for an outgoing president to attend their successor’s inauguration, according to The Washington Post, but Mr Bolsonaro broke with that convention and remained in Florida.

On 1 January, while Mr da Silva was being sworn in, Mr Bolsonaro was photographed at a Florida KFC with a stringy piece of chicken hanging out of his mouth. More mockery ensued on social media.

Several days later, a video surfaced of Mr Bolsonaro inside a Publix grocery store. It was shot by an unknown individual. In the strange video, the former president appears to be wandering around the store aimlessly. He does not have a cart or appear be shopping. At one point, he inexplicably enters a checkout line despite having no items to purchase. He then leaves the line as abruptly as he entered and begins staring at an endcap near the front of the store.

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While Mr Bolsonaro was exploring US grocery chains, his supporters in Brazil were calling on fellow loyalists to join them for a massive protest at Three Powers Plaza — the seat of Brazil’s branches of government — in Brasilia, according to The New York Times.

Those calls culminated in the chaos on Sunday. Bolsonaro loyalists clashed with police in the capital and ultimately broke into and vandalised the nation’s presidential palace, congress, and supreme court.

Police eventually regained control of the buildings and made more than 200 arrests by the end of the riot.

Mr da Silva placed the blame for the riot primarily on Mr Bolsonaro, saying on Sunday that his predecessor was "encouraging this via social media from Miami."

"Everybody knows there are various speeches of the ex-president encouraging this," he said.

Protesters, supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, storm the the National Congress building in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres) (AP)
Protesters, supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, storm the the National Congress building in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres) (AP)

Mr Bolsonaro replied in a tweet on Sunday, rejecting Mr da Silva’s accusations and acknowledging that the riot was not a peaceful protest. He said that "depredations and invasions of public buildings, as occurred today, as well as those practiced by the left in 2013 and 2017, escape the rule [of peaceful protest]."

The day after the riot, US lawmakers began calling for Mr Bolsonaro to be expelled from the US back to Brazil.

Congressman Joaquin Castro, who sits on the House foreign affairs committee, told CNN that the former president used "the Trump playbook to inspire domestic terrorists to try and take over the government" before calling for Mr Bolsonaro to be kicked out of the US.

"Right now Bolsonaro is in Florida … he should be extradited to Brazil," he said. "The United States should be a refuge for this authoritarian who has inspired domestic terrorism in Brazil."

Despite Mr Castro using the word “extradited,” Mr Bolsonaro has not been charged with any crimes.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also called for the former president to be returned to his home country.

"Nearly two years to the day the US Capitol was attacked by fascists, we see fascist movements abroad attempt to do the same in Brazil," she wrote on Twitter.

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Congresswoman Illhan Omar expressed similar sentiments, writing on Twitter that “Bolsonaro should not be given refuge in Florida.”

She went on to say that the "US must cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida."

In addition to calls for his return to Brazil, Mr Bolsonaro faced another complication the day after the riot — abdominal pains.

On Monday, Brazil’s O Globo newspaper reported that the former president was admitted to a US hospital after he complained of severe abdominal pains.

A source close to the family speaking to the Associated Press told the outlet that the former president’ condition was "not worrying."

It’s unclear how long Mr Bolsonaro will remain hospitalised and whether or not he will be allowed to remain in the US.

Because Mr Bolsonaro was still the sitting president of Brazil when he traveled to the US, he would have used the diplomatic passport he will be entitled to have for life under Brazilian law. State Department rules state that he was required to apply for and receive an A-1 visa, which is the only type of visa available to sitting heads of state wishing to enter the country.

The expiration of his term as president kicked off a 30-day period during which he must submit a form known as an I-566, along with a letter outlining his travel plans and itinerary, to the State Department’s Diplomatic Liaison Division, asking to adjust his status to a different non-immigrant visa category.

As a Brazilian citizen, Mr Bolsonaro is required to have a valid visa to remain in the US.

If he is granted a B-1 visa — which is issued to foreigners who travel to the US for business (such as attending professional meetings or conference) or the B-2 visa reserved for visitors in the US for vacation, to visit family, or to receive medical treatment, he will be required to leave the country after just six months.

A State Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a query from The Independent on Mr Bolsonaro’s current visa status.