tags: far right, Brazil, coups, Jair Bolsonaro, Extradition
Ben Burgis is a Jacobin columnist, an adjunct philosophy professor at Morehouse College, and the host of the YouTube show and podcast Give Them An Argument. He’s the author of several books, most recently Christopher Hitchens: What He Got Right, How He Went Wrong, and Why He Still Matters.
Jair Bolsonaro is in Florida.
Two weeks ago, he was president of Brazil. There were already multiple ongoing criminal investigations into his conduct before he left office, but he flew to the United States just before his successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was inaugurated — and not long before his supporters rioted in a failed coup attempt.
Bolsonaro’s exit to Florida on the final weekend of his presidency certainly looks like an attempt to evade justice in Brazil.
Fortunately, the United States is under no legal obligation to shelter him. The Biden administration can and should deny him a visa and expel him from the country.
After the election, Bolsonaro refused to accept defeat. He constantly played up conspiracy theories about Brazil’s voting machines, even though multiple audits have debunked his claims that these machines are unreliable or fraud-prone.
Americans who are accustomed to right-wing politicians spreading conspiratorial nonsense to their followers and then leaving office when the time comes might shrug at similar behavior emanating from the man the international media calls the “Trump of the Tropics.” But Bolsonaro’s refusal to accept the results was particularly worrying given the very different situation on the ground in Brazil.
A report in the Intercept in 2019 revealed that “Bolsonaro and his three politician sons” have “extensive, direct, multilayered, and deeply personal ties” to the “paramilitary gangs and militias responsible for Brazil’s most horrific violence” — including the 2018 assassination of socialist Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco.
And Bolsonaro has repeatedly praised and defended the record of the right-wing military dictatorship that once ran Brazil. When Bolsonaro voted to impeach Workers’ Party president Dilma Rousseff in 2016, he gave an infamous speech dedicating his vote to the head of the dictatorship-era secret police. Earlier in his career, Bolsonaro had even said that the dictatorship didn’t finish “the job” by killing enough leftists.
While the Bolsonaro and Trump movements admire each other and the Brazilian right often consciously imitates the antics of their US counterparts, it would be a mistake to think these “militias” are the Brazilian equivalent of tiny groups like the Proud Boys. These are serious right-wing paramilitaries that control territory like drug gangs do. With friends like that, there were good reasons to worry that Bolsonaro’s refusal to concede defeat might signal an intent to use violence to retain power.