Brazil to Finally Investigate Crimes from Military Regime?

This is encouraging:

A Brazilian newspaper is reporting that federal prosecutors are investigating cases of forced disappearances during the country’s 20-year military dictatorship.

In a report Sunday, prosecutors told the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper that cases involving kidnappings and hiding of bodies may fall outside the amnesty law that released civilians and military from liability for political crimes.

They argue cases where the missing person is never found are “permanent crimes” falling outside the 1961-1979 period covered by the law.

Unlike its neighbors in Chile and Argentina, Brazil has been infamously slow in addressing human rights abuses that the military regime of 1964-1985 committed, only establishing a (non-punitive) truth commission late last year. Brazil’s willingness to accept the amnesty law for the most part reflected a tragic willingness among the majority of the population to forget about the horrors of the past and look towards a future without addressing the real issues of justice for victims, even while Chile and Argentina confronted their own authoritarian legacies in different but more direct ways than Brazil ever did.

What is particularly curious/interesting here is that Brazilian prosecutors are using similar tactics to those who have sought justice against military leaders and members who ordered or committed the kidnapping, murder, and “disappearing” of opponents to authoritarian regimes in both Chile and Argentina. Certainly, the latter two countries’ individual paths were quite different; Chile’s human rights struggles going through an uncertain phase in between the 1993 Truth Commission report and the 1998 arrest of Pinochet in London that launched a new era of chipping away at amnesties by prosecuting not just Pinochet, but other military officials, while Argentina originally prosecuted the top-ranking officials in the 1990s, only to have Carlos Menem close judicial processes in the 1990s before the prosecution and conviction of military officials resumed in the 2000s.

Yet in both cases, prosecutors seeking to circumvent amnesty laws via the application of “ongoing” crimes (such as kidnapping) marked an important foundation in re-initiating the justice struggles of the 2000s after not-insignificant setbacks in the 1990s. That Brazilian prosecutors are attempting a similar path is somewhat encouraging, particularly given its success in Chile and Argentina; nonetheless, it is now up to the Brazilian people to finally confront their past and push for at least some measure of justice for the victims and their families, and only time will tell if Brazil is ready to return to the uncomfortable road of memories that its Chilean and Argentinian counterparts have already traveled.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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