Bolsonaro is returning to Brazil after a three-month stay in Florida

BRASILIA, Brazil – Former President Jair Bolsonaro returned to Brazil on Thursday after a three-month stay in Florida following his election defeat, and the right-wing populist told supporters he doesn’t think the left will be in power in the country for long.

Bolsonaro, who is the subject of several investigations that could thwart any attempts at a political comeback, arrived in a capital city under tight security. Authorities tried to avoid a repeat of the events of January 8, when supporters, not accepting his defeat, stormed government buildings. The police in Brasilia blocked the main artery to these buildings.

Hundreds of supporters dressed in Brazil’s national colors of yellow and green chanted for Bolsonaro as they awaited his arrival, but his return didn’t draw the huge crowds many of his allies had been expecting.

The former president said in his first speech after landing that his left-wing successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and his allies “will not do whatever they want to influence the fate of our nation,” adding that the left will remain in power only “for now, for a little while.”

In front of a banner reading “Today, Brazil woke up stronger,” Bolsonaro said he would spend as much time as needed at his Liberal Party’s headquarters to support the campaign for next year’s local elections, when the country will elect 5,500 mayors nationwide.

Bolsonaro left Brazil shortly before the end of his term as president. In doing so, he broke with tradition by refusing to hand over the presidential sash to his successor, Lula, who won October’s elections by the narrowest margin since Brazil’s return to democracy more than three decades ago.

During his stay in the US, Bolsonaro mostly kept a low profile, although he made several speeches to Brazilian expats and conservatives, including at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.

The Brazilian leader said his three months in Florida helped him create a vision for the future. “Everything we saw there, we want to implement here. The most important thing is freedom.”

For the first time in 30 years, the lawmaker-turned-president does not hold an elected office.

“I come here in the position of an elder, an experienced person who is consulted by anyone who wishes. I will give opinions,” Bolsonaro said. “We are not in opposition. We are for Brazil.”

Carlos Melo, a political scientist at Insper University in Sao Paulo, said Bolsonaro must return to face his many legal troubles and fend off rivals who may claim his role as leader of the right. But the new political landscape will be a challenge for him, Melo said.

“It’s hard for him to lead the opposition because he’s made a career of an outsider. He has more visibility now but without the presidency it’s a different game for him,” Melo said. “Now he’s not an outsider and he’s not a president. He will have to build a new path.”

The hundreds of Bolsonaro supporters who gathered at Brasilia International Airport early Thursday could not see the far-right leader emerge from the main exit and instead gathered in front of his Liberal Party headquarters. The former president was greeted at the airport by his son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, and Liberal Party leader Valdemar da Costa Neto.

“Bolsonaro was the best president we’ve ever had, I had never seen a government like his,” said Marinalva Wanderley, 71, who brought five family members from Sao Paulo to the Liberal Party’s headquarters. “I think he was in the US with Donald Trump to see what’s best for Brazil and the US. We’re going to have a much bigger opposition (to Lula), that’s for sure.”

Bolsonaro’s goal of regaining political prominence could be blocked by a range of investigations, including whether he instigated the Jan. 8 uprising. Recent revelations by the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper about three boxes of expensive jewelry allegedly brought to Bolsonaro from Saudi Arabia have put the former president in greater legal jeopardy.

Next year’s municipal elections would be an important step in gaining political momentum for a possible presidential bid in 2026. Bolsonaro is expected to rally behind his Liberal Party’s mayoral candidates, who, should they win, can use their stature to run for him.

In addition to the investigations into the diamonds, Bolsonaro is the subject of about a dozen investigations by Brazil’s electoral courts into his actions during last year’s election campaign, particularly in relation to his unsubstantiated claims that the electronic voting system was vulnerable to fraud. Should Bolsonaro be found guilty of any of these counts, he would lose his political rights and be barred from running for office in the next election.

On Thursday, the former president denied any wrongdoing in the case of the jewels received. “I didn’t hide anything,” he said.

Hughes reported from Rio de Janeiro and Bridi reported from Brasilia. AP journalist Mauricio Savarese contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.

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