Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Brazil Is Reluctant to Air Its 'Dirty' Past

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Brazil Is Reluctant to Air Its 'Dirty' Past

Article excerpt

While Chile, with the arrest Monday of former dictator Augusto Pinochet, is busy cleaning up from its "dirty war," on the other side of South America, Brazilians look at their own dark past rather differently. Two decades after the Brazilian military handed power to civilian leaders, officers are still in denial about their role in the dictatorship, and the country's government is unwilling to take them to task, experts say.

"Of all the Latin American countries that went through dictatorships, Brazil is the one that is most lagging behind in terms of investigating the past," says Cecilia Coimbra, a former political prisoner during the 1964-85 military regime. "In Argentina they are investigating, in Chile they are investigating. In Brazil, no authority has ever apologized for the crimes that were committed. Society has a right to know about its history, but the government is ignoring them."

Politicians, human rights activists, and former prisoners who were held and tortured under the regime all criticized the government of current President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva this week after he failed to take a harder line with the country's armed forces over the release of documents pertaining to Brazil's short- lived and hapless guerrilla war.

By voluntarily giving up the documents the government could have sent a sign to the generals that they must face up to abuses committed during the military regime, experts say. But its reluctance to do so is a sad example of Lula's lack of resolve on the issue, former victims say.

The debate erupted last week after a court ordered the government to release files that might help families locate the bodies of loved ones who were killed or disappeared during Brazil's guerrilla war in the early 1970s. Human rights groups say 69 rebels operating in the remote eastern Amazon were killed or "disappeared" by troops. …

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