Outgoing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro touched down in Florida on Friday, after tearfully delivering a message to supporters less than two days before his fierce left-wing rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva takes office.
An official Brazilian plane landed in Orlando, Florida, late on Friday, the FlightAware flight tracking website showed. Although Bolsonaro’s destination has not been officially confirmed, his security personnel were already in Florida.
Bolsonaro’s departure from Brazil came after he repeatedly said he would not hand over the presidential sash to Lula at Sunday’s inauguration, breaking with Brazil’s democratic tradition. He may also face legal risks for staying in Brazil since his presidential immunity expires when Lula takes office.
His departure followed an emotional final speech on social media earlier on Friday, in which he reviewed the highlights of his time in office, sought to uphold his legacy and tried to inspire his supporters to continue the fight against Lula.
Vice President Hamilton Mourao is now interim president after Bolsonaro left the country, his press office said. But Mourao will not hand over the presidential sash to Lula, a spokesman said, raising questions about who will make the ceremonial handover.
The presidential plane left Brasilia shortly after 2:00 p.m. local time.
“I’m in flight, I’ll be back soon,” Bolsonaro was quoted as saying by CNN Brazil earlier in the day.
His press office did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. The US State Department did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. The US embassy in Brasilia referred Reuters questions about Bolsonaro’s trip to the office of the Brazilian president.
Bolsonaro’s departure follows weeks of silence after losing Brazil’s most tense election in a generation.
Some of Bolsonaro’s supporters have refused to accept Lula’s victory, believing his unsubstantiated claims that the October election was stolen. That has contributed to a tense atmosphere in the capital Brasilia, with riots and a foiled attack last week.
In his speech on social media, Bolsonaro called the bomb plot a “terrorist act” for which there was no justification. He sought to distance himself from George Washington Sousa, the man who confessed to making the bomb and who told police that Bolsonaro’s call to arms inspired him to build an arsenal of weapons and explosives.
“The man had ideas that are not shared by any citizen, but now they classify him as a ‘bolsonarista’”, said the president.
However, Bolsonaro also praised protesters who have been camping out in front of army barracks across the country, urging the military to stage a coup.
“I didn’t encourage anyone to get into a confrontation,” he said, adding that his supporters were simply seeking “freedom.” He said the protests had been “spontaneous”, without leadership or coordination.
Bolsonaro’s quick departure was a disappointment to many on the right, where his reputation has suffered from his post-election silence. Some of his staunch supporters at the entrance to the Palacio de la Alvorada, the presidential residence where he resided, called him a “coward” during his speech, according to a Reuters witness.
Others felt abandoned by his departure.
“It feels like my boyfriend has left me,” said Deise Casela, a 57-year-old widow, touching the Brazilian flag that was lowered after Bolsonaro left the residence. “I am in mourning again.”