Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Yesterday, December 13th, was the 46th anniversary of the promulgation by the Brazilian military of AI-5. A is for “Ato” and I is for “Institucional”. AI-5 was the Act that Instituted the worst years of the military dictatorship. All basic constitutional guarantees were suspended, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and habeas corpus.
The Executive Branch could (and did) assume full legislative powers, and its actions were not subject to Judicial scrutiny. The Executive Branch could (and did) determine that legislators be banned from serving for up to ten years. The Ministry of Justice could (and did) confine people to their homes, prohibit them from going certain places and keep them under constant surveillance, without a court order.
A popular joke after the promulgation of AI-5 was that a presidential delegation from Bolivia came on a state visit to Brazil; one member of the delegation was Bolivia’s Minister of the Navy. The Brazilians laughed so the Bolivians replied: “What’s so funny? You have a Ministry of ‘Justice’.”
The Curmudgeon recalls the date because it is intimately related to the question of torture. In 1968, several legislators had openly stated that the military would become a safe house for torturers — and they were dead right. [The accusers were summarily booted out of Congress by the military.]
One problem for Brazil today is that there are large numbers of military personnel who believe that torture was justified, that what they did was right. Worse yet, there are civilians who, seeing widespread graft and corruption among civilian politicians, call for the return of military rule, which was supposedly uncorruptible.
In fact, during the ten years that AI-5 lasted, both corruption and torture thrived in Brazil. The military had absolute power; as Lord Acton knew, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The Curmudgeon will emit more Smidgens opportunely.