BRAZZIL - News from Brazil - Torture in Brazil - May 96 cover story

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Eleven years after Brazil's military handed power back to civilians and returned to the barracks, the legacy of two decades of dictatorship endures. Former political prisoners who were tortured, as well as relatives of people who were killed by the military regime, demand explanations and reparations. Meanwhile, torture and disappearances continue to be used against ordinary prisoners.

Katheryn Gallant

    Ñaysaindy de Araújo Barrett does not exist. Her striking name -- which means "clear light" in the Guarani Indian language -- cannot be found in any Brazilian government archive. She is a ghost-citizen, without an identity, forbidden to legally work or study in Brazil. Why? Her parents were guerrillas who were killed by the military regime that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985.

    Araújo Barrett's father, José Maria Ferreira de Araújo, came from the Northeastern state of Paraíba. Being in the Navy didn't stop him from joining the Popular Revolutionary Vanguard (VPR), a guerrilla group led by ex-Army Captain Carlos Lamarca. There Ferreira de Araújo met another young militant, a Paraguayan woman named Soledad Barrett Viedma. The couple fled to Cuba in 1966, after the Navy expelled Ferreira de Araújo for his "subversive" connections.

    In 1970, a year after the birth of Ñaysaindy, Ferreira de Araújo secretly returned to Brazil to help continue the armed struggle against the dictatorship. However, he was arrested later that year and died under torture in the São Paulo headquarters of the Information Operations Department -- Center for Internal Defense Operations (DOI-CODI). In 1995, a government report would reveal that Ferreira de Araújo had been buried under a false name.

    Barrett Viedma decided to leave Cuba in 1973 to rejoin the VPR. Knowing that her daughter's future might be in danger if the Brazilian government knew the identity of Ñaysaindy's parents, Barrett Viedma had a false birth certificate made that identified the child as Ñaysaindy Sosa del Sol.

    The fate of Barrett Viedma paralleled that of her late husband. When she returned to Brazil, Barrett Viedma had an affair with a commander of the VPR, Cabo Anselmo. In 1964, Anselmo had led a sailors' revolt that helped frighten the higher military into deposing the constitutional government. Nevertheless, by the early '70s, Anselmo was secretly collaborating with Brazil's military regime. Anselmo's reports about VPR activities helped the government to imprison and kill five VPR militants in 1973. Among them was Soledad Barrett Viedma.

    In 1980, Ñaysaindy went to live in São Paulo with her Brazilian foster mother, Damaris Oliveira Lucena. The year before, the Brazilian government had given an amnesty to everyone who had been imprisoned or exiled for political offenses. Before going into exile in Cuba and befriending Barrett Viedma, Lucena had been tortured in Brazil. Lucena's husband had been executed.

    Adjusting to life in Brazil was hard on Ñaysaindy. "I was completely lost," she told Brazilian weekly newsmagazine IstoÉ in 1995. "Brazil seemed so scary..." Her foster mother was also fearful. "Mother [i.e., Lucena] avoided all contact with the police and that's why my situation wasn't legalized," Araújo Barrett said years later. To keep away authorities who might wonder why Ñaysaindy had a different last name than the woman whom she called mother, Lucena gave her surname to the girl.

    After Ñaysaindy came to Brazil, her father's brother, Paulo Araújo, a biology professor at the University of Campinas in São Paulo state, became aware that he had an orphaned niece. He tried to help the girl. However, their approach was "slow and careful," as Paulo Araújo would tell IstoÉ.

    When Ñaysaindy went to school, she was afraid that she would be expelled because she was not using her real name and had no documents to prove her identity. With this fear paramount in her mind, Ñaysaindy found it hard to concentrate on her studies. Ñaysaindy dropped out of school in the eighth grade. She was 14 years old.

    It was difficult for Araújo Barrett to find jobs where her employers would not demand that she reveal her identity. Her friends, knowing her problem, helped her find various temporary positions. She worked in an umbrella factory and in a candy store, and acted in minor roles in plays. Her delicate features, shapely figure and long brunette hair even got her a job as a fashion model. Araújo Barrett, however, found it impossible to continue modeling without telling who she really was.

