The Disappeared (Part One) – Amnesty and Amnesia

Editor’s Note:

The World Cup starts today in the country which gave us Samba Football. The Beautiful Game found its most famous outlet here. But Brasil is a mass of contradictions. Its football inspired millions. It was exported to Africa, inspiring the African team of the 1960s Ghana to great heights.

Existing side by side with fantastic football – a joy to behold – is the darkest side of this glorious country. Coups led to despotic government, gross abuses of human rights and a shameful failure to redress the gross wrongs of the past.

The favelas – some notorious and violent – are tourist attractions that will doubtless involve revenue being raised, but not distributed among the poverty-stricken. Corruption is rife. Brasilians want health-care, education – the necessities of life far more than the Confederations Cup, the World Cup or the Olympic Games – hence the demonstrations, but one demand is absent.

It is a fundamental one – justice for the Disappeared. A year ago we took up cudgels on their behalf. Today, we republish that call for justice. Enjoy the World Cup, but remember those robbed of that opportunity.

Derek Miller

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 30thth 2013)

The Demonstrations


The demonstrations that have gripped Brasil started as a popular protest against rises in transport fares. Despite avoiding paying taxes the bus companies decided to hike fares by 20%. It was the last straw for many Brasilians. A popular protest movement was born that coincided with the Confederations’ Cup.

It demanded concessions on education, poverty and a drive against corruption. It was non party-political. Some concessions were made, but the eyes of the world gazing on Brasil emboldened them to demand change. Further demands were added and it morphed into something new. Some protesters targeted the government of President Dilma Rousseff. FIFA was also one of its targets.

But one demand that we are focusing on was conspicuous by its absence – justice for Brasil’s disappeared and those martyred fighting this country’s last dictatorship. Brasil is a comparatively young democracy. Its military seized power in 1964 and took over two decades to hand power back, leaving a trail of corpses and a controversial amnesty law that protected killers.

View of Rio

The Confederations’ Cup ends today – the demonstrations, perhaps not. The hoard of international journalists will soon depart, myself included. The issues that resulted in Brasilians taking to the streets remain. Next year the World Cup will shine an even more intense microscope on Brasil.

But I’ll be back before that festival of football begins – that’s a promise – and we will investigate whether progress has been made regarding the brutality suffered by the disappeared and those victimised by torturers in uniform.

By then, I hope that justice for the Disappeared will not be on the agenda, because I hope by then that they will have had justice. I still cannot understand how the worst crimes of that horrid period of Brasil’s history have been ignored by the demonstrators and others too.

How is it possible to complain of police violence, but ignore kidnap, torture and murder? Such amnesia is baffling and discredits the movement, but it can learn. Time will tell if it matures after the world’s media up sticks and go home.


Amnesty Laws

During those terrible two decades, especially under General Emílio Garrastazú Médici, opponents, whether armed or not, disappeared. Some were murdered. The journalist Vladimir Herzog fled in the early days of the dictatorship, returning after a ‘relaxation’ in the repression. It cost him his life and subsequently his family a long battle for justice.

In 1979 the military government passed an Amnesty law. Similar laws have been rejected in other former dictatorships. The former dictators of Chile and Argentina Generals Augusto Pinochet and Jorge Videla Redondo were among those originally protected by Amnesty laws, but these laws also protected the functionary thugs who did the dictators’ vicious bidding.

The immunity was later removed in both Chile and Argentina. Pinochet died before he could face trial. Videla was jailed for life in 1985 for torture and murder, but was pardoned in 1990 by then President Carlos Menem. In 2010 he was again jailed for life for crimes against humanity and again jailed for life. He died in May 2013.

Brasil’s 1979 Amnesty law is no different, although it applied to insurgent guerrillas as well as the military. Although the statute of limitations on murder – 20 years – has elapsed there is no limitation on prosecutions for crimes against humanity. This means that justice can still be served.

Christ the Redeemer



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