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Brazil’s Conspiracy of Silence Breeds Slavery, Poverty and Torture

Brazil's movement Torture Never Again

There is no such thing as silenced truth. When covered over by silence, the
truth is a lie. Brazil is a country of silenced truths, a country that turns its
back on its history.

Even today we do not know everything that happened 150 years ago during the war against Paraguay, also known as the War of the Triple Alliance. The official documents are hidden under the mantle of a secret seal.


As a 21st-century Brazilian, I bear no blame for crimes committed by 19th-century Brazilians. But the silence of the present-day generations makes us accomplices to the crimes of the past.


As long as there is no complete exposure of everything about the war in Paraguay, we Brazilians are contaminated. Because this is what hidden history does over time: it contaminates.


Our present-day military likewise bears no responsibility for crimes committed 30 or 40 years ago. As long as they do not accept clarification and disclosure of the historical facts, however, the Armed Forces continue to be contaminated with a previous generation’s guilt. The 21st-century left also remains tainted by possible crimes that have not yet been exposed to the light of truth.


The option for “silenced truth” is contaminating the entire social fabric. The silence about the truth is becoming one of the causes of the lack of political principles and a vector for corruption, including the corruption of keeping silent.


Politics has remained averse to history. Nowadays politicians are more concerned with power for its own sake than with their name on a future street sign. This justifies the Congress’s secret judgment of senators and deputies accused of ethical lapses.


The intellectuals are opting for a reverential silence about the errors of their political allies. Since they disdain what history will or will not say about them, they remain closed-mouthed about the mistakes of the officeholders they support. The very guardians of history are kidnapping history.


Some are not criticizing the decree signed by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso prolonging the terms of the secret seal of the historical facts. Others do not criticize Lula’s government for its inaction in changing this part of the “conspiracy of silence,” as Miriam Leitão called it in her January 2nd column in O Globo.


It is this conspiracy that caused us to live with slavery for 400 years. And to try to extinguish the crime that it represented: the slavery documents were burned to impede the slave owners from asking for compensation, thus granting them amnesty for their wrongs.


The “conspiracy of silence” is ancient. And it also accounts for our unembarrassed tolerance of Brazil’s income concentration, misery, and lack of education. All these problems go unspoken or are merely whispered about. All are tolerated, nevertheless, with no judgment of those historically to blame.


This conspiracy makes it acceptable to allow the torturers to go unpunished and the tortured, uncompensated. Those who have refused to make this trade-off will probably go without money, without justice against their oppressors, without a street named in their honor in a country where history is hidden beneath the secret seal or under forgetfulness.


Without an open history – made by politicians committed to history and studied by historians with access to the complete truth – the sense of nationhood and its historical perspective will not emerge. The not-nation country will merely remain a network of persons and their associations, imprisoned in the present.


Truth is the basis of history; history is the basis of serious politics. Therefore, the purpose here is not to judge those who received amnesty through the 1979 Amnesty Law; it is to save the honor of the Armed Forces of Brazil and of the parties who carried on the armed struggle.


It is to bring the pure air of truth to national life, to instruct the young people and future generations and to raise their consciousness. In order for politics to make a commitment to history, everything should be made public. The crimes of Operation Condor as well as all other crimes committed during the leaden years must be made known.


Let us take advantage of the fact that an Italian judge wants to clarify what happened to two of his compatriots. Let us break with the “conspiracy of silence” by clarifying everything that happened to our compatriots and to the foreigners who suffered violence here.


Let us liberate the historical truth, without which the democratic truth is a farce.


Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his new website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at cristovam@senador.gov.br.


Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.

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