The United States is struggling over Bolsonaro’s stay in Florida after the riots in Brazil

The US government is struggling to deal with former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s stay in Florida, which many have blamed for violent riots in the Brazilian capital this week.

And the conundrum plays out for the Biden administration as America continues to recognize the threat to democracy posed by the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, to which Brazil’s rebellion has been compared.

Top US officials, from President Biden down, were quick to condemn the violence and express their support for Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who took office earlier this month. Biden phoned him and again extended an invitation to the White House, expressing “the United States’ unwavering support for Brazilian democracy and the free will of the Brazilian people.” He described the violence as “outrageous”.

But the elephant in the room — or in Florida, for that matter — wasn’t mentioned in the conversation between the two leaders.

Just over a week before his supporters stormed Brazil’s three most important government institutions, Bolsonaro fled to Orlando, where he is reportedly staying at a friend’s mansion near Disney World.

Pictures posted on social media show him wandering into a supermarket and eating at KFC. On Monday, he said he was admitted to the hospital to receive treatment for an old wound sustained during an assassination attempt.

Bolsonaro has refused to acknowledge his arch-rival Lula’s victory in the presidential election, did not attend the Jan. 1 inauguration, and fueled false conspiracy theories about fraudulent voting. Few were surprised by the explosion of violence on Sunday.

“It was violent aggression, pre-planned, and clearly inspired by the events at the Capitol on January 6,” said Bruna Santos, senior advisor at the Wilson Center’s Wilson Institute in Brazil.

It is not yet clear Bolsonaro’s role in the riots, which saw windows smashed, police attacked and fires started.

The events deliberately mirrored the January 6, 2021 attacks on the Capitol by supporters of then-President Trump who agreed with his false claims of stealing the election.

Bolsonaro and Trump have been political soulmates, with the former US president calling the far-right Brazilian “Trump of the Tropics” among other similar designations intended as praise. Bolsonaro and his sons, many of whom are politicians, have frequently consulted with Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon on how to win the election. Bannon used his own media platforms to try to undermine the Brazilian elections in the same way he did the American vote, spreading misinformation about voting machines.

With a different president now in the White House, Bolsonaro’s presence in the US raises different questions and possible scenarios.

Many Democratic congressmen are calling on the government to fire Bolsonaro.

“Bolsonaro should not be in Florida,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas). The United States should not be a refuge for this autocrat, who has inspired domestic terrorism in Brazil. He must be sent back to Brazil.”

In addition to bureaucratic considerations such as what procedures to follow, the Biden administration also has to weigh the political costs of any action.

In some conservative circles, Lula, a leftist, is likened to the region’s more extreme socialists such as the late Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, and his support is condemned. But Lula showed himself to be more respectful of democracy than Chávez and was willing to work with opposition parties.

To remove him, Bolsonaro will have to be extradited or fired. The extradition, which has many precedents, can only happen if the Brazilian government opens a legal case against him and requests his extradition.

By contrast, expulsion would be initiated by the US government and could be ordered for a number of “deportable” offenses, from visa violation to other illegal activity. There is also a provision in “Foreign Policy” whereby the Secretary of State can decide that someone’s presence could have “potentially disastrous consequences” for the United States.

It is widely believed that Bolsonaro entered the United States on an “A” visa, a non-immigrant visa reserved for VIPs such as heads of state and diplomats. But the visa would expire when he was no longer president, at which point he would have 30 days to obtain a different visa, according to the State Department.

Late Tuesday, Bolsonaro told a CNN affiliate in Portuguese that he plans to go home as soon as he is released from the hospital. His son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, told Brazilian magazine Volhares that while many people tried to link his father to the “sad, unfortunate and gratuitous” violence in Brasilia, such reports were untrue.

As much as the riots in Washington and Brazil echoed one another, there were key differences. In Brazil, a new president has already been sworn in – in a ceremony attended by 300,000 people and many heads of state – and the buildings attacked by the mob were largely empty. In Washington, the moment was even more perilous: The attackers took off with the certification of the presidential election and when the Capitol was filled with lawmakers, staffers, and civilian security officers whose lives were in danger.

In Washington, the goal was to overthrow the election. In Brasília, the goal was to lure the military into stepping in and taking over the elected government.

Another distinction between the two attacks was in the aftermath: unlike Washington, Brazilian politicians quickly came together to condemn the actions and demand a reckoning.

“There was an understanding across the corridors that this was a dangerous moment that needed to be approached with caution,” Michael McKinley, the former US ambassador to Brazil, said in an interview. “There was a unity of purpose in investigating what happened and holding those responsible for the violence to account, and in bringing down the government moving forward.”

By contrast, in Washington, many members of Congress downplayed the violence, opposed an investigation, and even continued to vote against certification of the election after subduing the rioters.

“There was definitely a more immediate concerted effort in Brazil to respond to the threat to democracy in the country that this violence poses,” McKinley said, noting that Brazilian institutions have been steadily strengthened in the three decades since the end of the military dictatorship.

However, while Brazilian institutions have withstood an anti-democratic onslaught, many red flags have been raised. The military has not gone to the aid of Bolsonaro’s supporters, but some lower-level security officers have, reflecting mixed loyalties at certain levels of law enforcement. Lula moved quickly to remove some of those involved in collusion with the mob, or who had failed in their duty to protect government property.

“The lax security response in Brasilia underscores the significant challenge Lula faces,” said Dan Restrepo, Latin America advisor to former President Obama and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Military leadership has been – and appears to remain unwavering – on the side of constitutional order and respect for Brazil’s democratic processes and institutions. However, the rank and file is a mixed bag.”

The violence in Brazil has galvanized political forces along the spectrum in defense of democracy, but it has also exposed fault lines that Lula will now have to cross. In the United States, two years after trauma in the Capitol, Biden, too, is grappling with divisions that have only deepened, with none of the galvanizing unity.

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