How Miami got an undeserved central role in Brazil riots, accusations against former leader
From the nation’s “cocaine capital” in the 1980s to its label “home of the Cuban mafia” by Fidel Castro, Miami has been accused of so many things that over the years, the city has earned an oversized reputation for being at the center of things — even when it’s not.
The latest example involves a Latin American country, a defeated presidential candidate who had warned he would not accept the election’s results — and hundreds of rioters breaking into the presidential palace, congress and the supreme court.
This time Miami is getting the blame as the nerve center from which former right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who repeated false claims of election fraud, plotted the attack by his supporters on the South American nation’s main government buildings in the capital, Brasilia, on Sunday.
Except the Brazilian press and videos circulating online actually place Bolsonaro in Orlando, to where he traveled before the year’s end on the presidential plane to skip the Jan. 1 inauguration ceremony of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to whom he lost his reelection bid.
That detail didn’t matter much for Bolsonaro critics, mostly from the left, who have inundated social media with references to Miami as the conspiracy nest for the riots.
“Fascism uses the same tactics everywhere. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro is happy spending time in Miami, where all fascists and gusanos [worms] meet,” wrote Andreína Chávez Alava, a former Telesur journalist from Ecuador, using the pejorative term Fidel Castro coined to refer to his home-grown opponents of the Cuban revolution.
“Bolsonaro sheltered in Miami leading the fascist mob of his followers with the complicity of the head of the Federal District in a remake of the assault on the Capitol by Trump and his henchmen,” wrote Carmen Hertz, a member of the Chilean Congress from the Communist Party. “How dangerous the ultra-right is for democracy and the lives of the citizens!”
President Lula himself opened the gate to the comments during remarks blaming Bolsonaro for encouraging the riots.
“This genocidal man … is encouraging this via social media from Miami,” Lula said on Sunday at a press conference. “Everybody knows there are various speeches of the ex-president encouraging this.”
Bolsonaro’s response, denying the accusations and condemning the attacks several hours after, was also widely commented on in social media and Latin American media outlets as being sent “from Miami.”
Officials from countries with left-leaning governments such as Colombia and Cuba have also echoed the accusations, which go hand-in-glove with the propaganda narrative that links the U.S. and Miami, home to thousands of Latin Americans who fled leftist regimes, with every political crisis in the region.
“#Bolsonaro in #Miami and his followers in #Brasilia try to force with violence in the streets what he could not achieve at the polls,” said Cuban Foreign Ministry official Johana Tablada. “NotothecoupinBrazil,” she added in her tweet in Spanish.
“Bolsonaro flees by helicopter to Miami and from there orders a failed coup attempt,” tweeted Moisés Ninco Daza, Colombia’s ambassador to Mexico. “A clear example of the cowardice of anti-Latin American fascism. They are and will be defeated by popular power.”
Some of the messages on Twitter were from current or former journalists affiliated with Telesur, Venezuela’s government-paid television channel, as well as accounts linked to troll farms that routinely promote Cuban government propaganda, which suggests that coordinated disinformation efforts might be behind some of the mentions of the supposed Miami connection in social media.
“How similar!” commented a Cuban Twitter account under the name Frank Lamadrid of pictures of the assaults on the U.S. Capitol in January 2021 and the Brazilian Congress on Sunday. “Does this have something to do with Bolsonaro’s refuge in Miami?” The tweet included the hashtag #DeZurdaTeam, the name of a group linked to the Cuban government that routinely disseminates propaganda on Twitter. The group has been busy retweeting content in support of Lula da Silva, the third-time Brazilian president from the Workers Party who is close to Raúl Castro.
From day one, Bolsonaro’s stay in Florida has not gone unnoticed. Videos of him wandering around a Publix, eating at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and addressing supporters outside a residential Orlando complex have gone viral. The United Kingdom’s Daily Mail reported that Bolsonaro has been living in an Orlando property owned by former Brazilian Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Jose Aldo. That rental property has eight bedrooms and is near Disney World.
Brazilian media outlet O’Globo reported Monday that Bolsonaro, 67, who was stabbed on the campaign trail in 2018 and had undergone multiple surgeries in the past, was admitted on Monday to AdventHealth Celebration “with acute abdominal pain.” The Orlando-area hospital is popular with Walt Disney visitors. But it is unclear if the former president might have been admitted under another name to protect his privacy because a hospital employee told the Miami Herald there was no patient there with that name.
Some Democratic U.S. House members like Joaquin Castro of Texas have called on the U.S. government to expel Bolsonaro to Brazil, where he faces several criminal investigations for alleged corruption and other charges.
“I stand with @LulaOficial and Brazil’s democratically elected government,” Castro said. “Domestic terrorists and fascists cannot be allowed to use Trump’s playbook to undermine democracy. Bolsonaro must not be given refuge in Florida, where he’s been hiding from accountability for his crimes.”
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday the Biden administration had not received an extradition request, according to Bloomberg, but Bolsonaro’s Florida vacation is likely to create diplomatic tensions with the newly elected Lula, himself formerly convicted of corruption and later acquitted. The Biden administration sent U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — but not Vice President Kamala Harris, as some expected — to Lula’s inauguration, setting the relationship up for a cool start.
Early on Monday, President Joe Biden, who is in Mexico for a North American leaders summit, issued a joint statement with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemning the violence in Brazil and expressing their desire to work with “President Lula on delivering for our countries, the Western Hemisphere, and beyond.”
While most prominent Miami Republicans, some of whom personally met Bolsonaro during a Florida trip in 2020, have stayed silent about the riots in Brazil, at least one, former Miami-Dade commissioner and current Hialeah Mayor Esteban Bovo, weighed in.
He used his private Twitter account to reply to Democratic U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, who referred to Bolsonaro as a “strongman” with “bogus claims of election fraud” and lamented that “the world will suffer the consequences of Trump’s terrible example for years to come.”
Schiff ended his tweet: “We stand with you, Brazil.”
Bovo replied: “Leftists seem to [be] coming together to support the corrupt new leader of Brazil.”