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Brazil: On Opening the Archives of the Dictatorship

The military dictatorship in Brazil lasted exactly 21 years, from 1 April 1964 (April Fools’ Day in Brazil, which is why the military point to the previous day, March 31 as the day of the coup) until January 1, 1985. During this time of heightened political repression, 380 people were killed [pt] (a substantial part of leftist anti-dictatorship guerrillas, but many students or simply people who did not support the regime), among which 147 are still missing and nothing is known about the fate of their bodies.

Thousands of Brazilians were victims of systematic torture and arbitrary arrests, including [pt] pregnant women, and in some cases children, while sons and daughters of political prisoners attended [pt] the sessions of torture.

Cartoon by @tonoise, under license CC 2.0

On August 28, 1979, the then dictator, João Figueiredo, enacted law number 6683, known as the Lei da Anistia [Amnesty Law, pt] that virtually excused civilians and the military associated with crimes committed during the period, anticipating the near end of dictatorship and the possibility of lawsuits being brought against the criminals.

Colonel Coronel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra [pt] was the only military personnel to be prosecuted and convicted [pt] on October 9, 2008, officially becoming considered a torturer, even if the penalty would not require payment of a fine or imprisonment, but was only declaratory.

But after 25 years of the end of dictatorship, to date no-one has been punished and military records covering that period remain closed, preventing the families of the 147 missing persons to bury their loved ones and know the truth.

Based on this, a collective blog was organized [pt] in February to demand the opening of the archives of the dictatorship, taking into account that the President of the Republic, Dilma Rousseff, was herself a victim of torture during the period and fought in the guerrilla war against the authoritarian regime.

Niara de Oliveira, from Pimenta com Limão [Pepper with Lemon], creator of the collective blog, gave the reasons [pt]:

Para que mais nenhuma mãe/pai morra sem saber o fim que a ditadura militar e o Estado brasileiro deram ao seu filho/a, que os arquivos secretos sejam reclassificados como públicos já e que seus torturadores e assassinos sejam identificados e punidos.

Afinal, não se constrói uma democracia plena com tantas ossadas escondidas dentro do armário.

So that no father/mother dies without knowing the end that the military dictatorship and the Brazilian government gave to their child, that the secret files be now reclassified as public, and that the torturers and assassins be identified and punished.

After all, one cannot build a full democracy with so many hidden skeletons in the closet.

Gabriel Pinheiro commensts [pt] on the expectations of Dilma Rousseff:

No dia em que foi empossada como Presidenta do Brasil, Dilma Rousseff emocionou-se ao lembrar de seus companheiros de luta que “tombaram na caminhada” contra o regime militar. Além disso, convidou ex-colegas de cárcere para a posse. O simbolismo presente na eleição da ex-militante é claro: ela também é hoje comandante suprema do Exército. Por esses e outros motivos, grande parte de seus eleitores, este que vos fala incluído, depositaram em Dilma a confiança de que uma postura diferente seria tomada com relação aos arquivos militares e investigações de crimes cometidos pelo Estado durante aquele período.

On the day she was sworn in as President of Brazil, Rousseff was moved while remembering her comrades in arms who “fell on the walk” against the military regime. Furthermore, she invited former colleagues in prison for the presidential inauguration. The symbolism in this election of a former militant is clear: she's also the supreme commander of the Army today. For these and other reasons, most of his constituents, yours truly included, deposited in Dilma the trust that she would take a different stance with respect to military records and investigations of crimes committed by the state during that period

Leandro Parteniani sees no reason [pt] in continuing to keep the archives censored:

[…] não faz sentido nenhum, 25 anos depois da redemocratização, ainda termos documentos do período militar classificados como secretos, ultra-secretos ou restritos. Permitir que esses arquivos continuem fechados, longe das vistas da população, é negar à sociedade um direito fundamental e, portanto, inibir o avanço democrático. Afinal de contas, se as pessoas não compreendem exatamente o que aconteceu no seu passado, que valor darão à democracia? Como se espera afirmar um sistema democrático que esconde da sociedade parte de sua História?

