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Bolsonaro back in Brazil despite legal and political risks


RIO DE JANEIRO — Former President Jair Bolsonaro left the United States on Wednesday evening on a flight back to Brazil, a country deeply divided by its governance and policies, where he faces a series of investigations that could eventually ending his political career and even putting him in jail.

The 68-year-old politician quietly boarded a commercial flight from Orlando just before 10 p.m. When he lands early Thursday morning in Brasilia, it will be his first visit to the capital since leaving Brazil in late December, shortly before the inauguration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the subsequent attack on federal buildings. the most important in the city by thousands of Bolsonaro supporters.

He is expected to go straight to his Liberal party headquarters without making public comments or addressing his supporters.

The return of such a polarizing figure comes at a particularly vulnerable time for the country, which is still reeling from the most controversial election in its history and the shocking scenes of violence it sparked. Bolsonaro’s presence could once again galvanize the far right and antagonize the ruling left.

“His political capital remains very strong,” said Odilon Caldeira Neto, coordinator of the nonpartisan Far-Right Observatory, based in Minas Gerais. “Everything indicates his ability to mobilize right-wing people.”

Bolsonaro’s return poses risks for the former president – and Brazil

Bolsonaro has announced his intention to lead the opposition to the Lula administration, and his party plans to feature him at the start of campaigning across the Northeast region for the 2024 municipal elections. that he maintains a residence in an upscale Brasília neighborhood where his wife, Michelle, lived while he was weighing when to return home.

It remains unclear why Bolsonaro decided to leave Brazil after narrowly losing the election to Lula – he decamped on a tourist visa to the Orlando suburb of Kissimmee – or why he waited more than three months to to come back. Although he frequently expressed fears of being imprisoned, he was advised by counselors while in Florida that his risk of imprisonment in Brazil remained low.

He is the target of 20 investigations, six of which are criminal. The charges against him are legion and seem to grow day by day. Authorities are investigating whether he spread false information about the country’s electoral system or incited a mob to storm and vandalize the presidential palace, Supreme Court and Congress after his defeat.

Senior judicial officials told the Washington Post in January that insufficient evidence had surfaced at that time to order his arrest.

More recently, his administration was investigated for his response to a humanitarian crisis in Yanomami indigenous territory and whether Bolsonaro maneuvered to wrongly keep jewelry of the Saudi government that was worth several million dollars. Bolsonaro officials denied wrongdoing on both fronts and later returned some of the valuables, but investigations continued. He must present a testimony in the case of the jewels At the beginning of April.

Brazil insurgency probe increases Bolsonaro’s legal risk

The outcome of any of these investigations could be far-reaching – not just for Bolsonaro, but for Brazil.

The former army captain spent much of his final year in office campaigning against the electoral system as much as he did against Lula, undermining his credibility in frequent public statements and claiming without evidence that the election would be tainted with fraud. His claims have never been substantiated, but millions of bolsonarists still believe that corrupt and invisible powers have colluded to prevent their leader from carrying out his duties.

Many people fear that the country could experience social turmoil again if Bolsonaro is arrested or disqualified from running for office again. Even if he escapes the investigations unscathed, he will have to wonder if he will be able to mount another successful national campaign. Some of his staunchest supporters began to doubt his political savvy.

“It was Bolsonaro who resurrected Lula, downplaying the pandemic, calling it a little flu, playing with something serious,” said Claudinei Junior, 36, a supporter in rural São Paulo state. . “I don’t think he will be able to galvanize enough support if he comes back.”

Marina Dias in Washington contributed to this report.


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