Brazil Is Still the Country of the Future

Tyler Cowen – Bloomberg, 08/11/2016

Brazil, it is often and not quite fairly said, is the country of the future and always will be. As the Olympics focuses global attention on the country, it’s worth exploring the various ways in which this maxim is — and may not be — true.

The puzzle with Brazil is neither its successes nor its failures, but rather the combination of the two. The country has such a dynamic feel, and in the postwar era it saw many years of double-digit economic growth. The Economist featured the country on its cover in 2009 as the next miracle take-off, and in 2012 Germany’s Der Spiegel published a long article titled “How Good Governance Made Brazil a Model Nation.”

Yet Brazil never caught up to the developed world: Its gross domestic product per capita falls about 4 to 7 times short of the U.S. — about where it was more than a century ago. It is now experiencing one of the most severe depressions of any country in modern times. The president, Dilma Rousseff, is in the midst of an impeachment process. The combination of corrupt and violent police, muggings of athletes, polluted water and inadequate facilities have led many to wonder whether Brazil can pull of the Olympics without major embarrassment.

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Brazil Congress Investigates Lawmaker’s Alleged Support of Torture

Reuters/The New York Times, 06/28/2016

SAO PAULO — Brazil’s Congress on Tuesday opened an ethics investigation into Jair Bolsonaro, an outspoken lawmaker whose views on torture, rape and homosexuality are sparking concern that the country’s political crisis may foster an authoritarian political revival.

The ethics committee of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, will try to determine if Bolsonaro, a former Brazilian Army paratrooper, broke parliamentary decorum when he prefaced his vote in April to impeach President Dilma Rousseff with a speech praising Army Colonel Carlos Ustra.

Courts have found Ustra, a notorious Army intelligence officer during the 1964-1985 military regime, responsible for torture. Rousseff, a former left-wing insurgent, was tortured by Ustra’s Army intelligence unit.

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VW negotiating torture reparations in Brazil

DW, 11/2/2015

A Brazilian newspaper has reported that VW is negotiating a settlement for allowing the torture of employees during the military dictatorship. However, a company official says VW is in the early stage of discussions.

On Sunday, the daily “O Estado de Sao Paulo” reported that Volkswagen was moving toward paying reparations in response to a suit against the company for allowing official persecution and torture of employees at its plant from the 1960s to 1980s. The newspaper cited an email reportedly from Manfred Grieger, who handles historical communications for Volkswagen and visited Brazil in October to meet with justice officials.

“It was the beginning of a discussion on how to reach an agreement on that matter,” Grieger wrote in the email, the newspaper reported on Sunday. “One idea would be to develop a memorial with Brazilian institutions such as unions … We want to look at the pros and cons of the next steps to be taken.”

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Historian James Green explains Brazil’s journey from dictatorship to democracy

Suzette Grillot and Ivey Dyson – Kgou, 10/16/2015

After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, U.S. policy makers worried other left-leaning governments in Latin American could turn into a revolutionary movement. In early 1964, the U.S. did little to stand in the way of a military coup in Brazil that overthrew the democratically elected President Joao Goulart – leading to a 21-year authoritarian dictatorship.

Over time, the U.S. gradually reconsidered it support of the junta, according to James Green, a historian at Brown University. His book We Cannot Remain Silent: Opposition to the Military Dictatorship in the United States investigates how grassroots efforts helped end military violence in Brazil.

Green says clerics, academics and other Brazilians living in the United States started a public relations movement to educate the public about U.S. support for the military regime, and the torture of political prisoners.

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Sixty Years Later: What Have We Learned?

Rafael R. Ioris – Brazil Wire, 5/6/2015

Successive demonstrations in its most important cities, brawls between militants of opposing ideological sides who see the other as an enemy rather than a political adversary, growing numbers of strikes, verbal and written attacks in the media, rising polarization in Congress. A good description of what has been taken place in the country of the future in the last several weeks, this narrative would be similarly accurate in describing events leading to as well as immediately after the military coup of 1964. Indeed, in the first years of the decade and even towards its end, when the authoritarian regime tightened its grip and curtailed most forms of political life, Brazil was immersed in intense activism reflecting, at the same time, the vibrancy of its flourishing democratic institutions, rising civil society, and protracted but continuous path of socio-economic and political inclusion, as well as a reasserted resistance against substantive social transformations from different sectors of its entrenched, and mostly conservative ruling elites.

Though history doesn’t seem to repeat itself in the same ways, it is clear that deep-seated structural factors tend to encroach upon one’s reality unless they have been sufficiently weakened. In fact, the recent, rapid though not necessarily sustained, rise of traditionally excluded groups to the economic and political lives of the country notwithstanding, Brazil’ political landscape since last year’s presidential election resembles more that of a country mired in Cold War rhetoric rather than that of a nation in the path of consolidating its transition from autocratic rule to fully democratic life. In what has been called by some the ‘third round’ of the recent electoral proceedings, the fact is that many who supported the opposition candidate, senator Aécio Neves, in his unsuccessful bid to the presidential seat last October, have refused to accept the outcome of the election and have since then taken to the streets to demand Dilma Rousseff’s, the narrowly reelected president, ousting from power – if needed by means of a military coup. Further complicating the prospects of dialogue between the opposing sides, the current composition of Brazil’s parliament is one that reflects its ideologically most conservative alignment in over 60 years, and, to her supporters greatest dismay, the recently appointed new finance minister of Rousseff’s second term in office is pushing for a sharp cut in public investment and social expenditures in order to bring down the country’s rising inflation, thus appeasing domestic and international investor as well as global financial rating agencies.

