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The Brazilian Bolsonaro lands in Florida, avoiding the handover to Lula

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By Ueslei Marcelino

BRASILIA (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Outgoing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro landed in Florida on Friday after delivering a tearful message to his supporters less than two days before his fierce left-wing rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was due to take office.

An official Brazilian plane landed in Orlando, Fla., on Friday, flight-tracking site FlightAware showed. While Bolsonaro’s destination hasn’t been officially confirmed, his security staff was already in place in Florida.

Bolsonaro’s exit from Brazil came after he repeatedly said at his inauguration on Sunday that he would not hand over the presidential sash to Lula, breaking with Brazil’s democratic tradition. He could also face legal risks to remain in Brazil as his presidential immunity will expire when Lula takes office.

His departure followed an emotional final speech on social media on Friday, in which he looked back on the highlights of his tenure, sought to defend his legacy and sought to inspire his followers to continue the fight against Lula.

Vice President Hamilton Mourao is now acting president after Bolsonaro fled the country, his press office said. But Mourao will not hand over the presidential sash to Lula, a spokesman noted, raising questions about who will carry out the ceremonial handover.

The presidential plane departed from Brasilia shortly after 14:00 local time.

“I’m in the air, I’ll be back soon,” Bolsonaro told CNN Brasil earlier in the day. His press office did not respond to a request for comment.

The US State Department did not respond to a request for comment. The US embassy in Brasilia has asked questions about Bolsonaro’s trip to the Brazilian president’s office.


Bolsonaro’s departure follows weeks of silence after he lost the toughest Brazilian election in a generation.

Some of Bolsonaro’s supporters have refused to accept Lula’s victory, believing his unsubstantiated claims that the October election had been stolen. This has contributed to a tense atmosphere in the capital Brasilia, with riots and a foiled bomb plan last week.

In his social media address, Bolsonaro labeled the bomb plan a “terrorist act” for which there was no justification. He has tried to distance himself from George Washington Sousa, the man who confessed to making the bomb and who told police Bolsonaro’s drafting inspired him to build an arsenal of guns and explosives.

“The man had ideas that are not shared by any citizen, but now they classify him as a ‘Bolsonarist’,” the president said.

Yet Bolsonaro has also praised protesters who have camped outside army barracks across the country, urging the military to stage a coup.

“I didn’t encourage anyone to confront it,” he said, adding that his supporters were simply seeking “freedom.” He said the protests were “spontaneous,” without leadership or coordination.

Bolsonaro’s quick exit was a disappointment to many on the right, where his reputation has been strained by his post-election silence. Some of his diehard supporters at the entrance to the Alvorada Palace, the presidential residence where he lived, called him a “coward” during his speech, according to a RockedBuzz via Reuters witness.

Others have felt abandoned by his departure.

“It feels like my boyfriend left me,” said Deise Casela, a 57-year-old widow, touching the Brazilian flag that was lowered after Bolsonaro left the residence. “I’m in mourning again.”

(Reporting by Ricardo Brito, Gabriel Araujo, Ueslei Marcelino and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Kim Coghill)