    Things seemed to take a turn for the better when Araújo Barrett received her real birth certificate from an aunt. Unfortunately, it was a false hope. Not only had the document been registered with the Swiss Embassy in Havana (in 1969, when Ñaysaindy was born, Brazil had no diplomatic relations with Cuba), but Lucena had not filed with any government authorities when she and her foster daughter came to Brazil. Therefore, Araújo Barrett, although a Brazilian citizen through her father, was an illegal alien in her own country.

    Araújo Barrett now lives with her boyfriend and two daughters in Florianópolis, capital of the southern state of Santa Catarina. There she ekes out a living by selling handmade souvenirs to tourists. Her uncle, Paulo Araújo, has petitioned Justice Minister Nélson Jobim that Ñaysaindy be officially recognized as the daughter of José Maria Ferreira de Araújo and Soledad Barrett Viedma. "That would put an end to many years of lies," Ñaysaindy says.

    How could the story of Ñaysaindy de Araújo Barrett have been allowed to occur as it did? For an answer to that question, it is essential to tell a bit about Brazil's history during the 1960s and '70s. Jânio Quadros, an independent-minded former governor of São Paulo state, was elected by a landslide to the Brazilian presidency in 1960. Nobody expected that he would resign after just seven months in office -- perhaps least of all his vice-president, João Goulart. When Quadros resigned in August 1961, Goulart was on his way home from a state visit to China. Much of Brazil's military and civilian establishment viewed Goulart as a leftist demagogue, and tried to insure that Goulart would not return for his inauguration. For two weeks, Brazil was on the edge of civil war, but Goulart came home and took office.

    The Goulart years

    However, Brazilian society polarized during the next two and a half years. "Peasant Leagues" in Northeastern Brazil demanded that tenant farmers be given the land they worked on. These leagues were anathema to many large landowners, who believed that well-behaved, apolitical peasants were being incited by outsiders with Marxist tendencies. By 1964, a total of 2,181 leagues had been formed in 20 of Brazil's states.

    In the cities, unionized workers were also no longer as docile as they had been. Strikes became more prevalent, which displeased business executives and shareholders. Prices went up. Inflation, which had been 6% a year in the late '40s and 30% in 1960, rose to 74% in 1963 and 91% in 1964. Nevertheless, workers usually received salary adjustments that kept pace with the rising cost of living.

    All of this might have been tolerated by the upper middle class, military officers and the US government if Brazil's executive branch had been both more efficient and more willing to accept the status quo. However, Goulart began to demand for "basic reforms" such as agrarian reform, rewriting the labor codes, granting the vote to illiterates and controlling the expropriation of profits made by foreign companies in Brazil. Many people, both Brazilians and foreigners, feared that these proposals were the prelude to a left-wing dictatorship which would be friendly with the Soviet Union, if not Communist itself.

    Enlisted men and noncommissioned officers in Brazil's armed forces began to revolt against their superior officers. In September 1963, six hundred enlisted soldiers rebelled in Brasília. The President refused to condemn them. In March 1964, 2000 sailors made a mutiny. Goulart granted them an amnesty and accused their superior officers of lack of discipline.

    Many high-ranking officers, who had their patience worn thin by what they saw as Goulart's maladroit rabble-rousing, thought that was the last straw. On March 31, 1964, army troops marched from Minas Gerais toward Rio de Janeiro. The forces that were supposed to stop them joined them instead. Almost no one resisted against the revolt, and very little blood was shed. Democracy would not return to Brazil for another 21 years.

    The role of the United States government in the events of March 1964 is controversial and still disputed by historians. It has been asserted that Vernon Walters, military attaché to the US embassy in Brazil (who would become the US ambassador to the United Nations under the administration of Ronald Reagan) offered arms to generals who were contemplating a coup d'état. Walters himself denies this.

    Certainly, the US government felt relief at the premature transfer of power in Brazil. President Lyndon B. Johnson sent a telegram congratulating the new government even before Goulart went into exile. (Goulart would never return to Brazil alive: he died in Argentina in 1976, at the age of 58.) US Ambassador Lincoln Gordon stated that the "Brazilian Revolution" was "one of the major turning points in history, in the middle of the twentieth century." Brazilians who distrusted North American influence in their nation's affairs joked: "No more middlemen! Lincoln Gordon for President!"

