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

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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.

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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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An Unwanted Distinction – Archive

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 17th 2009)

Fearsome

As West Indies captain Chris Gayle contemplates his third failure in a row amid accusations of disrespecting both this tour and Test Match cricket as a whole and the media storm that it has caused, he may spare a thought for his countryman and fellow West Indies international Leslie Hylton. On this very day (54 years ago Hylton secured an unwanted piece of cricket history at the cost of his life.

Hylton was a fearsome fast-bowler in his prime and not a complete mug with the bat. His first class record for Jamaica was not bad – in 40 matches he scored five half centuries with a best of 80, took 31 catches and 120 wickets at a reasonable strike rate and average. He never took ten wickets in a match, but claimed five victims in an innings thrice in first class cricket, but never in Tests.

Rich Potential

Hylton made his début in 1927, aged 21 and called time on his career as the world descended into the chaos of the Second World War. His first Test Match was in Bridgetown, Barbados, in January 1935 against England – all six were against the same opposition. After the West Indies had been dismissed for a paltry 102 that would have been considerably worse without George Headley’s 44, Hylton took his chance.

Although the Bridgetown wicket was clearly a bowling track, his first innings figures were sensational – 7.2 overs, 3 maidens 3 wickets for 8 runs. Wily England skipper, Bob Wyatt declared on 81 for 7. The West Indies also declared and England won by four wickets. Hylton took one wicket in the second innings.

In the second Test in Port of Spain, Trinidad, he took 2 for 55 and 3 for 25 as the West Indies won by 217 runs to level the series. The great Learie Constantine, who was later knighted and then ennobled took 3 for 11 in the second innings as England collapsed to 107 all out.

The third Test in Georgetown, Guyana was drawn, but Hylton produced his best analysis in Test Matches 4 for 27 from 13.2 overs, but that was bettered by Eric Hollies – the man who denied the great Don Bradman an average of 100 in Test Matches – who took 7 for 50 in 26 overs, which was his best too.

Hylton was wicketless in his eight overs in the second innings – the first time he experienced that sensation in international cricket. It happened again in both innings of the fourth Test Match at Kingston’s Sabina Park ground – the one and only appearance that he made at his home ground.

However, he had the consolation of the West Indies winning by an innings and 161 runs to take the series – their first series win, which was secured at the fifth attempt. Hylton’s only meaningful contribution in the match was to catch Walter Hammond for 11 – one of Constantine’s 3 wickets for 55 in England’s first innings – the only catch he took in international cricket.

Decline

After his explosive start to Test cricket, in which he troubled an impressive England line-up that included one of the finest batsmen England ever produced – Hammond – Hylton faded towards the end of the series and was not selected again until the 1939 tour of England. He played in the first Test Match at cricket’s headquarters and took a wicket in each innings, but England won easily by eight wickets.

Opener Arthur Fagg was Hylton’s final victim in Test cricket in the first innings of the Old Trafford Test Match, bowled for 7. The brief international career of Leslie Hylton ended with 0 for 18 from 6 overs in the second innings. His final figures in Test cricket was 16 wickets for 418 runs from 965 balls. He made 70 runs from 8 innings, twice being undefeated. But the figures didn’t tell the whole story. He was an intimidating prospect to face in his prime.

A Marriage made in Hell

Leslie Hylton will never be forgotten, but unfortunately for him not for his cricket. He retired aged 34, having maintained his bachelor status – something both he and his wife Lurline would have good reason to wish he had preserved. Three years after he hung up his boots they married, but his spouse fell for the charms of notorious womaniser Roy Francis. Lurline had gone to the USA to learn dress-making and while there fell for Francis, but Hylton was told of the affair and on her return confronted her about it.

Eventually, she not only admitted it, but flouted it. “I’m in love with Roy,” she was alleged to have said. “My body belongs to him.”

She then pulled up her nightdress to expose herself to her husband and emphasise that she had cuckolded him. Hylton grabbed the gun from the window-sill and shot her seven times, killing the 40 year-old, before calling the police. This is Hylton’s version of the fatal events, yet he undermined his own defence in his trial.

Loss of Control

His trial counsel Vivian Blake presented a credible defence that the former fast-bowler had been provoked, even presenting a letter to Francis from the deceased to the jury. “My beloved, I’m realising even more than I did before how much I love you,” she wrote. “I am going to force my man’s hand as soon as I can.”

Blake argued that Lurline’s actions were sufficient to cause any reasonable man to lose his self control. There was a strong case of provocation, but Hylton absurd claims that he meant to kill himself returned to haunt him – he had shot her seven times, meaning that he had to reload and shoot her again.

Recommendation

The law eventually moved on. such circumstances would almost certainly result in a lesser degree of guilt, possibly resulting in a manslaughter conviction. Back in the 1950s it was murder and that meant only one sentence – it was two years before the Homicide Act introduced stricter guidelines to the use of the death penalty.

Even without that the jury found Hylton guilty of murder with a strong recommendation for mercy. That could only have been due to the provocation – powerful mitigation, but not an excuse. However, the jury’s recommendation was ignored by the judge who sentenced Hylton to death and mercy was not forthcoming from the colonial authorities either.

On May 17th 1955, the 50-year-old Leslie George Hylton made history. He was hanged at St. Catherine’s in Kingston, Jamaica. He has the unwanted distinction of being the only Test Match cricketer ever to be executed. Keen to avoid scandal Wisden – the cricket almanac – published an obituary that failed to mention this fact. It has subsequently been corrected.