Elections Update: Speculations on the Future of Transitional Justice

Posted by Hilary Marie Johnson (with contributions by Rebecca Atencio)

The first round of elections, held on October 5th, showed current president Dilma Rousseff secure 41.4% of the vote and opponent Aécio Neves 33.7%, removing third contender Marina Silva. Rousseff’s inability to clench a majority will result in a second round of elections on October 26th. With Silva’s recent endorsement of Neves upon accepting her defeat and his recent momentum in the polls, an already very tight race could potentially become even tighter. While the campaigns have focused primarily on high inflation, recession, and corruption, it is curious to ponder what the election results could ultimately mean in regards to the process of transitional justice in Brazil.

Dilma rose to national prominence while serving the administration of Luiz Inácio (Lula) da Silva. One of the few high-ranking officials in the Lula administration not plagued by corruption scandals, Dilma was handpicked by the Lula himself to run for president on the Worker’s Party ticket. Rousseff’s candidacy for president in 2010 prompted the expected prodding into her involvement in opposition to and eventual imprisonment and torture by the military dictatorship, yet she mostly refrained from speaking in detail about those experiences during her campaign. Nevertheless, her inaugural presidential speech touched upon her dictatorship days, and were followed by pieces of legislation which aimed to broaden access to military-era documents. She signed the National Truth Commission into law on November 2011 by Congress and inaugurated the body the following May. In an emotional speech on the latter occasion, she proclaimed that “Brazil deserves the truth, new generations deserve the truth, and–above all–those who lost friends and relatives and who continue to suffer as if they were dying again each day deserve the truth.”

Aécio Neves, candidate of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, was appointed by former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. One might expect that Aécio, as grandson of Tancredo Neves, who led the opposition to the military regime and was elected the first civilian president in thirty years (although he died before taking office), would be an advocate for the kind of memory, truth, and justice regarding the dictatorship period demanded by victims, families, and human rights groups.  Yet everything indicates that an Aécio presidency would be a step backward for transitional justice in Brazil. For instance, at an event last year, he referred to the coup d’état of 1964 as a “revolution,” employing the term regime apologists use to downplay the human rights crimes of the military dictatorship (when pressed on his choice of words, Neves attempted to justify himself by claiming that revolution and dictatorship were essentially synonyms). More recently, the Clube Militar (Military Club, a stronghold of regime apologists) has declared its support for Neves in the second wave of elections. While Neves has not formally commented on the implications of this endorsement, it certainly complicates his relationship with the military dictatorship.

It is difficult to predict how the outcome of the election will impact Brazil’s transitional justice process. Reckoning with the dictatorship has not been a major campaign issue, neither candidate has proposed new transitional justice policies as part of their platform. Moreover, the National Truth Commission is set to conclude its work and release its final report on December 16, well before the presidential sash could potentially change hands. Of course, the execution of any recommendations put forth in the final report would be up to whichever candidate takes office in 2015. It is safe to assume, however, that Dilma is much more likely to move forward on those recommendations than her rival. Yet even a Worker’s Party victory does not guarantee that transitional justice policy will remain unchanged, since Dilma will likely shake up her administration with new appointments.


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