Bolsonaro Says Mission Isn’t Over as US Conservatives Fete Him

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(Bloomberg) -- Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro got an enthusiastic welcome from US conservatives gathered in suburban Washington and said his “mission is not over” while leaving open the possibility that his movement might continue without him.

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Bolsonaro, 67, spoke on the final day of the Conservative Political Conference on Saturday after his son, Eduardo, a Brazilian congressman, addressed the group and before former President Donald Trump’s keynote closing address.

“In this moment, I thank God for my second life and also for the mission of being the president of Brazil for one term,” Bolsonaro said through an interpreter in a 23-minute speech. “But I feel deep inside that this mission is not over.”

While Bolsonaro previously indicated he intends to return home to lead an opposition movement, his speech on Saturday gave no indication of how or when. It served more to highlight conservative measures taken during his term, like deregulating gun owners and the hands-off approach to combating the coronavirus pandemic that’s championed at CPAC.

“They keep saying, ‘Science, science, science.’ What I say is, ‘freedom, freedom, freedom,” Bolsonaro said to applause. The CPAC attendees also cheered when Bolsonaro said he never forced anyone to take the Covid vaccine in Brazil, which suffered one of the world’s worst pandemic tolls.

The former Brazilian president and Trump are close allies. Bolosonaro — often called the “Trump of the Tropics” — said he has an “exceptional” relationship with Trump, who endorsed Bolsonaro in his unsuccessful reelection bid last year.

Bolsonaro used his speech to make apparent jabs at the Brazilian Supreme Court, which is investigating him and his allies for spreading falsehoods about the outcome of last year’s election. Since his loss, the court has ordered the social media accounts of Bolsonaro’s loudest allies, including members of congress and influencers, be taken down for stoking doubt about the results.

“We must be always be preoccupied with our liberties,” he said. “It’s just like a great love, you must take care of it every day not to lose it. The best way to control social media is more freedom.”

After losing to Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Bolsonaro decamped to Florida two days before the end of his term skip Lula’s Jan. 1 inauguration. He traveled on a diplomatic visa and has since asked for a tourist visa to extend his stay.

The former Brazilian president emerged from his self-imposed exile, addressing his supporters at rallies throughout the US at the end of January, including speaking at an event organized by Turning Point USA at Trump’s Doral Miami resort.

Bolsonaro seemed to leave open the possibility he may never return home.

“I am certain that we planted many seeds in Brazil. We elected many people who were unknown but with great potential and many of them here with me,” he said. “I always tell them, the best case scenario is the people don’t need us.”

Bolsonaro is facing multiple investigations in Brazil, including into his alleged involvement in the Jan. 8 riots by supporters who refused to accept his loss in October’s election. The tumult drew comparisons to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by Trump faithful.

Like Trump, who falsely claims the 2020 presidential election was rigged and stolen, Bolsonaro said Saturday he had “way more support” in his reelection bid than when he ran the first time and “I don’t understand why the numbers reflected the opposite.”

Lula’s administration wants Bolsonaro to appear before Brazilian courts in the next few months, according to a high-ranking adviser to the leftist leader. The government is considering options to force him to return if he doesn’t voluntarily come back by the end of March, said the adviser, requesting anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

CPAC has a history of welcoming authoritarian world leaders at its events. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addressed the group last year in Dallas, where his spiel against progressives, immigrants and the media was warmly embraced with rousing applause.

--With assistance from Daniel Carvalho.

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