A group of 46 lawmakers in the United States House of Representatives have called on the administration of President Joe Biden to revoke any US visa held by former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in the wake of Sunday’s attack on Brazil’s capital.
On Thursday, the legislators, all Democrats, also petitioned Biden to investigate any US-based “instigators” who might have played a role in the attack.
The move comes after thousand of Bolsonaro supporters stormed government buildings in Brasilia over the weekend, ransacking the Supreme Court building, attacking police and vandalising parts of the National Congress and the Planalto presidential palace.
Bolsonaro was in the US as the assault unfolded.
Thursday’s petition compared the attack in Brasilia to the events of January 6, 2021, when thousands of people backing outgoing President Donald Trump descended on the US Capitol to try to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.
“Two years ago, the United States faced a similar assault on our democracy,” the lawmakers wrote in a statement. “We know firsthand the impact – both immediate and long-term – when government officials subvert democratic norms, spread misinformation and foment violent extremism.”
Texas Representative Joaquin Castro, one of the lawmakers behind the petition, went a step further, saying the 2021 attack in the US paved the way for the Brazil riot.
“The attack on Brazil’s democracy is a painful reminder of the global consequences of the January 6 insurrection,” Castro wrote on social media. He said revoking Bolsonaro’s visa would “ensure he cannot escape from justice”.
Bolsonaro, a former army captain and far-right leader who served as Brazil’s president from 2019 to 2022, left for the southern US state of Florida, 48 hours before his term was set to expire on December 31.
He had been narrowly defeated in an October run-off by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a prominent left-wing politician who had previously served two terms as president from 2003 to 2010.
In the lead-up to the vote, Bolsonaro – who was faced with corruption allegations and dimming approval ratings – spread false rumours that Brazil’s electronic voting system was susceptible to fraud.
Protests broke out months before the first vote was cast and continued after Bolsonaro was defeated. Bolsonaro supporters erected roadblocks along Brazil’s highways and used hashtags like #BrazilianSpring, coined by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, to rally opposition to Lula’s victory.
Bolsonaro has not conceded defeat since the election results were announced. Instead, a coalition led by his allies filed a quickly dismissed complaint to Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court in an attempt to invalidate ballots processed in the electronic voting machines.
Then in December, protesters tried to invade the federal police headquarters in Brasilia after the electoral court certified Lula’s victory earlier in the day.
The threat of violence intensified as Lula prepared to be sworn in on January 1 with Bolsonaro supporters setting up camps near army barracks to push for a military coup. An alleged bomb plot was also thwarted.
The attack on Brazil’s government buildings on Sunday came one week after Lula’s inauguration, and on Thursday, Lula told reporters that he wondered whether the rioters had help from within the government.
“I am convinced that the door of the Planalto palace was opened for people to enter because there are no broken doors,” Lula explained. “This means that someone facilitated their entry.”
He said he had called for a “thorough review” of the presidential palace’s staff.
Brazil’s Supreme Court has already ordered the arrest and investigation of Anderson Torres, who served as justice minister under Bolsonaro. Torres was Brasilia’s security chief at the time of the capital attack although he was reportedly in Florida when the riot unfolded.
Torres has denied wrongdoing and said he plans to return to Brazil to face the accusations. He, along with Brasilia Governor Ibaneis Rocha and the capital’s military police chief, have been removed from their positions, pending investigations into security lapses that allowed the attack.
Critics speculate that Bolsonaro left Brazil while he was still president and enjoyed legal immunity. As president, Bolsonaro could only be arrested if convicted by Brazil’s Supreme Court. But after the transfer of power, he would have been vulnerable to lower court proceedings.
Bolsonaro faces four ongoing criminal investigations in Brazil, including accusations that he spread false claims about the elections and used the office of president to amplify disinformation.
It is unclear what type of visa Bolsonaro obtained to enter the US and whether it is still valid given his change of political status.
The former president currently resides in a gated community in Florida’s Orlando metropolitan area, where resorts like Disney World are located.
Florida is home to the largest population of Brazilian-born residents in the US, and some have come to visit Bolsonaro to request autographs and take selfies. On Monday, Bolsonaro was admitted to a Florida hospital after reporting intestinal pains resulting from a 2018 stabbing. But Reuters reported that he has since been released.
In the wake of the attack in Brasilia, Biden has condemned “the assault on democracy and on the peaceful transfer of power”. But his administration has said it has not received a request from Brazil to extradite the former president.
“We applaud your administration’s condemnation of the events in Brasilia,” the 46 Democratic legislators said on Thursday.
But they added: “We must not allow Mr Bolsonaro or any other former Brazilian officials to take refuge in the United States to escape justice for any crimes they may have committed when in office.”
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