The Disappeared (Part Two) – We Remember

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.

Police at Stadium

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 Commissions


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. 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 have been named. The actual toll is likely to be far higher.

One of the major tests of Brasil’s democracy now is how it deals with the issue of the Disappeared and also the victims of torture in that era. Brasil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, was once a Marxist guerilla, who was captured and tortured during the dictatorship. She could easily have become one of the Disappeared or died in detention herself and is therefore cautious about how she proceeds on this thorny issue.

She doesn’t want her actions to be seen as politically motivated revenge for her previous ordeal. Nevertheless, the young democracy, with its soul awakened once more, must now tackle the crimes of the past. In order to build a safe and democratic process torture and disappearance of political opponents must have consequences – serious ones.


Rousseff established a Truth Commission in 2011 and a year earlier the persistent quest for justice resulted in the Organisation of American States’ Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling that the 1979 Amnesty Law was null and void in a landmark judgement in December 2010. Among the cases that this opened up was the murder of respected journalist Vladimir Herzog.1

No Statute of Limitations

Slightly before the Confederations’ Cup began the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights came to Brasil to demand progress on the investigation into Herzog’s death. The Brasilian government had previously insisted that the Amnesty law applied. An impasse has occurred that Rousseff can and must resolve.

Herzog’s death 38 years ago was a pivotal moment in modern Brasilian history. It helped to bring down the dictatorship by awakening a nation’s consciousness. Now it is time the debt is repaid by ensuring that almost four decades after he died under torture justice is served to his memory and for his family. It is the very least Herzog, his family and Brasil deserve.

Without the sacrifice of Herzog, the Disappeared and those opposing the dictatorship the streets of Brasil would not be remotely safe to demonstrate in now. Today’s demonstrators owe a debt they are too young to appreciate to their parents’ generation for winning them the right to demonstrate in comparative safety.

Night View in Rio

Doesn’t that sacrifice deserve justice, however belated? There is therefore no barrier to prosecuting the perpetrators of these atrocities if there is sufficient evidence. And there is.

Belated Justice

Last year one of the most notorious of the dictatorship’s enforcers Sebastião Cúrio Rodrigues de Moura was charged over the disappearance and likely murder of five left-wing activists. The charges were initially thrown out under the 1979 Amnesty Law – wrongly – and Cúrio may yet face trial. He is not alone.

Another then Colonel, Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, faced charges over the murder of journalist Luiz Eduardo Merlino. His death, during the darkest days of Brasil’s dictatorship, implausibly had been claimed to have been suicide. Merlino’s relatives doggedly demanded Ustra be prosecuted. Again they have had some success, but as yet there have been no convictions in Brasil. If Brasil is to emerge from the shadow of the dictatorship once and for all justice must be delivered without fear nor favour.

View of Rio

1  See The Disappeared (Part One) – Amnesty and Amnesia that was published in the magazine previously for further details.



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