    Of course, Lincoln Gordon did not become president of Brazil. He did not even have much clout with the man who actually became President in April 1964, Marshal Humberto Castello Branco. According to an article that Gordon wrote for São Paulo newspaper O Estado de São Paulo in 1994, the ambassador protested to Castello Branco about how politicians were being stripped of their mandates and civil rights "without trials and without proofs." Gordon was so horrified that he seriously thought of resigning. "I only desisted after making an internal assessment in which I decided that it would be better for US-Brazilian relations that I stay," he declared.

    A cardinal's involvment

    Gordon's successor as ambassador, Charles Burke Elbrick, would be kidnapped by guerrillas from the October 8 Revolutionary Movement (MR-8) in September 1969. After the military government agreed to release 15 political prisoners and fly them to sanctuary in Mexico, the kidnappers released Elbrick physically unharmed (although emotionally scarred by his ordeal).

    Torture has a long history in Brazil. During the colonial period, representatives of the Portuguese government tortured pro-independence leaders. After Brazil gained independence in 1822, rebels against the empire that had been established were also subjected to torture. And of course, until the abolition of slavery in 1888, millions of slaves lived constantly under the threat of severe punishment -- and even death -- if they attempted to revolt against their owners.

    After the coup of 1964, however, government representatives used torture more systematically on members of the political opposition. Various groups emerged to combat the regime, but seldom became strong enough -- or united enough -- to be effective. Nevertheless, their relatively mild terrorism was enough to scare the military hardliners into proclaiming the fifth of a series of Institutional Acts. AI-5, as it was called, gave the President dictatorial powers to defend "the necessary interests of the nation." The decree shut down Congress and the state legislatures, suspended the Constitution, abolished habeas corpus, authorized censorship of the Brazilian media (including non-Brazilian journalists working in Brazil for foreign newspapers, magazines and television networks), and allowed the President to take away the civil rights of anyone with only the vaguest pretexts.

    On the morning of January 20, 1971, Rubens Beirodt Paiva was preparing to go to the beach with his family. Just before the Paivas were ready to leave their home in the Rio de Janeiro neighborhood of Leblon, six armed men in civilian clothes invaded and searched the house. They refused to identify themselves. They forced Paiva, accompanied by two of the men, to drive his own car to DOI-CODI headquarters in Rio de Janeiro. Neither Paiva's wife Eunice nor their five teenage children ever saw Paiva again. Paiva, a congressman who had been stripped of his office after the coup of 1964, had been accused of sending letters to Brazilians in Chile.

    In the early '60s, Paulo Stuart Wright, a founder of the progressive student group AP (Popular Action), was a state legislator in Santa Catarina. Soon after the coup, Wright, the Brazilian-born son of Presbyterian missionaries from Arkansas, was stripped of his political office. He began to work in the underground resistance, organizing peasant cooperatives and rural networks.

    In September 1973, Wright was abducted and taken to the DOI-CODI headquarters in São Paulo. He was never seen again. His older brother Jaime, a Presbyterian minister who had also chosen to make his life in Brazil, tried to discover what happened to Paulo. Jaime searched for Paulo in military prisons and went to anybody who might have some information about Paulo's whereabouts. Jaime was shocked that other Protestant clergy were not willing to help. On the other hand, Jaime Wright could count on the support of the Catholic Archbishop of São Paulo, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, who took an interest in human-rights issues. In the following years, the two clerics' friendship led to a close working relationship. "As far as I know," Jaime Wright would tell Lawrence Weschler of the New Yorker in 1986, "I am the only Protestant minister who works inside the Catholic Church at the invitation of a cardinal."

    The collaboration between the pastor and the cardinal deepened in 1980. In that year, a secret grant from the World Council of Churches allowed them to set up a project in which lawyers would check out files from the archives of the military justice system. There were more than 700 records of trials of political prisoners during the military regime -- one million pages in all. It took three years to have the files photocopied, and another two years for journalists working in their spare time to summarize the files' contents. Since there was still a chance that the government would delay the transition to civilian rule, the 30-person team worked in the strictest secrecy.

