Sunday Mar 05, 2023
NATIONAL HARBOR: Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro won multiple standing ovations Saturday from US conservatives as he offered a glowing endorsement of his ally Donald Trump, sowed doubt over his own election defeat and attacked COVID vaccine mandates.
Speaking before one of the largest crowds so far at the four-day Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in suburban Washington, the right-wing populist described his relationship with the former US president as "simply exceptional."
"We can see here in America a migration of people going from Democrat states to Republican states. They're looking for a better life," he said.
The 67-year-old Bolsonaro — effectively a warm-up act for Trump's keynote address at the convention later Saturday — touched on many of the favourite talking points of the US right-wing, from transgender rights to the threat of socialism.
Dubbed the "Trump of the Tropics" for his brash manner and disdain of the media, Bolsonaro has also echoed his US ally in repeatedly casting doubt on his October election defeat to leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
"I had way more support in 2022 than I had in 2018, and I don't understand why the numbers said the opposite," he told the CPAC crowd, who booed in solidarity.
On the pandemic, he said he had "always defended freedom (and) did not force anyone to be vaccinated in Brazil," winning larger applause than any of the mainstream US conservatives who have addressed the four-day conference.
Bolsonaro regularly insults journalists and attacks the transgender community, indigenous people, environmental and human rights activists, academics and the cultural elite.
He has been in the United States since flying to Florida in late December rather than attend Lula's January 1 inauguration and has made repeated baseless allegations about the integrity of the election.
Pro-Bolsonaro rioters swarmed Brasilia days later, vandalising the presidential palace and other institutions, drawing parallels to the 2021 attack on the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
The defeated Brazilian leader is under investigation over alleged links to the January 8 unrest. He denies wrongdoing, although Lula has said he is "certain" of his predecessor’s involvement.
Bolsonaro kept a low profile during his first weeks in Florida — but has since made several public appearances, and in January applied for a six-month visa to stay in the United States.
He vowed in mid-February, however, to return to Brazil "in the coming weeks."
The Brazilian is not known to have met Trump since heading to Florida, but he is expected to meet his political soulmate on Saturday as the Republican bids for a second White House term in 2024.
"In this moment I thank God for my second life and also for the mission of being president of Brazil for one term," said Bolsonaro, who was speaking through an interpreter.
"I feel deep inside that this mission is not over."