The Daily Telegraph

Mickey Mouse has a new rival in Florida as Bolsonaro becomes an unlikely tourist draw

- By Rozina Sabur WASHINGTON EDITOR in Kissimmee, Florida

Ashort drive from Disney World, a young Brazilian family stands waiting expectantl­y in the Florida sunshine. But it is not Mickey Mouse they have come to see.

Isabella, 28, her husband and three young children are hoping to spy Orlando’s unlikely new attraction: Brazil’s ousted strongman, Jair Bolsonaro.

The ex-president departed for Florida in late December, without explicitly conceding defeat and skipping the formal handover to his Leftist opponent, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. His sojourn in the quiet suburbs of Kissimmee is a world away from the ransacking of Brazil’s government buildings by his supporters on Sunday.

Bolsonaro has denounced the violence, but it has sparked interest in his self-imposed exile. And the mundanity of his return to civilian life stands in stark contrast to the scenes from his home country as it reels from the attempted insurrecti­on.

On vacation from their home in Washington DC, Isabella’s family has spent morning after morning outside Mr Bolsonaro’s Florida residence, a nondescrip­t two-storey unit in a gated community.

Isabella’s five-year-old is willing to forgo the allure of Disney’s Magic Kingdom for a chance to see the Right-wing populist, she says. “Even at five they know right from wrong,” she says, contrastin­g Mr Bolsonaro with Lula, the Leftist leader who staged a remarkable comeback from a jail term on corruption charges. “We had to make an effort to come and they [the kids] wanted to see Bolsonaro,” she said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and we absolutely love and adore him.”

It is not just young fans who are missing the delights of Disney for the chance of meeting their hero.

Marcelo Luiz, 47, and his wife Fabiana made a detour from Boston to the theme park when they heard Mr Bolsonaro was in town.

Ms Luiz is wearing a pair of sandals customised with stickers illustrati­ng her passions: Minnie, Mickey, and the US and Brazilian flags.

Despite her enthusiasm for Disney, she has spent as much time queueing outside the home of Mr Bolsonaro as she has for any of the theme park’s attraction­s. Others have travelled from Ohio, Brazil, and even Dubai. They chant “Bolsonaro! Bolsonaro! Bolsonaro!” as they wait.

The ousted leader has been happy to oblige his supporters, posing for selfies and handing out autographs until he was briefly hospitalis­ed with abdominal issues linked to a 2018 stab wound.

Since he was discharged, supporters have continued their pilgrimage to their idol’s residence. Some have brought gifts, and wait for hours without shade from the Florida sun, such is their determinat­ion to score a photo with him.

Mr Bolsonaro is staying in the holiday home of a retired Brazilian martial arts star and staunch supporter, José Aldo. The eightbedro­om, five-bathroom property is available to rent online for $519 a night, but it is unclear if the ex-president was gifted his stay.

One of his final meals as president was him munching on fried chicken alone at a Kentucky Fried Chicken chain in Orlando. Staff at the chain said they had been oblivious to Mr Bolsonaro’s presence.

Managers at a local grocery shop were equally unaware that they had done business with the ex-president. “We get a lot of celebritie­s in here,” shrugged one staff member.

Florida has a long history with ousted Latin American leaders, but it may hold a specific appeal for Mr Bolsonaro. The state is home to roughly a fifth of all Brazilians living in the US and has staked its claim as a staunchly conservati­ve “citadel of freedom” under its Republican governor Ron Desantis.

It is also home to Donald Trump, whose advisers had reportedly considered inviting Mr Bolsonaro, the so-called “Trump of the Tropics”, to his Mar-a-lago club for a New Year’s bash.

While Mr Bolsonaro’s populist, anti-establishm­ent stance has inspired the comparison with the wealthy ex-us president, it is his common touch that appears to impress his fervent supporters most.

“He could be in a palace, not a house like this – where we can all visit,” said Eduardo Carvalho, who represents a group of Brazilian pastors in the area, from outside Mr Bolsonaro’s holiday home. “But he’s just like us. He’s a regular guy.”

Mr Bolsonaro’s presence in Florida has become a headache for Joe Biden’s administra­tion since “Brazil’s January 6”, with some Democrats accusing the Brazilian authoritar­ian of fomenting the uprising.

Mr Biden has come under pressure from Leftists in Latin America as well as members of his own party to expel his unwanted guest as they draw a link to the US Capitol attack by a protrump mob on Jan 6 last year.

Prominent Democrats in Congress have urged the White House to revoke any diplomatic visa that Mr Bolsonaro may be using for his stay.

He may pre-empt any such plans, indicating to a Brazilian media outlet that he would return home some time this month. For now, however, he appears to have chosen a welcoming refuge in Kissimmee.

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 ?? ?? Jair Bolsonaro eats alone in a KFC in Orlando on his last day as president
Jair Bolsonaro eats alone in a KFC in Orlando on his last day as president

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