Brazil’s Bolsonaro gathers supporters in show of strength amid coup probe

By Thomson Reuters Feb 25, 2024 | 10:54 AM

By Ricardo Brito

(Reuters) – Supporters of Jair Bolsonaro gathered on Sunday on Sao Paulo’s iconic Paulista Avenue to show support for the former far-right Brazilian president as he finds himself embroiled in several investigations that many believe could land him in jail.

Bolsonaro called the rally, which he dubbed a “peaceful gathering in favor of the rule of law and our freedom, families and future,” after being targeted by a police raid earlier this month as part of a probe into an alleged coup attempt.

He had his passport confiscated and was accused of editing a draft decree to overturn election results, pressuring military chiefs to join a coup attempt and plotting to jail a Supreme Court justice after his electoral loss to leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2022.

Supporters of Bolsonaro, a populist often likened to former U.S. President Donald Trump, invaded and ransacked Brazil’s presidential palace, Supreme Court and Congress calling for a military coup on Jan. 8, 2023, a week after Lula took office.

Allies expect Sunday’s demonstration to show that Bolsonaro, who is barred from running for office until 2030 for spreading election falsehoods and faces several other criminal probes, still holds political strength in deeply polarized Brazil.

“He is not dead, he is competitive and there can be no injustice,” said Congressman Marco Feliciano, a member of Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party, adding Brazil would “turn into chaos” if the former president were to be arrested.

Fabio Wajngarten, a spokesperson for Bolsonaro’s family, said he was hoping up to 700,000 people would show up in support of the former president, including dozens of lawmakers and three state governors.

Sao Paulo Governor Tarcisio de Freitas, who served as Bolsonaro’s infrastructure minister during his 2019-2022 term and is seen as a potential successor in Brazil’s right-wing politics, confirmed he would attend.

“He wants to try to show his strength to the Supreme Court and remain politically viable, even if he gets arrested,” a source close to Bolsonaro said, comparing him to Lula, who spent 580 days in prison in 2018-2019 on corruption charges before having his sentence annulled.

Some allies are concerned the demonstration poses a risk for Bolsonaro, as any remarks against the Supreme Court, authorities or Brazilian institutions could get him into even hotter water.

A source said people close to him were hoping Bolsonaro would follow the script and not attack any rivals or institutions. “But he is unpredictable,” the person added.

According to a federal police source directly involved in the probe into Bolsonaro, he could further implicate himself and others depending on his remarks.

(Reporting by Ricardo Brito; writing by Gabriel Araujo; Editing by Bill Berkrot)