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Brazilian torture survivor Ines Etienne Romeu dies

BBC News, 4/28/2015

The only survivor of a torture centre where the Brazilian military regime interrogated opponents in the 1970s has died at the age of 72.

Ines Etienne Romeu memorised the names of her abusers and the location of what became known as the House of Death in Petropolis near Rio de Janeiro. Her testimony for Brazil’s Truth Commission was key in exposing human rights abuses under military rule.

In 2003 she survived an attack in her home that left her unable to speak. The intruder was never identified.

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Brazil’s elites are revolting

Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Marcelo K. Silva – Al Jazeera, 3/22/2015

On March 15, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators across Brazil flooded the streets. It was the biggest mobilization since June 2013, when millions took to the streets in protest that began over increased public transit fares and grew to encompass a range of other causes, including World Cup megaprojects, the poor state of public education, the need for political reform and many others.

A different cause united this month’s mobilizations. Protesters could be heard chanting Cold War–era anti-communist slogans, demanding the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and even calling for army intervention in domestic politics. Thirty years after the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship, Rousseff and her center-left Workers’ Party (PT) face a growing challenge from the right.

The PT has held national power in Brazil for the last 13 years. But Rousseff is increasingly politically isolated. Re-elected last fall by a slim margin, she now has to contend with the most conservative National Congress since 1964 as well as a decelerating economy, hostile media and a corruption scandal that implicates her party. She has very low approval ratings and has increasingly alienated her party’s traditional base of trade unionists and social movement activists, many of whom are disappointed with her pro-market political appointments. Although opposition parties are not yet calling for Rousseff’s impeachment, there is no question that difficult times lie ahead.

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Brazil’s dictatorship: The final reckoning

The Economist (print edition) – 12/13/2014

For a country whose recent presidents all suffered at the hands of the military regime that ruled from 1964 to 1985, Brazil has been awfully slow to probe that dark chapter of its history. Dilma Rousseff, the incumbent, was tortured. Her two immediate predecessors, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, were respectively jailed and forced into exile. On December 10th, after nearly three years of sleuthing, the National Truth Commission presented its report into human-rights abuses committed from 1946 to 1988, with special attention to the dictatorship years. “Brazil deserves the truth,” said Ms Rousseff, who cried upon receiving the report.

The 4,400-page publication stands out among similar efforts in other countries. It names 377 individuals as responsible for 434 political murders and disappearances. They include all eight military presidents and the top brass, as well as minions who carried out their orders. Their crimes were deliberate acts of policy, not occasional excesses, the report makes clear.

Most culprits are either dead or in their dotage. Under an amnesty law enacted in 1979 (to benefit exiled dissidents) few will face trial. The commission hopes its report will prompt a rethink of the amnesty, which falls foul of human-rights treaties. But for now, symbolism must suffice. While no substitute for justice, admits José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby group, “it is a start”.

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Declassified Documents Given By Biden to Rousseff Detail Secret Dictatorship-Era Executions, “Psychophysical” Torture in Brazil

Peter Kornbluh – The National Security Archives, 7/3/2014

Ato "Ditadura Nunca Mais: 50 anos do Golpe no Brasil" | DOI-CODI São Paulo SP - 31/03/2014

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ninja Midia.

The Brazilian military regime employed a “sophisticated and elaborate psychophysical duress system” to “intimidate and terrify” suspected leftist militants in the early 1970s, according to a State Department report dated in April 1973 and made public yesterday. Among the torture techniques used during the military era, the report detailed “special effects” rooms at Brazilian military detention centers in which suspects would be “placed nude” on a metal floor “through which electric current is pulsated.” Some suspects were “eliminated” but the press was told they died in “shoot outs” while trying to escape police custody. “The shoot-out technique is being used increasingly,” the cable sent by the U.S. Consul General in Rio de Janeiro noted, “in order to deal with the public relations aspect of eliminating subversives,” and to “obviate ‘death-by-torture’ charges in the international press.”

Because of the document’s unredacted precision, it is one of the most detailed reports on torture techniques ever declassified by the U.S. government.

Titled “Widespread Arrests and Psychophysical Interrogation of Suspected Subversives,” it was among 43 State Department cables and reports that Vice President Joseph Biden turned over to President Dilma Rousseff during his trip to Brazil for the World Cup competition on June 17, for use by the Brazilian National Truth Commission (CNV). The Commission is in the final phase of a two-year investigation of human rights atrocities during the military dictatorship which lasted from 1964 to 1985.  On July 2, 2014, the Commission posted all 43 documents on its website. “The CNV greatly appreciates the initiative of the U.S. government to make these records available to Brazilian society and hopes that this collaboration will continue to progress,” reads a statement on the Commission’s website.

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Brazil’s foreign policy stance leaves it in wings on global stage

Joe Leahy – The Financial Times, 4/20/2014

This month, Brazil marks a particularly grim moment in its history. Fifty years ago, the country’s military took power in a coup that ushered in two decades of brutal dictatorship.

President Dilma Rousseff, who as a young leftist guerrilla fighting the generals was jailed and tortured, marked the occasion with a speech at Rio de Janeiro’s Galeão airport earlier this month.

Shedding a quiet tear, she cited a song by the bossa nova artist Tom Jobim, “Samba do Avião”, that recalls the emotions of a Brazilian landing in Rio, saying the lyrics were about exiles returning home with the end of the military regime.

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