RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 9 (Reuters) – The United States has a Jair Bolsonaro problem.
The far-right former Brazilian president flew to Florida two days before his term ended on Jan. 1, having challenged the Oct. 30 election he lost to leftist rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. But Bolsonaro left behind a violent movement of election-denying supporters, who on Sunday stormed Brazil’s presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court.
After watching supporters of former U.S. leader Donald Trump invade the U.S. Capitol two years ago, Democratic President Joe Biden is now facing mounting pressure to remove Bolsonaro from his self-imposed exile in suburban Orlando.
“Bolsonaro should not be in Florida,” Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro said on CNN. “The United States should not be a refuge for this authoritarian who has inspired domestic terrorism in Brazil. He should be sent back to Brazil.”
Castro said Bolsonaro, a Trump acolyte now based in the former president’s home state, had “used the Trump playbook to inspire domestic terrorists.”
Fellow Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez echoed those views.
“The US must cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida,” she tweeted on Sunday. “Nearly two years to the day the U.S. Capitol was attacked by fascists, we see fascist movements abroad attempt to do the same in Brazil.”
Their comments turn up the heat on Bolsonaro, and highlight Washington’s big decision about his future.
Bolsonaro had a fractious relationship with Biden, and was already on weaker ground back home in Brazil after losing broad protections from prosecution when he stepped down as president. Those probes could lead to his arrest or prevent him from running for office, Reuters reported last week.
John Feeley, who was the U.S. ambassador to Panama from 2016-2018 when the Central American nation sought the extradition of its former President Ricardo Martinelli, said the most immediate threat to Bolsonaro would come if his U.S. visa were revoked.
“The United States – or any sovereign nation for that matter – may remove a foreigner, even one who entered legally on a visa, for any reason,” Feeley said. “It’s a purely sovereign decision for which no legal justification is required.”
A U.S. consular official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bolsonaro had almost certainly entered on an A-1 visa, which are reserved for heads of state. A second source, a senior former U.S. diplomat, also believed it was almost certain that Bolsonaro had entered on an A-1.
Normally the A-1 is canceled after the recipient leaves office. But with Bolsonaro having left Brazil and entered the United States before his term ended, the official suspected his A-1 is still active.
The official, who has experience with the cancellation of visas for former heads of state, said there is no set time limit on how long someone can stay in the United States on an A-1.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” the official said. “Who knows how long he is going to stay?”
A State Department spokesperson said “visa records are confidential under U.S. law; therefore, we cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases.”
Bolsonaro may be in no hurry to return to Brazil, where he is accused of instigating a violent election denial movement with baseless claims of electoral fraud.
Lula, who had already pledged to go after Bolsonaro if needed during his Jan. 1 inauguration speech, on Sunday blamed his predecessor for the invasion.
“This genocidist … is encouraging this via social media from Miami,” Lula said. “Everybody knows there are various speeches of the ex-president encouraging this.”
In a tweet on Sunday, Bolsonaro rejected Lula’s accusations and said the invasion had crossed the line of peaceful protest.
Bolsonaro was already under investigation in four Supreme Court criminal probes before stepping down as president.
In the wake of Sunday’s invasion, legal experts said he may find himself the target of a Supreme Court probe, led by crusading Justice Alexandre de Moraes, into anti-democratic protests, which has already yielded several arrests.
If Moraes were to sign an arrest warrant while Bolsonaro is in the United States, the former president would be technically required to fly back to Brazil and hand himself over to police. If he refused, Brazil could issue an Interpol Red Notice to prompt his arrest by U.S. federal agents.
If detained on U.S. soil, Brazil would then have to formally seek his extradition. Bolsonaro would be free to appeal in the U.S. courts, or he might attempt to seek asylum, although that offers no guarantee of preventing his eventual return to Brazil.
Former Panamanian President Martinelli was extradited from the United States back to Panama in 2018, three years after Panama’s Supreme Court issued its arrest warrant.