[…] it makes no sense, 25 years after the democratization, to still have documents of the the military era classified as secret, top secret or restricted. To allow that these files remain closed, out of the population's sight, is denying society a fundamental right and therefore inhibiting the advance of democracy. After all, if people do not understand exactly what happened in past, what value will they give to democracy? How one is expected to affirm a democratic system that hides from the society part of its history?

He also advocates the establishment of the Truth Commission, as done by Brazil's neighbouring countries:

Vale lembrar que, dentre os países envolvidos na Operação Condor (aliança de vários regimes militares da América do Sul, como Brasil, Argentina, Chile, Bolívia, Paraguai e Uruguai, para coordenar repressão a opositores de extrema esquerda), apenas o Brasil ainda não adotou uma Comissão da Verdade.

It is worth remembering that among the countries involved in Operation Condor (an alliance of several military regimes in South America, including Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay, to coordinate the repression of far left opponents), only Brazil has not adopted a Truth Commission.

A man in a Pau de Arara, cartoon by Carlos Latuff, under CC

Ediane Oliveira reminds us [pt] that the Court of Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) ruled the Amnesty created during the military regime illegal [pt], and that Brazil did not care about the decision:

A Corte dos Direitos Humanos da Organização dos Estados Americanos (OEA) reconheceu a importância de se identificar e punir os torturadores da Ditadura Militar, decidindo que a manutenção da Lei da Anistia fere acordos internacionais assinados pelo Brasil. Mas, infelizmente, o governo brasileiro segue ignorando a decisão.

[…]

A tortura está institucionalizada no País porque não é possível punir tortura tendo anistiado os maiores torturadores de nossa história e nem sequer identificá-los.

The Court of Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) recognized the importance of identifying and punishing the torturers of the military dictatorship, ruling that the maintenance of the Amnesty Law hurts international agreements signed by Brazil. But unfortunately, the Brazilian government keeps ignoring the decision.

[…]

The torture is institutionalized in this country because you can not punish torture after having pardoned the biggest torturers in our history and not even identify them.

Thiago Beleza compares [pt] the relationship between the torture of the past and today's torture, at police stations:

A não punição dos assassinos e torturadores de ontem, é a certeza da não punição dos assassinos e torturadores de hoje. O Estado é conivente.

The non-punishment of the murderers and torturers of yesterday is the certainty of the non-punishment of the murderers and torturers of today. The state is complicit.

Rodrigo Cárdia contrasts [pt] the situation of Brazil with Argentina, a nation that has tried military criminals:

A Argentina, é verdade, sofreu uma ditadura muito mais violenta que o Brasil. Em apenas sete anos, foram mais de 30 mil mortos e desaparecidos. Mas isso não faz com que os 21 anos de regime militar brasileiro mereçam ser esquecidos. Pois aqui também se prendeu, torturou, desapareceu e matou.

Argentina, it is true, suffered a dictatorship far more violent than Brazil. In just seven years, there were more than 30,000 dead and missing. But that doesn't mean the 21 years of the Brazilian military regime deserve to be forgotten. For here, too, there were arrests, torture, disappearances and murders.

Amanditas is clear [pt] about the rights of victims and their families:

Essas famílias atingidas pelo “regime” não podem ser ignoradas, tratadas como se tivessem morrido juntamente com o “regime”. As famílias não acabaram: elas estão aí, querendo ter o que parece ser um privilégio: o direito de contar suas próprias histórias.

These families affected by the “regime” cannot be ignored, treated as if they had died along with the “regime”. The families have not stopped: they are there, wanting to have what appears to be a privilege: the right to tell their own stories.

Finally, Luka clarifies [pt]:

Abrir os arquivos da ditadura militar não é apenas honrar aqueles que tombaram naquela época, mas também mostrar que não aceitaremos mais ficar anos sem notícias de desaparecidos neste país.

Pau de arara nunca mais.

To open the archives of military dictatorship is not only to honour those who perished at the time, but also to show that we will not accept to spend more years without news of missing persons in this country.

Pau de Arara no more [see cartoon above].

The Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (OAB – Order of Brazilian Lawyers) has an online petition to request the opening of the archives, and has released the National Campaign for Truth and Memory, with actors playing famous left-wing militants dead and missing.

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