Brazil Marks the 50th Anniversary of the Coup

Posted by Rebecca J. Atencio

In Brazil, April 1st–or April Fool’s Day–is known as the Day of Lies (Dia da Mentira). Tomorrow, the day will have special resonance: it will mark 50 years since a group of leaders within the Brazilian military deposed the democratically constituted government of João (Jango) Goulart. The new regime quickly moved to brand its seizure of power not as  coup, but as the “March 31st Revolution.” And so, the Brazilian military dictatorship was borne of a lie, precisely on the Dia da Mentira.

For at least the past month, countless entities–the Brazilian Amnesty Commission, state and other truth commissions, human rights and other activist groups, artists and cultural producers–have been marking the fiftieth anniversary of the coup in a variety of ways.

Here are some of the highlights (updated on April 1st and 2nd):

  • The Brazilian Bar Association is preparing to bring a fresh challenge of the Amnesty Law to the Brazilian Supreme Court. Moreover, Roberto Caldas, a Brazilian who serves as a judge in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, predicts that the “the future holds a new analysis of the Amnesty Law by the Brazilian Supreme Court.”
  • The National Truth Commission announced that Defense Minister Celso Amorim has agreed to form “inquiry units” within the armed forces to investigate the use of military buildings and other sites believed to have been used as torture centers.
  • My colleague Idelber Avelar sets the record straight about what really happened during the special session in Congress devoted to marking the 50th anniversary of the coup. Media outlets reported that right-wing politician and regime apologist Jair Bolsonaro was “prevented” from speaking in favor of the military regime. That’s not exactly what happened. When Bolsonaro rose to speak, most of those present turned their backs to him. He could have continued speaking, as Idelber points out. Instead, the president of the Chamber of Deputies “in a bizarre interpretation of procedure” abruptly terminated the session.
  • President Dilma Rousseff made a statement today affirming the importance of preserving the memory of the coup that occurred fifty years ago. She is also reported to have shed tears at a ceremony at Galeão airport, where she recalled the return of exiles.
  • Important articles: Vladimir Safatle makes the case that the dictatorship won; Samuel Rodrigues Barbosa responds with an argument to the contrary (here’s another article that argues that the dictatorship lost, but not much). Renan Quinalha asking the lingering question: Where are the disappeared?. And a beautiful text by writer Luiz Ruffato.
  • Interviews: The Folha de São Paulo printed a never-before-published 1967 interview in which  president João Goulart, exiled in Uruguay at the time, reflected upon the 1964 military that deposed him. The interview was conducted by US historian John W. Foster Dulles of UT-Austin but never published or cited. In a much more recent interview, Tarso Genro reflects on Brazil’s imperfect transition to democracy.
  • A flurry of other newspaper articles and blog posts. For coverage in English see, for example, this article in the BBC, this article in the Washington Post (thanks Jo-Marie Burt!), and this article here. Portuguese-language articles cover a range of topics, from polls showing that most Brazilians want to see the Amnesty Law overturned to various opinion pieces (see here, here, here, and here). See here for an image-rich slideshow overview of the dictatorship. There’s even a history of the dictatorship in cartoon form. And finally, there is coverage of counterdemonstrations in defense of the coup.
  • The Brazilian Amnesty Commission has sponsored a range of events. Over the past days and weeks it has held Amnesty Caravans, including one connected with a conference in Recife. Among other activities, it inaugurated the Never Again Memorial in Rio de Janeiro (see below) and launched a filmNossas Histórias, on Facebook as well as on Radiotube and Youtube (no links available at the moment). On a related note, O Globo published today a report on the Amnesty Commission, citing 40,300 claims approved by the commission for a total of 3.4 billion Brazilian reais.
  • In a gesture rife with symbolism, the Never Again Memorial (Monumento ao Nunca Mais) will be inaugurated tomorrow (April 1st) in Cinelândia–right in front of the Clube Militar (Military Club), the epicenter of apologism for the military dictatorship.

  • The youth movement Levante Popular da Juventude (Popular Youth Uprising) named and shamed Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra and Aparecido Laertes Calandra with escraches or esculachos, public spectacles that “out” accused dictatorship-era human rights violators (0ther escraches took place elsewhere in the country such as this one in Rio Grande do Sul).  The group also announced a campaign called “Erase the Dictator at Your School” to demand the rechristening of schools named after leaders of the military regime.
  • When a Law professor at the University of São Paulo made a speech in defense of the military regime in class, students protested by standing up and singing Zé Keti’s “Opinião,” a 1970 song associated with resistance to the dictatorship that begins “They can arrest me / They can beat me / They can even starve me / I won’t change my opinion” (Podem me prender / Podem me bater / Podem até deixar-me sem comer / Que eu não mudo de opinião). A video of the episode was posted on Youtube.

Of course, this list is necessarily partial and incomplete. Feel free to suggest additions in the comment box.

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