SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, an admirer of Latin America’s military dictatorships, courted controversy on Friday when he said he might go to next month’s Copa Libertadores final in the Chilean stadium once used as a detention center.
Rio de Janeiro club Flamengo are scheduled to play Argentine side River Plate in the final at Santiago’s National stadium on Nov. 23 and Bolsonaro’s possible attendance has upset some of the Brazilian team’s fans.
The stadium has a portion of the stands sealed off as a memorial to those who were detained there and died under the 1973-1990 military regime of General Augusto Pinochet.
The stadium was used as a detention and torture center for opponents of the regime following the coup that overthrew the democratically elected Salvador Allende.
“I am studying the possibility, at the request of a large part of the Flamengo fans in my ministry, my government, my cabinet, to go to the final,” Bolsonaro said while on a visit to China. “I am absolutely certain we will all be Flamengo fans that day.”
Bolsonaro’s appearance at the ground would be especially sensitive given his support for Pinochet and other far-right figures in the region.
Bolsonaro said last month that Chile “would now be a Cuba” if not for Pinochet’s intervention and he taunted Michelle Bachelet, the former president and now UN Commissioner for Human Rights, whose father was tortured by Pinochet’s soldiers.
Current Chilean president Sebastian Pinera criticized his counterpart’s lack of respect and Bachelet said she “felt sorry for Brazil.”
The idea Bolsonaro might go to Chile, which is in the midst of widespread popular protests over inequality, provoked anger amongst some Flamengo supporters.
“I lived in Chile,” Flamengo fan Jorge Mutti wrote on twitter. “Flamengo are popular there. My friends tell me an invite (to Bolsonaro) would lose them support.”
Popular columnist Mauro Cezar Pereira said if Flamengo invite Bolsonaro to the final it would show “a lack of respect for the Chilean people.”
Bolsonaro supports Palmeiras but the keen football fan has appeared at many Brazilian games wearing the shirts of other clubs, including Flamengo.
He gifted Chinese Premier Xi Jinping a Flamengo tracksuit on Friday, two days after they qualified for the final for the first time since 1981 by beating Gremio 5-0.
Reporting by Andrew Downie; editing by Ken Ferris