    The result of these labors, Brasil: Nunca Mais (Brazil: Never Again) suddenly appeared in Brazilian bookstores in July 1985, four months after General João Baptista Figueiredo stepped down from the presidency. With a preface by Cardinal Arns, the book quickly sold over 200,000 copies and is still in print. (The average press run for a nonfiction book in Brazil is between three to five thousand copies.) An English translation, Torture in Brazil, was published in 1986. Jaime Wright, who had served as research coordinator for the journalists who wrote the book, translated it as well.

    Jaime discovered proof of his brother's death among the files, although no information about the whereabouts of Paulo Wright's body could be found. Not every member of the Wright family was convinced. Refusing to accept her uncle's disappearance, Paulo's niece Delora Wright wrote a book about him. At the end, she wrote: "I'd like to leave a post office box number for you to give some news about you. You know, we haven't calmed down, although we've tried."

    Deadly mistake

    It was the evening of January 17, 1976 in Vila Guarani, a neighborhood in the city of São Paulo. A thin man got out of a Dodge Dart and knocked at the door of Teresa Fiel. When she answered, the man gave her a trash bag full of men's clothing and a warning: "I'm from the Hospital das Clínicas. I've come to tell you that your husband killed himself. Here are his clothes. I think it's a good idea that nobody go to the coroner's office. If somebody has to go, it should only be male relatives. No woman should go to the coroner's office -- not even the widow. Otherwise, the body goes straight to the cemetery."

    The husband's name was Manuel Fiel Filho, a 49-year-old metalworker. He had a wife, two daughters and a small two-story house. He was suspected of belonging to the Communist Party and was tortured to death in the São Paulo headquarters of DOI-Codi. The official story was that Fiel Filho had hanged himself with his own socks. His imprisonment and death were the result of mistaken identity. DOI-Codi authorities had confused him with a Communist Party militant named Fiore who had once worked at the same factory as Fiel Filho.

    "I didn't know that there was torture in Brazil," Teresa Fiel told Brasília newspaper Correio Braziliense in 1995. "I knew that it was dangerous to say bad things about the government and that the Communists were dangerous people."

    The day after Fiel Filho's death, President Ernesto Geisel fired the commander of the Second Army, whose headquarters also housed the São Paulo headquarters of DOI-CODI. It was the beginning of the end for DOI-CODI.

    In 1980, Teresa Fiel won a lawsuit against the Brazilian government for its role in her husband's death. For 15 years, the government filed appeals to overturn this decision, but lost in June 1995. It must now pay Teresa Fiel $600 a month and a penalty of $265,000.

    Despite the money that it has taken Fiel Filho's widow so long to get, no amount of cash can compensate for his death. Even now, Teresa Fiel has recurring dreams in which she hears the last thing her husband told her before he was taken away by DOI-CODI agents: "Don't cry, darling. I'll be back soon."

    The new victims

    Eleven years after the end of military rule, illegal imprisonment, torture and disappearances continue to take place in Brazil. Most of today's victims are low-income blacks who live in favelas (shantytowns).

    In October 1995, Federal Police officers in the Northeastern state of Ceará arrested José Ivanildo Sampaio Souza, a 33-year-old candy maker and known gang member. Not only was he armed, but he also was carrying 70 grams of marijuana and hashish, as well as two papelotes of cocaine. The officers took Sampaio Souza to police headquarters in Fortaleza, the state capital. The next day, he was dead.

    His autopsy stated that Sampaio Souza had eight broken ribs and a broken sternum. "Death occurred by means of a bruising instrument," the report continued, "that caused acute abdominal hemorrhaging with traumatic lesions in the left kidney and liver."

    The police tortured Sampaio Souza to death because he refused to tell them the names of other gang members. "We'll go to the bottom of this and punish the culprits," Federal Police Chief Vicente Chelloti told Brazilian weekly newsmagazine Veja about the Sampaio Souza case. That may be an uphill battle.

    In police stations throughout Brazil, torture is the method of first choice to clarify crimes. Instead of the time-consuming and expensive path of investigations and proofs, police officers opt for the quick and easy way out. Some politicians say that torture is justifiable since criminals do not have human rights. If cops go too far while interrogating a suspect, that's one less thug to deal with.

