Posted by Rebecca Atencio
The Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States has opened an official inquiry into why Brazil has not investigated or punished those responsible for the murder of journalist Vladimir Herzog. In October 1975, Herzog–a journalist for TV Cultura–voluntarily appeared at the DOI-CODI headquarters in São Paulo after having been summoned for questioning. Soon after, officials announced that he had hanged himself; they also released photos of the scene and a suicide note supposedly by Herzog. The case was particularly embarrassing for the military government, which had initiated a “slow, gradual, and secure” liberalization process, or distensão, under President Ernesto Geisel.
Herzog’s death had profound repercussions. The murder–and the government’s transparent attempt to cover it up–provoked widespread indignation in the Brazilian public. A ecumenical ceremony held for Herzog in the Sé Cathedral in downtown São Paulo drew thousands of mourners–despite police attempts to block access–is widely recognized as a turning point in the opposition to the dictatorship and the pro-amnesty campaign in particular. Moreover, Herzog’s widow Clarice went to court to challenge the official cause of death as suicide. In October 1978, a judge ruled that Herzog had been murdered and that the Brazilian State was responsible. It was the first time that the State officially recognized responsibility for a political death.