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Brazzil - History - March 2004

Subdued Brazil Recalls Military Coup

Among those commemorating the 40th anniversary of the
Brazilian military coup was a military group called Terrorism
Never Again. They planted 120 white crosses in the lawn of the
Congress building. They also complained that the political
amnesty given favored only those who opposed the military.

Alessandra Dalevi

As expected the 40th anniversary of the coup d'état that established a 21-year military dictatorship in Brazil was celebrated in low key and hush tones throughout the country. While the date was celebrated with parades and patriotic speeches during the "lead years," the Lula government didn't schedule any official event to commemorate the date.

It was on March 31, 1964, that President João Goulart was deposed in a swift and bloodless coup. Maria Tereza Goulart, the widow of the overthrown President was paid homage by Congress in one of the few official events remembering the date. The whole ceremony, however, was limited to a few speeches in the Upper House.

Just outside the Congress building, the group Ternuma (Terrorismo Nunca Mais—Terrorism Never Again), made of retired military men, planted 120 white crosses in the lawn, with name, date and location of the victims honored. According to the organizers of the act, all these people were killed by leftist militants.

Eduardo Borher, the group's spokesman, complained that the political amnesty granted after democracy was reestablished favored only those who opposed the military. He demanded reparations for the victims of terrorism. Said Bohrer: "We are calling attention of the Brazilian nation in order to correct this injustice that's being committed against those who were just performing their duties and those who died due to terrorist actions."

Ternuma was created as a counterpoint to Tortura Nunca Mais (Torture Never Again), an NGO founded by friends of those who were tortured and killed during the military regime.

In the 70s, during the Araguaia Guerrilla, in the state of Pará, between the Armed Forces and militias from the PC do B (Partido Comunista do Brasil). 69 guerrillas and a still-not-known number of soldiers were killed. From all the dead only one body was identified until now: that of guerrillera Maria Lúcia Petit.

Even the military kept their restraint not showing any celebratory mood. There was just a brief declaration from the Defense Ministry celebrating democracy, which stated in part: "The Brazilian society recognizes the Armed Forces' unconditional respect for the political power emanating from the ballot boxes, for human rights in all their facets and for Justice."

For the Army commander, General Francisco Roberto de Albuquerque, March 31 should be seen as a page from the history books and with "no resentment in our hearts." In a statement celebrating the occasion, Albuquerque justified the military action of four decades ago, saying that the military only acted "as the circumstances of the moment required." He started his message with these verses from the Soldier's Song: "A paz queremos com fervor. A guerra só nos causa dor". (We want peace with a passion. War only causes pain.)

In São Paulo, the organization Tortura Nunca Mais paid homage to several people who had an important role in opposing the dictatorship, during an event called "40 Years of Struggle for the Democratization of Brazil (1964-2004): Remembering to Learn." Among those honored were Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, actors Lélia Abramo and Sérgio Mamberti; the coordinator for the Land Ministry Committee, Waldemar Rossi and Frei Betto, who is President Lula's special aide.

"The military coup represented a regression to the reforms Brazil needed to implement," said Unicamp's political scientist Argelina Figueiredo, in Recife, state of Pernambuco, opening a cycle of debates on the military coup d'état. Among those participating in the discussion were journalists, historians, students and some politicians who were exiled by the military.

Through spokesman André Singer, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called 1954 a "finished historic episode" and added: "The Brazilian people were able to overcome authoritarianism and to reestablish democracy in the country. It is our duty to fight day after day to consolidate and perfect this democracy we re-conquered."

Witness Account

In an interview with AOL Brazil dispelling myths about the 1964 military coup, journalist Mino Carta, didn't spare anybody from his virulent criticism. He accuses the Brazilian media of having rewritten the history of the military dictatorship presenting themselves as victims when they were collaborators and partners of the truculent regime.

Carta is Brazil's journalist's journalist, having created in the 60s and 70s some of the most important media vehicles in the country, including São Paulo's Jornal da Tarde and national magazines Veja and Isto É. "Our media had been asking for the coup for a long time," he told AOL. "Brazil has the world's worst media. It is very bad, incompetent, illustrious for its ignorance, vulgarity, aloofness and lack of responsibility."

According to Carta, the only mainstream newspaper that was submitted to censorship during the dictatorship was O Estado de S. Paulo (from the same owner of Jornal da Tarde) and not because of any political conviction but due to a personal power struggle between the Mesquitas (the family behind O Estado) and President General Castello Branco, who had not accepted indications the Mesquitas had made to cabinet posts.

"Folha de S. Paulo was never subjected to censorship. That newspaper even lent its C-14 van (which was used for distributing the paper) to pick up people who had been or were going to be tortured at Oban (Bandeirante Operation, an anti-communist unit from the federal police)," revealed Carta.

Talking about the way the news of the putsch was presented to the public, Carta mocked the fear the media had of the military: "Nobody would dare use the term coup for what happened. The newspapers always referred to what they called the Revolution. Until today, many people still say that there was a revolution. Since those times the Brazilian media was at the service of the powerful."

The journalist calls the coup a tragedy based in the usual hypocrisy and prepotency of the Brazilian elite insufflated by the United States: "Everything was made in name of a threat that did not exist, communism. Brazil was in a process of industrialization. And this would bring inevitable consequences like the emergence of strong labor unions and the start of a real party from the Left, capable of talking to people, opposed to what the Brazilian Left has been able to do up to now. All of this, which would happen sooner or later, gave the pretext, at that moment, to those who wanted to stage the coup. If there were any blood we would have proof that Brazil had an organized resistance. The fact that there was no reaction proves clamorously that there was nothing to justify the coup."

Carta recalled that Veja was submitted to heavy censorship from 1969 to 1976, the period in which he directed the magazine. The journalist didn't have kind words, however, for the family behind the Abril media empire, which owns Veja: "The Civitas didn't understand a thing about Brazil. The young man Roberto Civita, who is another idiot… Between Otavio and Roberto it's hard to find out which one is the most stupid… Anyway, the magazine suffered serious censorship. At that time there was no subscriptions. Sometimes, we would send the magazine to the newsstands and the police would come behind picking up the copies."

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