Saturday 3 April 2010

Brazil: Dealing with the Dictatorship Past

The following post is based on the points made in the article 'Vom Umgang mit der Diktaturvergangenheit' by Klaus Hart, from the supplement Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, 12/2010.

In the article mentioned, Hart posits that Brazil is far behind other countries in the hemisphere in the clarification of its dictatorship history.

In December 2009, President Lula signed a decree to create a truth commission to investigate the crimes of the military years. But, faced with threats of resignation from his Defense Minister and the heads of the armed forces, he partially backed down and softened the wording of the decree. This, despite the fact that the official figures for deaths during the dictatorship are suspiciously low - 376 killed by the armed forces, and 119 by the armed resistance movement.

Amnesty International representative Tim Cahill is cited as stating that, "Torture and extrajudicial executions carry on, conditions in jail are still terrible - and even death squads and slavery still exist. It just goes on like before - Brazil is the Latin American country to have made the least progress in the examination of its past. The biggest problem of the country today is that official discourse has nothing to do with political practice" [trans mine]. Officials active during the dictatorship also continue to enjoy political power.

The author also points to a generalised apathy in the population when it comes to looking back and to political commitment, which he attributes to a lack of education and widespread functional illiteracy.

Hart takes the case of Argentina as a contrast, noting the progress that this nation has made under the Kirchner administrations. This is true, although the situation is painted rather more rosily than it actually is; there is still a great deal of work to be done in Argentina, dangers remain for human rights activists, and the majority of the military perpetrators will probably die before they can be tried. Nevertheless, within the confines of the space afforded the article, the point stands that Argentina has made greater strides than Brazil in assessing its dictatorship legacy.

Photo credit: Blog Sao Paolo Urgente of the Memorial de Resistencia

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