    If the suspect does not die, police officers can get away with torture. There are three main reasons for this. First, Brazil's overburdened magistrates barely have time to judge homicides, much less arrange time to verify police abuses. For example, the Secretariat of Public Security in the state of Pernambuco made 400 inquiries in 1995 to investigate injuries made by police officers. Of these, one-fifth of the cases went to disciplinary hearings, and only 20 police officers were dismissed from their jobs. This 5% punishment rate means that Brazilian cops accused of torture have 19 chances out of 20 to get off scot-free.

    Another factor for the apparent dominance of torture today is because the police tortures more criminals than innocent people. And, among criminals, torture victims usually are petty thieves, not drug traffickers. Major players in the illegal narcotics trade could murder cops who would dare to torture another trafficker. The poorer the suspect, the easier it is to abuse him or her.

    If a police officer is convicted of torturing a suspect under custody, the maximum sentence is one year in jail. That is the same penalty given to people who get into barroom brawls. The punishment increases to five years only if the torture causes permanent injury to the victim or induces miscarriage in a pregnant woman. Psychological damage is not even considered as a factor. The Cardoso administration has attempted to make torture a felony punishable with prison terms of eight to 20 years. However, the proposal has been indefinitely shelved.

    Finally, torture continues to be prevalent in Brazil because many Brazilians turn a blind eye to it. As Veja expressed it in a 1995 article about torture in democratic Brazil, "torture exists in police stations because society wants it that way."

    According to the Defense Council for Human Rights (CDDPH), a division of Brazil's Justice Ministry, there have been over 200 disappearances since Brazil returned to democracy in 1985 -- more than the 152 reported disappearances throughout the military regime. The largest number of disappearances has occurred in the state of Rio de Janeiro. When Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Dia made a survey of police archives in 1995, it discovered that 162 people had disappeared under conditions which suggested the involvement of the police.

    Lacking police interest in the disappearances, relatives and friends of the disappeared, as well as lawyers and human-rights advocates, have investigated the cases on their own. They often receive death threats. Sometimes those threats come true.

    In July 1990, 11 teenagers -- eight boys and three girls -- from the Rio de Janeiro favela of Acari went to spend a weekend on a farm in Bagé, on the periphery of the Rio metropolitan area. The young people never returned. Their mothers got together to discover the circumstances of the disappearances and found evidence that the young people had been kidnapped and murdered by the police. Inspired by the example of the "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo" -- Argentine women whose children had disappeared between 1976 and 1983, when a military regime ruled that country -- the mothers of the disappeared of Acari began to march around the downtown Rio neighborhood of Cinelândia every Monday afternoon. In their hands, they held photos of their children. The women became known as the Mães de Acari (Mothers of Acari).

    Although the mothers gained national attention, their attempts to speak with police and government officials were in vain. "Didn't your son have enemies in drug trafficking?" a police officer asked one of the mothers.

    In March 1994, two of the mothers were invited to speak in France and Switzerland. When she invited them to lunch, French First Lady Danielle Mitterand was so shocked at what the mothers had to say about how Brazilian police officers could get away with murder that she donated $15,000 for the publication of a book about the mothers' efforts to find the truth. That book, Mães de Acari -- uma história de luta contra a impunidade (Mothers of Acari -- A Story of Struggle Against Impunity) by journalist Carlos Nobre, was published in 1994, with a preface by Danielle Mitterand.

    Before this success, the mothers had met with another tragedy. In 1993, one of the mothers, Edméia da Silva Euzébio, was murdered in front of a prison. A similar case, not connected to the disappearances of the Acari teenagers, happened in October 1995. While investigating the disappearance of a friend, Adilson Cobra Secco, in the Rio favela of Parada de Lucas, Régina Célia Vieira also vanished under suspicious circumstances.

    Cases like these are responsible for an average of 140 letters a day sent to Brazilian authorities by people living abroad. All of them ask the government to clarify why the disappearances occurred and to bring those responsible to justice.

    In Brasília, Humberto Spinola, coordinator of the CDDPH, has proclaimed that it is "the government's determination to put an end to this situation." However, neither he nor any other government officials have concrete proposals to deal with the current wave of disappearances.

    Lawyer Cristina Leonardo, of the Brazilian Center of the Defense of Children's and Adolescent's Rights, says that the fact that police officers are not arrested and punished for the crimes they are accused of proves that the poor are not given the rights that Brazil's constitution guarantees them. "How many of these cases of police violence were punished?" she asked São Paulo newspaper Folha de São Paulo in 1995. "None."

The back story

    For many historians, the coup of 1964 began to take shape when Jânio Quadros resigned from the presidency in August 1961. Others believe that the military had thought of assuming control since the suicide of President Getúlio Vargas in August 1954. What is certain is that, even in the '50s, elements in Brazil's armed forces were trying to take power away from democratically elected civilian presidents.

  • February 19, 1956 -- Air Force officers revolt in Jacareacanga, Pará, in an attempt to overthrow President Juscelino Kubitschek. The rebellion is suppressed and the officers receive amnesties.
  • December 3, 1959 -- Another military uprising occurs in Aragarças, Goiás. Kubitschek again subdues the rebellion and amnesties the rebels.
  • January 31, 1961 -- Jânio Quadros is inaugurated President and tries to transcend political parties. He soon adopts an austere economic program, with credit restrictions and a freeze on workers' salaries. He also prohibits wearing bikinis at the beach and cockfights.
  • August 25, 1961 -- After seven months, Quadros resigns from the Presidency. In a letter to Congress, Quadros says that he was under pressure from "terrible forces." Carlos Lacerda, governor of Guanabara state (Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area), had accused Quadros of plotting to become a dictator.
  • August 25, 1961 -- House Speaker Ranieri Mazzilli becomes interim President. Vice-President João Goulart had been on a state visit to China.
  • September 7, 1961 -- After political manipulations, Goulart is inaugurated President under a hastily-manufactured parliamentary system. Tancredo Neves (who would be elected President in 1985, but become fatally ill on the eve of his inauguration) is elected Prime Minister by Congress. Goulart begins to face a wave of strikes in Brazil and receives full presidential powers in January 1963, after a plebiscite that ends the parliamentary experiment.
  • March 13, 1964 -- Goulart takes measures that displease business executives and military officers. During a rally in Rio de Janeiro, he signs a decree that nationalizes privately-held petroleum refineries. He is accused of being partial to Communism.
  • March 29, 1964 -- In Minas Gerais, Generals Olympio Mourão Filho, Carlos Luís Guedes and Odílio Denys put the final touches on a plot to depose Goulart.
  • March 31, 1964 -- Troops advance toward Rio de Janeiro and Brasília. Goulart, without military support, travels to his home state of Rio Grande do Sul and afterwards decides to go into exile in Uruguay.
  • April 15, 1964 -- Marshal Humberto Castello Branco becomes President. He bans strikes, closes civilian associations, revokes the mandates and civil rights of politicians and intervenes in trade unions. Generals continue in power until 1985.

The generals in charge

    Presidents of Brazil, 1964-1985
    Humberto Castello Branco -- 1964-1967
    Arthur da Costa e Silva -- 1967-1969
    Emílio Garrastazú Médici -- 1969-1974
    Ernesto Geisel -- 1974-1979
    João Baptista Figueiredo -- 1979-1985

Grading the presidents

    In 1994, Congressman Roberto Campos (PDS -- RJ) evaluated for O Estado de São Paulo newspaper the administrations of the generals who ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985.

    For the Castello Branco administration (in which Campos was Minister of Planning) Campos gave the highest grade: 9 out a possible 10. Why? According to Campos, Castello Branco "planned everything very well, although it might not have been accomplished yet." As for the government of Costa e Silva, which had a "short duration and was weak," the congressman gave it only a 3.

    The Médici regime, which Campos sees as having been "repressive, but who presided during a period of great prosperity," got a 7. For that of Geisel, whom Campos perceives as "serious," a 5. "Marked by a period of political exhaustion," the Figueiredo government, like that of Costa e Silva, received a below-average grade from Campos: 4.

Brazil was not alone

    For years, military interventions were routine throughout the Third World. A political crisis would suffice to make the tanks roll out onto the streets. For example, Bolivia endured seven coups between 1956 and 1983. In the '80s, Guatemala came to such a point that there were no more civilians to remove from the government. Generals -- and even lower-ranking officers -- did coups on their own colleagues. The same thing happened in Honduras. That country was under dictatorships for 39 years.

