Praised as one of the most influential leaders of the world, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is starting the new year with a serious political crisis: the Minister of Defense, Nelson Jobim, and the commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force have threatened to resign over the creation of a “truth commission” to investigate human rights abuses during the military dictatorship that extended from 1964 to 1985.
According to the leading dailies O Globo and O Estado de S. Paulo the resignations were presented on December 22, a day after Lula unveiled the “truth commission” bill, but were rejected. The Brazilian leader promised Jobim – a distinguished jurist – to review the text before sending it to congressional debate.
The creation of the National Commission on the Truth is part of Brazil’s Human Rights National Program launched by Lula to help identify those responsible for the alleged torturing of 20.000 people and the killing of 400 political opponents during the 21-year military dictatorship.
The text of the bill was drafted by Human Rights minister Paulo Vannuchi who said the purpose was “to rescue information of all that happened during the long period of dictatorial repression in recent Brazilian history.”
Vannuchi said there is a possibility of taking to court those responsible for human rights abuses if the Supreme Federal Tribunal accepts the Lula administration argument that those responsible for this kind of crimes are not protected under the Amnesty law dating back to 1979, approved under the last president of the military regime, General João Figueiredo.
For this reason the proposal includes a reference to the possibility of annulling “legislation remnant from the 1964/1985 period which is contrary to human rights guarantees.”
But in spite of long extenuating and sometimes tense negotiations with the military, the final text triggered indignation and was catalogued as “revengeful” since it did not include in the investigations members of the left wing armed groups that also committed human rights abuses against members of the regime.
“If they want to see generals and colonels in the dock, let’s also include Dilma (Rousseff) and Franklin Martins,” said a retired general quoted by O Estado. Martins is head of the presidential press office and Ms Rousseff cabinet chief and Lula da Silva’s chosen hopeful to succeed him as presidential candidate for October’s election. Both of them belonged to left wing armed groups under the military dictatorship.
According to O Estado de S. Paulo, on not accepting the resignations of Minister Jobim and the commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force, Lula da Silva promised a “political” solution to the dispute and asked the Defense minister to ensure the military that his administration would not be the “spokesperson of measures that revoke the Amnesty Law of 1979.”
Apparently Lula’s promise helped to cool tempers but did not dissipate the disappointment among the top brass. “That’s how Lula acts: he pushes the issue and kicks the crisis forward but we never manage to be freed from this menacing atmosphere,” said a brigadier quoted by the press.
The presidential office, the Planalto, did not comment the reports of a possible military crisis but minister Vannuchi admitted “discrepancies” with his Defense peer. However he said he ignored about the resignations requests.
“I was with President Lula on December 23 and he mentioned no word about the issue,” said Vannuchi who added that there’s “no atmosphere” for a collective resignation of the Armed Forces commanders: “It like talking about thunder in a clear sunny day; it sounds as a storm in a glass of water.”
Groups representing those killed or missing are also dissatisfied and concerned the commission may be used to draw a line under the past rather than open the way for trials of former soldiers, as have occurred in neighboring Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.
They noted that a draft version of the proposal had called the new body, which has to be approved by the Brazilian Congress, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission rather than a Truth and Justice Commission.
Brazil has never convicted anyone for participating in dictatorship-era murders and torture and has refused to make public the military’s archives from the period.
The victims’ groups insist the truth commission must have the power to investigate crimes, including the hiding or destroying of archives, to recommend criminal cases against suspects, and to send documents to courts.