Never Too Late

Editor’s Note:

A year we published this article. We publish it again on the eve of the World Cup. The problems that plague Brasil’s economy and society remain. It is likely that the World Cup will witness further demonstrations and potentially brutality too, but with the eyes of the world on the country. This tournament has polarised opinion in Brasil. Many do not want the World Cup. They want, housing, education and other necessities. In such an economic climate, hosting a World Cup is a luxury they cannot afford, but they are stuck with it. Along with these views, expectations have been raised by winning the Confederations Cup. We remain concerned that so little progress has been made in the investigation of the death of renowned journalist Vladimir Herzog, which was highlighted in the article below.

Derek Miller

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By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 14th 2013)

Awakening

As the eyes of the world focused on the Confederations’ Cup Brasilians took the streets to voice their discontent. Among the demands was an end to police brutality. São Paulo, home of the Copa Libertadores champions Corinthians, hosted no matches, but the demonstrations were vociferous and on occasion violent. The demonstrators were mainly young people who wanted change. 

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They are too young to remember that 28 years ago the 21-year-long military dictatorship came to an end. It was not the most brutal dictatorship in South America, but torture and disappearances were not unheard of especially in São Paulo. Nevertheless, demands for justice for the Disappeared and victims of torture and murder were conspicuous by their absence – they still are.

Among those humiliated and tortured in São Paulo was a then 22-year-old student and alleged Marxist guerilla Dilma Rousseff. She is now Brasil’s President. Rousseff established the Truth Commission to establish what happened during the dictatorship. But while the Truth Commission is concerned with what happened, others still want and demand justice, but face huge problems.

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The Amnesty Problem

In 1979 an Amnesty law was passed that protects both the military and also left-wing guerrillas for offences committed during the dictatorship. The Eremias Delizoicov Centre for Documentation and the Families’ Commission of Political Deaths and Disappearances has a website highlighting the crimes of that era and their quest for justice. It illustrates the scale of the abuses of human rights which have never been resolved. But now the amnesia is being confronted.

As with other South American dictatorships, the Disappeared are finally getting to accuse their torturers from beyond the grave as forensic science tells their stories. According to the website 379 Disappeared people have been named. The true figure is likely to be far higher. Relatives of the Disappeared still demand justice. However, they face another problem – the statute of limitations on murder in Brasil is 20 years. But there is a solution – albeit not an ideal one – there is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity.

A Young Democracy

Brasilians took to the streets to protest the waste of resources, especially building unwanted stadia, such as Brasiliaʼs Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha. The state-of-the-art stadium is destined to become a white elephant as none of the capitalʼs teams grace the top flight of Brasilian football. In fact, they languish in the lower leagues. There is no chance that this plush stadium can pay its way through football as no local team has a support-base to match its capacity.

Todayʼs demonstrators were too young to remember the fight against the dictatorship, let alone life before it. In 1964 the government of João Goulart was overthrown, returning Brasil to a military dictatorship two decades after the last one ended. It had seized power in 1930, ending when Getúlio Vargas was deposed in 1945, but six years later Vargas returned as the country’s elected President. Ironically, Vargas was Goulart’s mentor. Vargas, rocked by scandals and under pressure to quit as President, committed suicide in 1954.

His reputation underwent a Damascene conversion. Goulart was deeply affected by Vargasʼ suicide, but decided to remain in politics, becoming President in 1961. Three years later another two decades of dictatorship began with the overthrow of Goulart. The former President died suddenly in exile in Argentina in 1976, but was it murder?

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Condor

It was originally claimed to be a heart attack until Brasilian politician Leonel Brizola, a former Governor of Rio Grande do Sul and later of Rio de Janeiro as well, claimed that Goulart had been assassinated as part of the infamous Operation Condor. Brizola also claimed the popular President of Brasil Juscileno Kubitschek, who died in a car crash in 1976, had also been assassinated. Brizola’s claims, made in 2000, were not taken seriously at first, but confirmation came from an unlikely source eight years later, which was published by Folha de São Paulo.

Mario Neira Barreiro, a former security services agent for Uruguay’s dictatorship claimed that the late head of Brasil’s Department of Political and Social Order (DOPS) Sérgio Fleury (pronounced Flay-uree) was the link between Brasil’s and Uruguay’s dictatorships. According to Barreiro, Fleury demanded that Goulart must be murdered. Barreiro backs up Brizola’s claims that Goulart was poisoned. Before an autopsy could be carried out the former President was buried. Barreiro was subsequently jailed for arms smuggling in Brasil.

Barreiro claimed that Goulart’s communications were tapped and that those conversations resulted in the order to kill him coming from former Brasilian dictator Ernesto Geisel. The order was given to the Uruguayans by Fleury and conducted under auspices of the CIA. The former Uruguayan spy claims that they tampered with Goulart’s medication. Naturally Goulart’s family demanded action, threatening to take their case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights if the Brasilian government failed to take action. The National Truth Commission began investigating Goulart’s death in March 2013 and ordered his remains exhumed last week.

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Human Rights

Fleury died on his boat in May 1979. A hero to right-wingers who pine for the return of the dictatorship, Fleury has a reputation for torturing opponents of the junta. The revolutionary guerilla Carlos Marighella is a case in point. He was assassinated in an ambush organised by Fleury in 1969. Almost 40 years earlier Marighella had opposed the fledgling Vargas dictatorship and been tortured by Vargas’ then enforcer Filinto Strübing Müller, who is known as the ‘Patron of Torturers’. Müller became a leader of the pro-dictatorship party ARENA (National Renewal Alliance Party) until his death in 1973.

While todayʼs demonstrators demanded many things including an end to police brutality, they ignored the plight of the Disappeared and also of proven victims of torture – perhaps deliberately. One of the victims of Fleury and his goons was none other than a target of some of the demonstrators’ anger Dilma Rousseff. Her discomfort at having to meet the President of Brasil’s Football Association José Maria Marin at the opener of that tournament was obvious. She was also a notable absentee at the final – wonder why?

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Marin’s brazen predecessor Ricardo Teixeira resigned his football posts pending a damning report from FIFA’s Ethics Committee. Marin, his deputy, got the job, but Marin has problems of his own. He had previously tried and failed as a politician. A 1975 speech has landed him in hot water. It is widely believed to have given the green light for the brutal Fleury to act against journalists including the widely respected Vladimir Herzog, whose death in police custody shortly after Marin’s speech helped to turn the tide against the dictatorship.

Herzog was tortured mercilessly and died under ‘interrogation’. An outrageously staged photo of his ‘suicide’ fooled nobody. Herzog’s family hold Marin responsible for legitimising the attack on journalists that resulted in his death. A month before the Confederations Cup the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights came to Brasil to demand progress on the infamous murder of Herzog. Marin may yet have cause to regret his appreciation and support of Fleury as the World Cup approaches.

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