    From 1960 until the mid-'80s, most Latin American countries were in the hands of generals. During its years under military rule, Brazil experienced economic growth and political restrictions -- prison, exile, torture, censorship. Argentina went to war with England over the Falkland Islands -- and was soundly defeated. In Chile, in 1973, the civilian president Salvador Allende died while tanks bombed the presidential palace in which Allende was making his last stand. The new president, General Augusto Pinochet, remained in power until a civilian was elected in 1989.

    In wealthy democratic nations such as the US, Latin American dictators are a familiar comic stereotype, along with bearded guerrillas and Mexicans taking siestas under gigantic sombreros. The Woody Allen film Bananas (1971) depicts an imaginary Latin American country where dictators depose each other. When he takes over, the new leader announces radical changes for the country: wearing undershorts over trousers and the adoption of Swedish as the official language.

    The "Years of Lead" -- a term that became popular after Argentine writer Alberto Daneri used it for the title of a short story about the effects of dictatorship on an ordinary person -- seem to be over. However, it is possible that if there is a major economic decline or a significant threat to the political hegemony of the US, the ghosts of regimes past will leave the barracks and take to the streets.

Torturers' acronyms

    Oban -- Operation Bandeirantes Cenimar -- Navy Information Center
    CIE -- Army Information Center
    Cisa -- Air Force Information and Security Center
    DOI-CODI -- Information Operations Department -- Center for Internal Defense Operations
    DOPS -- Department for Political and Social Order
    DEOPS -- State Department for Political and Social Order

The government's crimes

    152 persons disappeared
    2000 persons tortured
    352 persons killed
    4500 persons deprived of their civil rights
    10,000 persons exiled
    50,000 persons detained in the first months after the Movement of 1964
    2828 persons sentenced to prison by Military Justice
    452 trade unions purged in 1964

The guerrillas

    PC do B -- Communist Party of Brazil
    PCBR -- Revolutionary Brazilian Communist Party
    PCB -- Brazilian Communist Party (did not take up arms)
    ALN -- National Action for Liberation
    AP -- Popular Action
    Molipo -- Movement for Popular Liberation
    MR-8 -- October 8 Revolutionary Movement
    POC -- Communist Workers' Party
    VPR -- Popular Revolutionary Vanguard
    VAR-Palmares -- Armed Revolutionary Vanguard -- Palmares

Crimes of the guerrillas

    134 persons killed
    CIA agent Charles Chandler and São Paulo industrialist Henning Albert Bollesen were executed
    A car bomb targeted the Second Army headquarters in São Paulo
    4 diplomats kidnapped
    100 banks and stores robbed

What the families want

  • Two more cases of disappeared persons put on the official government list, as well as the names of 13 Brazilian militants who disappeared outside Brazil and another three who are only known by their pseudonyms. The list would then increase to 156 cases of desaparecidos.
  • An additional 217 names of persons who have been officially acknowledged to have been killed by the military regime. Their survivors would then have the right to the same compensation given to the families of desaparecidos.
  • Inquiries into the circumstances of the deaths and the names of those involved. This information would then be on the official list of those who were killed or disappeared during the military regime.
  • The group Tortura Nunca Mais has proposed that the government commit itself to denying high-ranking civil service positions to persons involved in crimes during the military regime.

What the government is offering

  • The government has declared legally dead 136 persons who were accused of political activities between 1964 and 1979 and then disappeared.
  • The families of the desaparecidos listed by the Justice Ministry will receive a death certificate and an optional government compensation of R$100,000 to R$150,000, depending on the age of the person when he or she disappeared.
  • A five-person commission, with one member connected to human-rights groups and another to the Congressional Human Rights Committee, will try to locate the remains of the desaparecidos.
  • The compensations will begin to be paid in 1996.

The "suicide" list

    Below is a list of leftists who were officially declared to have committed suicide in prison. Out of 22 reported suicides among political prisoners during Brazil's military regime, human-rights groups have proven that 13 of these prisoners had been tortured just before their deaths. All 13 had marks of torture on their bodies.

