Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro admitted to US hospital

Bolsonaro’s hospitalisation in Florida follows an attack by his supporters against key government offices in Brazil.

Jair Bolsonaro shakes a hand in a crowded room in Miami
Former President Jair Bolsonaro left Brazil for Florida in December, ahead of the inauguration of his successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva [File: Marco Bello/Reuters]

Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro has been admitted to a hospital in the US state of Florida after suffering from “abdominal pain”, his wife has confirmed.

“My dear ones, I come to inform you that my husband Jair Bolsonaro is under observation at the hospital due to abdominal discomfort resulting from the aftermath of the stab wound he received in 2018 from a former member of the PSOL,” Michelle Bolsonaro wrote on Instagram on Monday, referencing the acronym for Brazil’s Socialism and Liberty Party.

“We are praying for his health and for Brazil. God bless us,” she added.

The news comes as security forces in Brazil detained an estimated 1,500 Bolsonaro supporters after dismantling a protest camp in the country’s capital, Brasilia, following a weekend attack on government buildings there.

On Sunday, rioters stormed offices associated with the three branches of Brazil’s government — the Supreme Court, Congress and the executive branch — to protest the 2022 elections, which Bolsonaro lost to his left-wing rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

A source told Brazil’s O Globo newspaper that Bolsonaro’s condition was “not worrying”.

The former army captain, who served as Brazil’s 38th president, has previously been hospitalised for abdominal problems following the 2018 stabbing at a campaign rally. The knife attack left the divisive far-right leader in intensive care for weeks.

Bolsonaro has undergone at least four surgeries since the attack, which was committed by a suspect who was later declared psychologically unfit to stand trial. The suspect claimed to be acting on “an order from God”.

Bolsonaro, the frontrunner at the time, went on to win the 2018 election, but he has continued to be in and out of the hospital for pain and intestinal obstruction. His 2022 campaign was interrupted by brief hospital stays, as doctors performed tests to ensure his health.

Bolsonaro ultimately lost his bid for re-election in an October runoff, gaining 49.1 percent of the vote to Lula’s 50.9. But even after the election, Bolsonaro refused to concede, maintaining long periods of public silence in the wake of his defeat.

Amid faltering approval ratings before and during the campaign, Bolsonaro had spread false allegations that Brazil’s electronic voting system was vulnerable to fraud, leading to protests well before the first ballot was cast.

After his defeat, Bolsonaro’s supporters took to the streets echoing those claims. A coalition of Bolsonaro’s political supporters also submitted a legal complaint challenging his loss before the Superior Electoral Court, but it was firmly rejected.

Still, unrest surrounding the election results continued. In the days leading up to Lula’s January 1 inauguration, a suspect in an alleged bomb plot was arrested, and security was tightened in Brazil’s capital region. Carrying firearms in public was also temporarily banned.

Pro-Bolsonaro protesters had camped outside military barracks, calling for the army to intervene to remove Lula from office. A group of demonstrators also attempted to invade the federal police headquarters in Brasilia on the day Lula’s victory was certified last month.

On December 30, two days before he was slated to leave office, Bolsonaro boarded his presidential plane for Orlando, Florida, where he remains during his hospitalisation.

Analysts say Bolsonaro may have fled the country to avoid possible criminal or electoral probes.

While in office, Bolsonaro enjoyed presidential immunity, which shielded him from arrest unless he was convicted by Brazil’s Supreme Court. Once out of office, however, he could be prosecuted in lower courts.

Bolsonaro currently faces four ongoing criminal probes, led by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes. They include allegations that Bolsonaro pressured federal police to protect his sons, spread false claims about the elections, and used the presidential office to perpetuate disinformation. Investigations are also ongoing into the recent attacks in the capital.

In an address before his departure to Florida, Bolsonaro publicly distanced himself from any acts of violence and condemned the thwarted bomb plot as a “terrorist act”.

But he also told his supporters he had “lost the battle but not the war”. CNN Brazil quoted the former president as saying he would be “back soon” to Brazil.

Bolsonaro’s presence in the US has proved to be a source of contention, with politicians pushing for his extradition to Brazil.

New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez compared Sunday’s attack in the Brazilian capital to the events of January 6, 2021, when supporters of outgoing US President Donald Trump attempted to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.

“Nearly 2 years to the day the US Capitol was attacked by fascists, we see fascist movements abroad attempt to do the same in Brazil,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “We must stand in solidarity with [Lula’s] democratically elected government. The US must cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida.”

Texas Representative Joaquin Castro, a fellow Democrat, echoed those sentiments. “Bolsonaro must not be given refuge in Florida, where he’s been hiding from accountability for his crimes,” he wrote on Twitter.

The Associated Press reported that, prior to his hospitalisation, Bolsonaro had been welcoming supporters to his temporary home in an Orlando gated community, not far from the Disney World resort.

He signed autographs and took photos with fans, some of whom wore “Make Brazil Great Again” shirts, a twist on the “Make America Great Again” slogan made popular by Trump.

While the administration of US President Joe Biden condemned Sunday’s attack in Brazil, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price declined to discuss Bolsonaro’s immigration status in a press conference on Monday, citing privacy rules.

But Price explained broadly that people who enter the US on a temporary visa have to apply to adjust their status with the US Department of Homeland Security before their visa expires, or else seek a new visa. If they fail to do so, they can be subject to deportation from the country.

Price also told reporters that the US had not received any requests from Brazil regarding the former president.

“If there is a law enforcement matter that needs to be adjudicated between the United States and Brazil, we have well-honed, well-practiced processes for doing so. And we’re prepared to do that,” Price said.

Later in the day, the White House said Biden condemned “the violence and the attack on democratic institutions and on the peaceful transfer of power” in Brazil’s capital during a phone call with Lula on Monday afternoon.

The US president also asked his Brazilian counterpart to come to Washington, DC, for talks in early February, and Lula accepted the invitation, according to the statement.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies