Bolsonaro, 68, who never conceded defeat in last year’s election, is expected to lead the opposition to leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, officials in his Liberal party said.
Before boarding a plane in Orlando, Bolsonaro downplayed his leadership role and said he will use his experience to help his party campaign in next year’s municipal elections, adding the vote he lost in October is a closed chapter.
“We have turned a page and now we will prepare for next year’s elections,” he told CNN Brasil shortly before boarding.
Brazilian news site O Globo said his plane landed at 6:38am (09:38 GMT) and, according to reports by El Pais, he is expected to drive to the Liberal party headquarters to meet his wife, Michelle.
The Federal District’s security secretariat mobilised hundreds of police officers and the Esplanade of Ministries was closed to prevent gatherings of Bolsonaro’s supporters.
Bolsonaro left for the United States two days before he was to hand over the presidential sash to Lula on January 1. He said he needed rest but critics say he was avoiding the more than a dozen legal investigations he may face in Brazil.
Legal probes have focused on his alleged role in encouraging supporters to storm government buildings in riots on January 8 – a week after Lula took office. That day, Bolsonaro’s supporters took over three main government buildings in Brasilia, seeking to oust the new president from power.
The former leader is also the subject of a police investigation exploring allegations that staff members in his administration attempted to bring millions of dollars of jewellery into the country without declaring it following a 2021 trip to Saudi Arabia.
Brazil’s electoral courts are looking into his actions during last year’s campaign, particularly related to his unsubstantiated claims that the electronic-voting system is susceptible to fraud. If Bolsonaro is found guilty in any of those cases, he would lose his political rights and be unable to run for office in the next election.
‘I’m not retired’
For the first time in 30 years, the lawmaker-turned-president does not hold elected office.
Bolsonaro, who holds former US President Donald Trump as his political idol, this month attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC, where he questioned the result of the October election narrowly won by Lula. He said his mission in Brazil is “still not over”.
“I’m without a mandate but I’m not retired,” Bolsonaro told television network Jovem Pan on Monday.
His return to Brazil has been repeatedly delayed, and some had speculated he could postpone indefinitely in light of his legal troubles. Steve Bannon, a longtime ally of Trump and considered a strategist of the global far right, told Brazilian newspaper Folha de SPaulo this week that Bolsonaro never should have left the country, and dismissed the importance of the investigations.
Now that Bolsonaro has returned, his first objective will be to rally opposition to Lula’s government, said Mayra Goulart da Silva, a political scientist from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.