As Lula becomes president of Brazil, Bolsonaro flees to Florida

BRASÍLIA – President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is expected to take the reins of Brazil’s government on Sunday in an elaborate inauguration, with a motorcade, music festival and hundreds of thousands of supporters filling the central esplanade of Brasilia, the nation’s capital .

But a key person will be missing: outgoing far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.

Without him, there will be no presidential sash ceremony on Sunday, an important symbol of the peaceful transition of power in a country where many people still remember the 21-year military dictatorship that ended in 1985.

Instead, Mr Bolsonaro woke up 6,000 miles away on Sunday in a rented house owned by a professional mixed martial arts fighter a few miles from Disney World. Faced with various inquiries since his time in his office, Mr. Bolsonaro flew to Orlando on Friday evening and plans to stay in Florida for at least a month.

Mr Bolsonaro had questioned the reliability of Brazil’s electoral systems for months, without evidence, and when he lost in October, he refused to concede unequivocally. In a sort of farewell speech on Friday, breaking weeks of virtual silence, he said he had tried to prevent Mr Lula from taking office but had failed.

“Within the laws, respecting the Constitution, I looked for a way out of this,” he said. He then appeared to encourage his followers to move on. “We either live in a democracy or we don’t,” he said. “Nobody wants adventure.”

That message didn’t seem to resonate with many supporters. Thousands of people remained camped outside the army headquarters in Brasilia, as they have been since the elections, with many saying they were convinced that at the last moment on Sunday the army would prevent Mr Lula from taking office .

“The army will intervene,” said Magno Rodrigues, 60, a former mechanic and janitor who gives daily speeches during protests. “The army has patriotism and love for the country, and in the past the army did the same.” He was referring to the 1964 military coup that ushered in the dictatorship.

Mr Rodrigues has spent the past nine weeks camping outside army headquarters, sleeping in a tent in a narrow field with his wife. He gave a tour of the camp, which has become a small village since Mr. Bolsonaro lost the elections. It has showers, a laundry service, mobile phone charging stations, a hospital, 28 food stalls and even a system for relieving oneself inside the tent.

The Brazilian military allowed the protesters to stay but showed no sign of intervention in the government handover. The protests were mostly non-violent – with more prayers than riots – but a small group of people set fire to vehicles. Mr. Lula’s transitional government has hinted that the camps will not be tolerated for much longer.

How long was Mr. Rodrigues ready to stay? “How long it will take to liberate my country,” he said, wearing a leather jacket and leaning on a cane outside a portable toilet. “For the rest of my life if I have to.”

Elsewhere in Brasilia, it was a party. Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the sprawling, planned capital, founded in 1960 to house Brazil’s government, many dressed in the bright red of Mr Lula’s left-wing Workers’ Party.

Passengers on arriving planes sang rally songs about Mr. Lula, revelers danced to samba at New Year’s Eve parties and, across the city, spontaneous cries rang out from balconies and street corners, announcing the arrival of Mr. Lula and the exit of Mr. Bolsonaro.

“Lula’s inauguration is mainly about hope,” said Isabela Nascimento, 30, a software developer who was heading to the festivities on Sunday. “I hope to see him represent not just a political party, but an entire population – an entire group of people who just want to be happier.”

Mr. Lula, 77, completes a stunning political comeback on Sunday. He was once Brazil’s most popular president, leaving office with an approval rating of over 80%. He then served 580 days in prison, from 2018 to 2019, for corruption, accused of accepting condo and renovations from construction companies bidding for government contracts.

After those convictions were overturned because the Supreme Court ruled the judge in Mr Lula’s case was biased, he ran for president again – and won.

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Mr. Lula and his supporters claim that he has been the victim of political persecution. Mr Bolsonaro and his supporters say Brazil now has a criminal as president.

The absence of Mr. Bolsonaro and the presence of thousands of protesters who believe the election was stolen illustrate the deep divide and the great challenges that Mr. Lula will now face in his third term as president of the most large country in Latin America and one of the largest in the world. democracies.

