MIAMI (AP) — Only a few weeks after his supporters stormed the seat of his country's government, former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday expressed bafflement at how he could have lost October's election, then smiled silently as a crowd of supporters cried, “Fraud!”
He did not directly address the Jan. 8 assault on the buildings housing Brazil’s Congress and Supreme Court during his appearance in Miami before a conservative group tied to former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Bolsonaro had mimicked Trump’s strategy during his own 2020 reelection campaign, for months sowing doubts about the reliability of Brazil's voting machines and then filing a petition to annul millions of votes. He is now under investigation for allegedly inciting the uprising.
Like Trump, Bolsonaro has not conceded the election, though unlike the former U.S. president he also has never explicitly said he lost due to fraud. During a question-and-answer session with Charlie Kirk, head of the conservative Turning Point USA, the former Brazilian president rattled off his administration's accomplishments and then provided backers with an opening.
“Brazil was doing very well,” Bolsonaro said. “I cannot understand the reasons why (the election) decided to go to the left.”
After the cries of “fraud” died down, Kirk, who helped spread Trump's own election fraud lies after the former U.S. president's loss, replied, “All I can say is, that sounds very familiar.”
The event took place at Trump's Miami hotel, underscoring the connection between two populist presidents who fanned suspicion of their democracies' elections, leading supporters to turn violent after their losses. The two were political allies who shared an overlapping set of advisers. Shortly before Bolsonaro's opponent, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, took office, Bolsonaro moved to Florida, the state where Trump has based himself.
Friday's appearance marked part of Bolsonaro's reemergence after spending several weeks in a central Florida suburb. He spoke to some supporters there earlier this week before taking the stage at Trump's hotel late Friday afternoon.
Much of Bolsonaro's Friday speech amounted to a defense of his four years in power, touting job gains, what he said was a lack of corruption in his administration and, in a reference that drew loud cheers, “freedom” for those who opted out of COVID-19 vaccinations.
After his 30-minute appearance, many in the several hundred-strong crowd, often clad in the national colors of yellow and green, swarmed around the 67-year-old former president.
Some of Bolsonaro's backers in Brazil have expressed disappointment that he left the country before Jan. 8 and has remained circumspect about the attack. The former president faces legal jeopardy not only from a mushrooming number of investigations into the Jan. 8 uprising but from the country's supreme court, which has censored websites that have spread what it calls lies about Brazil's election.
Reynaldo Rossi, a Brazilian farmer visiting Florida to explore a possible relocation there, said he is glad Bolsonaro is staying in the U.S. for now.
“If he goes back, they are going to create a lot of trouble for him,” Rossi said. “He would spend a lot of his time down there defending himself instead of leading us.”
In his speech, Bolsonaro acknowledged Brazilians who have left the country for the U.S., seeming to include himself in that category.
“As well as we feel here, we always worry about our friends and family that stayed there,” he said, referring to Brazil.
He also reassured the crowd about the country's future.
“I believe in Brazil, and I am certain that Brazil will not end with the current government,” Bolsonaro said.
Hughes reported from from Rio de Janiero and Riccardi from Denver.