Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday claimed he would no longer lead the country’s opposition as he boarded a flight home for the first time since his election defeat that culminated in thousands of his supporters rioting in protest at the result.
Bolsonaro, who denies inciting violent attacks in the capital Brasilia on January 8, faces an investigation into his alleged involvement upon his return, among other legal troubles. Meanwhile, Brazilian authorities said security would be stepped up and have urged his supporters not to greet the former leader at the airport in Brasilia on Thursday morning.
Speaking to CNN affiliate CNN Brasil at Florida’s Orlando airport late Wednesday, Bolsonaro said he would not lead the opposition to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva on his return – despite rallying support from conservative activists and far-right groups during his three-month stay in the United States.
“You don’t have to oppose this government. This government is an opposition in itself,” Bolsonaro told CNN Brasil.
Instead, Bolsonaro said he planned to help his center-right Liberal Party “as an experienced person,” collaborating with “whatever they wish,” CNN Brasil quoted the former president as saying. He added that he will tour the country in preparation for next year’s municipal elections.
Bolsonaro’s return comes as political divisions run deep in Brazil after he left the country in December last year just days before Lula’s inauguration.
Though he denounced the invasion of Brasilia by his supporters, in the days following the election he welcomed peaceful demonstrations while his party filed petitions for an audit of voting machines, alleging fraud. He fed his followers crumbs of misinformation about election fraud and made vague comments hinting at a potential coup.
The attacks in Brasilia bore similarities to the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, when supporters of ex-US President Donald Trump – a close ally of Bolsonaro – stormed Congress in an effort to prevent the certification of his election defeat.
Brazil’s Supreme Court is investigating Bolsonaro’s alleged involvement in the Brasilia riots, particularly to find out who or how far-right mobs that support the ex-leader ended up ransacking the seats of government.
Bolsonaro is also under scrutiny over jewelry he allegedly received as a gift from the Saudi Arabian government while in office. On Wednesday, he denied any “irregularities,” stating that “the objects were registered,” CNN Brasil reported.
Brazilian federal prosecutors are also investigating whether Bolsonaro tried to smuggle two sets of diamond jewels into the country without paying import taxes.
The polarizing politician is planning to greet his supporters upon arrival in the capital and is set to attend a reception hosted by his party before going to his residence, CNN Brasil reported.
Brasilia’s public safety chief Sandro Avelar urged Bolsonaro’s supporters not to disrupt the capital’s airport, where 40,000 passengers fly through daily.
“We urge you to respect this decision that was already taken, for the well being of the former president’s supporters and his own,” said Avelar in a joint press conference with heads of Brazil’s security forces on Wednesday.
Bolsonaro will use a separate entrance at the airport and will be escorted by federal police agents. Avelar said security forces will be ready to close down the airport – and access to the government district, if needed.
A joint task force of military police, highway patrol and other security forces is working to secure the former president’s arrival with minimal impact on the population and disruptions in traffic and flights, he added.
According to federal police superintendent Cézar Luís Busto, Bolsonaro’s advisers have been in touch with authorities and are aware of the plan. Busto said he saw no reason for concern at this time.
The US Embassy in Brasilia issued a countrywide “security alert” to its citizens in Brazil on Wednesday, warning of reports that pro-Bolsonaro supporters will be in the vicinity of the Brasilia International Airport.
In a statement the embassy said, “Brazilian authorities advise that access to airport will be limited and could potentially cause disruptions and delays. Please plan accordingly to account for these events.”