By Nina Schneider
Nina Schneider is a Marie Curie fellow at the University of Konstanz, Germany and author of Brazilian Propaganda: Legitimizing a Regime (Florida UP, 2014) and several articles on reckoning with dictatorship in Brazil. For a recent interview she gave on the National Truth Commission (in Portuguese), see here.
The official release of the National Truth Commission’s Report—the handover to President Dilma Rousseff—took place at 9 o’clock in the morning in the Pálacio do Planalto. The ceremony consisted of a select group of fifty invited guests (this was a last minute change, since initially the President had decided the presentation of the final report would occur in a closed ceremony).The small room was crowded by family members of the killed and disappeared, members of selected local commissions, deputies, and journalists. The release of the report was timed to coincide with International Human Rights Day.
The ceremony opened with those present rising to sing the national anthem. The first speaker was the commission of the National Truth Commission (Comissão Nacional da Verdade, henceforth CNV), Pedro Dallari, a lawyer. In what may be described a very formal talk, he declared that the commission had fulfilled the tasks mandated by law (a statement that he repeated throughout the talk), and briefly explained the structure of the report (which is divided into 3 volumes). He acknowledged the material used by previous commissions including the Commission of the Killed and Disappeared (CEMDP), the Amnesty Commission, foreign advisers, and the local commissions. “This is just the beginning,” Dallari stated, “research is not over by releasing this report.” He made it very clear that the CNV only had two and a half-years time and that there is much more research to be done. In a highly diplomatic gesture, Dallari assured the audience and the press that the Defense Ministry—especially Defense Minister Celso Amorim, who was also sitting at the front table—supported the commission. Yet he also stated clearly that the working conditions of the CNV were “very difficult”, alluding to the lack of support of the three branches of the armed forces, who failed to deliver military documentation, namely files helping to clarify the whereabouts of the bodies of the disappeared in the Araguaia massacre. Dallari also emphasized the support of President Dilma, and the independence of the CNV.
Dallari’s remarks were followed by those of President Dilma Rousseff, whose statements closely resembled her speech during the inauguration ceremony of the commission in May 2012. Addressing the antagonists of the commission, particularly the armed forces, she emphasized that the commission’s aim was “national reconciliation”, that she “acknowledges and preserves political pacts” (alluding to the Amnesty Law), and she several times repeated the statement: “We believe in truth.” The climax of the speech, however, was when she acknowledged the suffering of the families and victims. She paused and tears welled up in her eyes. The audience reacted promptly—everyone stood up and applauded. The clapping went on for a while, when the President resumed her speech with a firm voice. She congratulated the commission, those persons involved in planning it (Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro and Paulo Vannuchi), and closed her remarks with the Human Rights motto “Never again!”
Pedro Dallari then handed over the report to the President, and the ceremony was officially concluded (lasting overall approximately 45 minutes). At the end, a group of students launched a protest in the ceremony room. One speaker read a text about freedon and repeated the stanza “It is necessary to be free of fear.” The students brandished a banner and demanded punishment for the state agents involved in human rights crimes. Several members of the audience applauded the call for punishment.
Right after the official delivery of the report to President Dilma, the members of the truth commission gave a press conference in an adjoining room. Most questions revolved around the polemic question of punishment and the Amnesty Law. During the interview, the tension between individual members of the commission—an ongoing problem over the last two years—became apparent. While Rosa Cardoso clearly argued that the Amnesty Law does not apply for torturers, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro disagreed, stating, “It is not our job to reinterpret the President.” José Gregori argued that the Amnesty Law does not need to be revoked but just reinterpreted. When a journalist asked what was the greatest difficulty for the commission, Pedro Dallari pointed to the lack of documents from the armed forces and the frustration felt, as a consequence, of not having clarified the circumstances of death and bodies of the disappeared.
After the interview, the commissioners proceeded to the headquarters of the OAB (Brazilian Bar Association) for a ceremony “addressing civil-society”—mainly for the families, victims, and staff of the CNV. The room was packed. After a welcoming address by the OAB Director, Dallari gave another speech, this time a less formal one, mostly thanking the victim families, assistants, and other state organs for their help. He declared that “We did the best we could” and described the report in more detail. A notable revelation was that all the names of the criminals are stated in the last section of the report with their full name and a description of their crimes. A number of speakers followed, but the climax of the event was the appearance of an uninvited speaker who turned out to be a military general. He was booed and almost attacked when he tried to leave the room. The previous day (12/9/2014) the press had reported that military clubs had even tried to prevent the report’s release.
In the afternoon, the CNV presented the report to the Brazilian Senate and Congress, while in a parallel event the national human rights prize—the highest national decoration—was delivered.
Overall, the mood of the various events was formal yet largely festive. While some survivors and human rights groups had boycotted the festivities to express their contempt for the commission’s work, most people in the audience seemed to acknowledge the symbolic power and the overall importance of the truth commission’s efforts.
Editor’s note: The final report is freely available online and can be accessed here.