Caravanas da Anistia (Amnesty Caravans): Traveling Hearings of Reparation and Apology by the Brazilian Amnesty Commission

Posted by Rebecca J. Atencio

What exactly are the Amnesty Caravans (Caravanas da Anistia) sponsored by the Brazilian Amnesty Commission?

The Brazilian Amnesty Commission (Comissão da Anistia) was created in 2001 in order to receive claims for reparations from citizens who suffered physically, economically, or otherwise during the military dictatorship. Unlike its predecessor, the Special Commission of the Political Dead and Disappeared, which required the families of victims to present proof to back up their claims, the Amnesty Commission has the power to investigate claims (requerimentos) in government archives and databases. For the first six years of its existence, the Amnesty Commission’s deliberations, albeit public, were held in the building of the Ministry of Justice in Brasília. In 2007, however, its president, Paulo Abrão, in an effort to increase the visibility and impact of the commission’s work, decided to take the Amnesty Commission on the road in order to hold hearings all over the country (in universities and other locations) in what became known as Amnesty Caravans. With this new mobility, the commission undertook an additional task: issuing official apologies to those affected by the repression. Recipients of apologies and/or reparations are officially declared anistiados políticos, recipients of political amnesty; their suffering—and resistance against the authoritarian regime, in many cases—thus receives institutional recognition from the Brazilian State.

All caravans follow a similar structure: after President Abrão declares the caravan open, a short video on the history of the dictatorship is shown, followed by a ceremony recognizing new anistiados whose cases have already been evaluated and approved by the commission and, finally, an open meeting in which the commission members (conselheiros) deliberate open cases. The review (apreciação) consists of several steps. First, a commissioner who has been assigned the case in question reads his or her report of what happened to the claimant (including what corroborating documentation has been found) and makes a recommendation regarding a ruling on the case (whether or not to award the status of anistiado político and/or economic reparations). Second, the claimant (requerente) has an opportunity to address the commission. This is an opportunity for the potential anistiado to correct any errors in the report or falsifications in documents culled from the military and police archives. Third, president Abrão solicits discussion from the other commissioners. Fourth, the commission votes. Fifth, and finally, president Abrão addresses the victim (or any surviving family members, in the case of post-humous claims) to confer the status of anistiado político and to issue a formal apology on behalf of the Brazilian state.

Most recently, on March 10, 2014 the Brazilian Amnesty Commission held its 78th Amnesty Caravan (in conjunction with a conference on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1964 military coup) at the Catholic University (UNICAMP) in Recife, Pernambuco. In a packed auditorium of some 300 witnesses, many of them UNICAP students, youth activists, or members of rights and social justice groups, the commission honored a number of new local anistiados políticos, including governor Miguel Arraes (deposed on April 1, 1964). It also evaluated and approved claims for five Pernambucans: José Jonas Albuquerque de Barros and Ivan da Rocha Aguiar (students, age 17 and 20 respectively) killed while marching in support of governor Arraes on April 1, 1964, as well three members of the Arraes family.

Commissioners (conselheiros) of the Amnesty Commission

Commissioners (conselheiros) of the Amnesty Commission

President Paulo Abrão (seated) and vice-president Sueli Bellato

President Paulo Abrão (seated)

Anistiados políticos (recipients of political amnesty) with certificates and red roses

Anistiados políticos (recipients of political amnesty) with certificates and red roses

A work of "literatura de cordel" (popular folk poetry booklet) about Dom Helder Câmara, one of those honored in the 78th Amnesty Caravan (Recife, March 10, 2014)

A work of “literatura de cordel” (popular folk poetry booklet) about Dom Helder Câmara, one of those honored in the 78th Amnesty Caravan (Recife, March 10, 2014)

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