By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s Armed Forces will investigate human rights violations practiced in military units during the dictatorship that led the country between 1964 and 1985, as announced by the coordinator of the National Truth Commission, Pedro Dallari yesterday, April 1st. The news came on the 50th anniversary of the coup d’état that established a military dictatorship that would rule Brazil for over twenty years.
In a statement, the Commission announced that Defense Minister, Celso Amorim, called Dallari to inform him that Brazilian Armed Forces, comprised of the Navy, Army and Air Force, would create inquiry commissions to investigate the use of military installations for human rights violations, such as torture of political dissidents.
Back in February, Dallari, on behalf of the Commission, which is tasked with promoting national reconciliation after the dictatorship, had asked that the Defense Minister “help identify the structures of the places, the institutions and circumstances related to the practice of human rights violations” so that the “Brazilian society could have access to an extensive and accurate informative framework” of the crimes practiced by the government between 1964 and 1985.
In its February request, the Commission highlighted seven sites, including four in Rio de Janeiro and one in São Paulo, where “grave human rights violations – especially torture and illicit practices that, in many cases, led to the death of the victims – occurred in a more intense way throughout the 1960s and 1970s.”
The creation of those inquiry commissions within each branch of the country’s Armed Forces is just one attempt at healing Brazil’s deep divisions over the dictatorship era through formal engagement of that painful history. Today, fifty years after President João Goulart was overthrown by the country’s armed forces, Brazilians’ views on the dictatorship and the democratic opening that followed its defeat are varied.
For one, historians, researchers and military officers do not agree on the official date of the coup. For years studied as a “military revolution,” members of Brazil’s Armed Forces used to celebrate the day on which democratically-elected President João Goulart was deposed by the military on March 31st, 1964.
It was on that day that General Olímpio Mourão Filho took his troops to the city of Rio de Janeiro to overthrow Goulart, who had plans to instate agrarian and democratic reforms. Military chiefs, as well as the governors of states such as São Paulo, who feared the establishment of a pro-USSR, Marxist-Leninist regime in Brazil, supported the coup. Nevertheless, it was on April 1st that Jango – as Goulart was known – left the capital of Brasília for Rio Grande do Sul state.
On April 2nd, the President of Brazil’s Congress, Senator Auro de Moura Andrade, preempted Jango and declared that the office of the President was vacant. Numerous important dates follow, such as Goulart’s departure for exile on April 4th, and the installment of a military president, Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, on April 15th.
For those who oppose the coup, April 1st is remembered as the official date of the coup. “It’s not a banal thing because it has a symbolic importance,” professor Rodrigo Patto Sá Motta from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) told Agência Brasil. Those who oppose the coup defend April 1st – known as April Fool’s Day in the United States – as a “strategy to ridicule the military movement.”
And over thirty years after a protest movement in favor of direct elections paved the way for the return of democracy to Brazil in the 1980s, Brazilians’ perceptions of the economic and social benefits of democracy for Brazil remain divided.
Latinobarómetro, a public opinion poll which tests the attitudes of Latin American towards democracy, found in its 2013 edition that 44 percent of Brazilians prefer a democratic government, while nineteen percent of respondents said that they had a preference for an authoritarian regime. Another 21 percent said that it was “all the same,” with a twelve percent reporting that they did not know what regime would be best.
Years after conquering democracy through the “Diretas Já” (Direct Elections Now) popular movement that clamored for democratic selection of the country’s presidency, Brazil is the country with the second lowest of support for democracy in Latin America, losing only to Guatemala.