Dilma and the Truth Commission

This week Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff inaugurated the long-awaited Truth Commission – Comissão da Verdade – which has been set up to investigate the crimes – murders, forced exiles, torture and general human rights abuses – of the post-war period, starting 1946 and running through to 1988, including Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime. 

Although Dilma says that it’s not “hate” for the past that’s driving her and the other four presidents since democracy was restored in Brazil in 1985, the fact that she was herself jailed and tortured during the Military Regime of 1964-1985 probably made it that more satisfying to give the new panel carte blanche to investigate the atrocities of the dark pages of Brazil’s recent history.

But whatever the commissioners find, there will probably be no trials, and certainly not over what happened during the bulk of military dictatorship, which started in 1964 after a coup d’état ousted then president João Goulart: this is due to a military time amnesty granted in 1979 and upheld in 2010.

And right from the outset, there seems to be a slight disagreement within the panel as to what the commission will be looking at: some want “all violations” to be investigated, while others only want crimes committed by those working for the state to be put under the spotlight.

The mud has already started to be flung over bias and agenda – two things members of the panel are forbidden to bring to the table.

Although only 500 were killed or went missing during the military regime’s time in power – and I say only as similar cruel dictatorships in fellow South American nations Argentina and Chile, for example, were much more deadly – in Brazil many more suffered at the hands of the regime, through violence and a lack of political freedom. This process is therefore extremely important for those people who never got what they see as true justice, mainly due to the 1979 amnesty that is unlikely ever to be revoked.

So what’s it for? Just a show? Or will it really bring satisfaction to those touched by these more sinister parts of the 20th century in Brazil? Hard to tell.

Given the amnesty, the satisfying(?) sight of ageing criminals in the dock, as in The Reader, sent down for the rest of their lives cannot happen, and I suspect it will instead simply reopen old wounds and bring a lot of painful emotions unnecessarily back to the surface…

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