KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — As Brazil recovers from mobs of rioters swarming its seats of power, its former leader has camped out at a Florida resort where throngs of supporters have gathered to cheer their ousted president.
Devotees have traveled to Jair Bolsonaro’s temporary home, a gated community with high water slides, in recent days to catch a glimpse of him. He signed autographs, hugged children and took selfies with the adoring masses, some sporting “Make Brazil Great Again” T-shirts.
“I will always support him,” said Rafael Silva, 31, who left Brazil eight years ago and now installs floors in central Florida, where he stood outside Bolsonaro’s rental home on Monday. “He was the best for the country.
By early afternoon, a handful of supporters in yellow jerseys had dispersed as word spread that Bolsonaro had been hospitalized with abdominal pain. His wife, Michelle, said on social media that he was hospitalized for observation due to abdominal pain related to the 2018 stabbing, which had led to several hospitalizations in the past. A photo published by Brazilian newspaper O Globo showed him smiling from his hospital bed. A hospital spokesperson did not immediately respond to a phone call and text message.
Before Sunday’s ferocious attack on Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace, Bolsonaro was seen repeatedly in this Central Florida community, wandering the aisles of a Publix supermarket, dining alone at the local KFC and, above all, surrounded by crowds of adoring people. fans.
Although the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office said it received a request from the Secret Service to provide a police escort for Bolsonaro when he arrived and was still the acting president, he was not surrounded by a significant phalanx of security.
“He’ll feel at home in Florida’s right-wing ecosystem of grifting and podcasting and find allies with anyone who thinks they can use him to advance their far-right agenda,” said Andy Reiter, a professor of politics and international relations at the Mount. Holyoke College, which researched foreign strongmen.
His new home, the Encore Resort at Reunion in suburban Orlando, consists of furnished rental homes with foosball tables, screening rooms, Disney decor on the walls and Mickey Mouse stuffed animals on the beds.
If this all seems too strange, the sight of the former leader of one of the world’s largest countries walking around in shorts in a gated community a stone’s throw from Walt Disney World, consider history.
A stream of regional leaders have called the state home, at least temporarily, over the past half-century, from Haiti’s Prosper Avril to Nicaragua’s Anastasia Somoza to Panama’s Manuel Noriega. Along with a roster of other Latin American notables, they camped out in modest homes and elaborate mansions and, in Noriega’s case, a Miami prison cell where he served 17 years on drug charges.
Asked by reporters on Monday whether the US would send Bolsonaro back to Brazil, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration had not received any requests from Brazil regarding the former president.
Brazilian Justice Minister Flavio Dino told reporters that Brazil does not yet plan to ask the US to extradite Bolsonaro.
A flock of Brazilians has been lured to Central Florida over the past two decades, transforming the region with many Brazilian shops and restaurants.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Florida has the largest population of Brazilian-born residents — nearly 130,000 people — of any U.S. state. Many more come as visitors, with 830,000 Brazilians traveling to Central Florida in 2019, the third largest international market in the area.
Although Lula da Silva won the Brazilian election by more than 2 million votes, Brazilian voters living in Florida appear to have strongly favored Bolsonaro. Voting data for Brazilians living abroad shows 56 polling places listed under Miami, the only Florida city under which the data is collected.
In each of the 56 regions, Bolsonaro won, some by a margin of 6:1. All told, more than 16,000 votes were counted among Brazilians under the umbrella of Miami, with 81 percent voting for Bolsonaro.
“He’s very popular with Brazilian expats in Central Florida,” said Joel Stewart, former honorary consul for Brazil in Orlando. Brazil opened a consular office in Orlando last year.
Bolsonaro has long been called the “Trump of the tropics,” so it probably won’t surprise anyone that he ended up just a few hours’ drive from the former US president’s Palm Beach compound. Both came to power fueled by right-wing anger against the establishment, chasing nationalist platforms while in office and then spreading lies about voter fraud in their own defeats. Supporters of both men angrily stormed government seats after their preferred candidate lost.
Rodrigo Constantino, a Brazilian right-wing commentator living in Florida, says he sees parallels between Bolsonaro’s support in the state and the re-election triumph of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. Both, he said, meant a rejection of the “totalitarian, awakened, economic egalitarianism and sensational demagoguery of the radical left”.
Whatever anger there is at Bolsonaro in Brazil, Constantino says Brazilians living in Florida will understand and accept him.
“If he wants to come to my house and have a barbecue and talk about football or talk bad about communism, he will be very well received,” Constantino said.
Sedensky reported from New York. Associated Press reporter David Biller in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.
Follow the authors on Twitter at @MikeSchneiderAP and @Sedensky.