With risks of arrest rising after the violence in Brasilia, many wonder if the former Brazilian president and his family will seek refuge in Italy, where they would qualify for citizenship and a friendly government is in charge.
Days after their father’s election loss, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro and his younger brother Eduardo were spotted at the entrance of the Italian embassy in Brasilia.
“I have no intention of leaving Brazil,” the Senator and eldest son of President Jair Bolsonaro insisted to the journalist of Brazilian weekly magazine Metropoles, who’d seen the brothers arriving at the embassy.
“My family has Italian origins and I have the right to apply for Italian citizenship. This procedure started in September 2019,” the 38-year-old Bolsonaro added.
That was November, nine days after Jair Bolsonaro’s defeat by Lula da Silva, but well before their father took refuge in Florida — and the events of Sunday, where Bolsonaro supporters assaulted the nation’s top institutions in the capital, leading to mass arrests.
Questions are circulating in Italy and Brazil about whether the Bolsonaro family (he has five children from three marriages) is considering seeking asylum in Italy, which they not only claim ancestral connections but also now has a friendly right-wing government in charge, headed by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. "Italian Citizenship to Bolsonaro: Here's What Could Happen," headlined Milan daily Il Sole 24 Ore this week.
For his part, former President Bolsonaro is still in Florida, where he entered using his now-expired diplomatic passport. It is unclear how long he is intending to remain there, but this might have to do with the loss of his presidential immunity, which now exposes him to criminal and electoral investigations in Brazil that could lead to his arrest.
Meloni and Salvini, old friends
Currently, no warrant has been issued against him, but this could almost entirely be dependent on the fact that Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes is waiting for the former president to return to Brazil, as extraditing someone for political reasons from the U.S. is not easy. Indeed, speculation about his family’s interest in Italy also stems from the fact that Rome’s extradition agreement with Brazil does not apply to politically motivated crimes.
Meloni, and her vice premier Matteo Salvini are long-time allies of the Bolsonaro family, and Eduardo Bolsonaro was among the first to personally congratulate her on the day of her victory.
Jair Bolsonaro with sons, Carlos, Flávio and Eduardo in 2015
Bolsonaro family Flickr
Facing growing queries from the Brazilian media about the possibility of the Bolsonaro family seeking asylum in Italy, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani issued a statement denying that Bolsonaro had requested citizenship, while confirming that the procedure opened by two of his children was still being processed.
The Bolsonaro family has all the requirements to receive Italian citizenship under a longstanding law that if you can prove to have an Italian ancestor (and that none of their offspring has legally renounced citizenship) you can rather easily gain a passport. It was applied often in the past for foreign soccer stars, including plenty from Brazil, who wanted to play in Italy’s top soccer league, which used to have limits on foreign players.
It’s also worth noting that Jair Bolsonaro is already an honorary citizen of the municipality of Anguillara Veneta, a small town in northeastern Italy from where his ancestors left for Brazil in the 19th century and where he traveled in 2021 for the handover ceremony. This title has no legal value, but could speed up the process of obtaining Italian citizenship.
After Sunday’s events in Brasilia, the Il Gazzettino daily reported that several opposition politicians in Anguillara Veneta demanded that the mayor strip Bolsonaro of his honorary citizenship, which she refused to do. Yes, she’s an ally of Meloni.