    1. Astrogildo Viana
    2. Carlos Schimer
    3. Milton de Castro
    4. João Lucas Alves
    5. Reinaldo Pimenta
    6. Roberto Cieto
    7. Severino Colon
    8. Avelmar de Barros
    9. Olavo Hansen
    10. José Gomes Teixeira
    11. Pedro Gerônimo de Souza
    12. Vladimir Herzog
    13. Manuel Fiel Filho

Methods of torture

  • As was the rule during the military regime, the police do not use special rooms or sophisticated equipment to torture prisoners. Anything goes when it comes to disrespecting human rights to obtain information. Besides kicks, blows and slapping, here is a list of the most used methods in Brazilian police stations:
  • Parrot's perch -- An iron bar is wedged behind the victim's knees. His or her wrists are tied to the bar. The bar is then placed between two tables, which causes the victim to hang eight to 12 inches above the floor. The victim's position is reminiscent of a roast chicken on a spit. This method leaves no marks. However, it causes severe pain, nausea and breathing difficulties. It is frequently used in combination with beatings and electric shock. Since four consecutive hours on the parrot's perch is enough to kill a person, torturers usually stop the punishment after an hour or two, only to resume it later.
  • Electric shock -- Torturers take wires which are connected to electric plugs or car batteries and put the wires on the victim's body. To increase the effect, water is thrown on the victim and the wires are put on sensitive spots of his or her body, such as the genitals or the eyes. It is also common to place the wires underneath fingernails and toenails, or in the back near the kidneys. Electric shock causes tremors, weeping and urinary incontinence. The nervous system will go to pieces. Electric shock is deadly when used to excess.
  • Telephone -- The torturer goes behind the victim. When the victim does not expect it, the torturer slaps both of the victim's ears simultaneously. The immediate effects are disorientation and sharp pains. If the telephone is repeated three times with great force, it can shatter the victim's eardrums and cause permanent deafness.
  • Drowning -- This can be done with small rubber tubes in the mouth and nostrils, or even with a bucket of water in which to submerge the victim's head. At first, it lasts only a few seconds and the victim is taken out. Afterwards, the torturer increases the time that the victim spends underwater, while the periods between the submersions lessen. The victim's nausea causes him or her to vomit or faint. A related method of torture is to place a plastic bag over the victim's head. This impedes the circulation of oxygen and, if the bag is not taken off in time, can suffocate the victim to death.
  • Psychological torture -- This is used as a reinforcement for other methods. Before the victim is tortured, he or she is often forced to undress. During the torture session, the torturers take advantage of the victim's nudity to make fun of his or her physical characteristics or defects. Women and girls are often raped and otherwise sexually assaulted while under torture. When the victim cries, urinates or defecates against his or her will -- common reactions under torture -- the torturers make jokes about it. It is also common for torturers to say that the victim's family and friends will also be tortured if the victim does not confess. During the military regime, children and other obviously innocent people would be subjected to torture in front of their loved ones who had been arrested for political crimes.

All agitators

    These profiles are taken from the archives of the São Paulo state Department for Political and Social Order (DOPS-SP) during the 1970s, when Brazil's military regime viewed thousands of Brazilian citizens as security risks.

    Fernando Henrique Cardoso:

    "He is an element of the left. He was the treasurer of the Paulista Center for the Study and Defense of Petroleum. A professor at the University of São Paulo, he approved the student movement and translated Marxist texts. He made slanderous propaganda against the Brazilian government abroad."

      Cardoso is now President of Brazil

    José Serra:

    "One of the heads of the intended Communist revolution. He has been a great agitator and troublemaker since the time he was the president of the state Students' Union. A skillful indoctrinator of Marxist ideology, he dictated norms of conduct for all the student organizations."

      Serra is now Minister of Planning

    Francisco Weffort:

    "A leftist intellectual very influential in student organizations. He belongs to the group of University of São Paulo professors composed of subversive and suspect elements. He helped to found the leftist entity Cebrap [Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning Studies] and writes for subversive newspapers."

      Weffort is now Minister of Culture

    Sérgio Motta:

    "On March 8, 1965, he was caught at a secret meeting of Popular Action by DOPS-SP investigators. Intelligent and persuasive, he slandered the Castello Branco government at a student symposium in the US in 1966, saying that Brazil was under a dictatorship."

      Motta is now Minister of Communications

    Pérsio Arida:

    "He enticed several colleagues from the Instituto de Aplicação into the terrorist group VAR-Palmares. He accomplished several propaganda activities for the armed struggle. He led indoctrination meetings and meetings where terrorist activities were being planned."

      Arida is now president of the Banco Central

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