He oversaw a boom in Brazil from 2003 to 2011, but the country was not as polarized at the time and the economic tailwinds were much stronger. Mr Lula’s election caps a leftist surge in Latin America, with six of the region’s seven largest countries electing leftist leaders since 2018, fueled by an anti-incumbent backlash.

Mr. Bolsonaro’s decision to spend at least the first weeks of Mr. Lula’s presidency in Florida also shows his unease about his future in Brazil. Mr Bolsonaro, 67, is linked to five separate investigations, including one into his publication of documents related to a classified investigation, another into his attacks on Brazil’s voting machines and another into his potential links to “militias”. digital” who spread false information about her in the name of.

As an ordinary citizen, Mr. Bolsonaro will now lose the immunity from prosecution he enjoyed as president. Some cases against him will likely be transferred to local courts from the Supreme Court.

Some of the top federal prosecutors who have worked on the cases believe there is enough evidence to convict Mr. Bolsonaro, particularly in the case related to the disclosure of classified documents, according to a senior federal prosecutor who spoke under on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential investigations. .

It is unlikely that Mr. Bolsonaro’s presence in the United States can shield him from prosecution in Brazil. Still, Florida has become something of a haven for conservative Brazilians in recent years.

Prominent pundits from some of Brazil’s most popular talk shows are based in Florida. A far-right provocateur who faces arrest in Brazil for threatening judges has been living in Florida while awaiting a response to his request for political asylum in the United States. And Carla Zambelli, one of Mr Bolsonaro’s top allies in Brazil’s Congress, fled to Florida for nearly three weeks after she was filmed chasing a man at gunpoint on the eve of the elections.

“We have freedom here,” said Rodrigo Constantino, a prominent right-wing Brazilian commentator who lives near Miami.

Mr. Bolsonaro plans to stay in Florida for one to three months, giving him some distance to observe whether Mr. Lula’s administration will push any of the investigations against him, according to a close friend of the Bolsonaro family who spoke expressed on condition of anonymity. to discuss private plans.

“He will try to keep a low profile for a while – to disappear,” Mr Constantino said.

On Saturday, Mr. Bolsonaro greeted his new neighbors in the driveway of his rented home in Orlando, many of whom were Brazilian immigrants who took selfies with the incumbent president. Then he went to a KFC to eat.

It is not uncommon for former heads of state to live in the United States for positions in academia or similar businesses. But it is unusual for a head of state to seek sanctuary in the United States from possible lawsuits at home, especially when the country of origin is a democratic ally of the United States.

Mr. Bolsonaro and his allies say he is a political target of the Brazilian left and in particular of Brazil’s Supreme Court. They have largely dropped claims that the election was rigged because of voter fraud, but now say it was unfair because Alexander de Moraes, a Supreme Court justice who heads the electoral agency Brazilian, tipped the balance for Mr. Lula.

Mr. Moraes played an active role in the election, suspending the social media accounts of many of Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters and giving Mr. Lula more TV time over misleading statements in Mr. Bolsonaro’s political ads . Mr. Moraes said he must act to counter the anti-democratic positions of Mr. Bolsonaro and his supporters. Some legal experts fear he has abused his power, often acting unilaterally in ways that go well beyond that of a typical Supreme Court justice.

Yet Mr. Bolsonaro has faced widespread criticism from both right and left for his response to his election defeat. After hinting for months that he would contest any loss – inflaming his supporters and worrying his critics – he instead fell silent, refusing to publicly acknowledge Mr Lula’s victory. His administration made the transition as he moved away from the spotlight and from many of his official duties.

In his farewell address to the nation on Saturday evening, even his vice-president, Hamilton Mourão, a former general, made his views clear on Mr. Bolsonaro’s final moments as president.

“Leaders who should reassure and unite the nation around a project for the country have allowed their silence or their untimely and harmful protagonism to create an atmosphere of chaos and social disintegration,” Mourão said.


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