Let’s Hear It For Amarildo, Colltalers
The gruesome legacy of the Latin American military dictatorships that spread out during the 1960s has deeply scared the nations they terrorized. Some, such as Argentina e Chile, may be arguably coming to terms, albeit slowly, with that dark era. Others, like Brazil, are still to fully acknowledge it.
It won’t be able to keep up with that for long, though. This week, newly declassified files from the period shed light on yet more details about the regime’s inner workings, including how Brazilian generals spied on their over the border neighbors. And then, almost on cue, there’s the disappearance of Amarildo Dias de Souza.
The construction worker, a resident of one Rio’s biggest favelas, Rocinha, was abducted on July 14 by members of a police squad, as shown by recently released surveillance footage. The squad was raiding the slum, allegedly after drug lords, but Souza had no proven involvement with the traffic.
The way that he disappeared, though, leaving behind wife and six kids, is an eerie reminder of the dictatorship’s favorite way of doing away with opponents of the regime. Even though the number of ‘desaparecidos’ in Brazil pales in comparison with other countries in the region, they did happen there too.
We’ll get back to that in a minute. But let’s remind everyone that two months ago, when massive rallies erupted all over Brazil, few weren’t caught by surprise. Up to then, Brazil had been the textbook example of a functional democracy promoting prosperity south of the Equator.
Not just the world was simply not prepared for what exploded in the streets of Brazilian cities, but President Rousseff has also lost all the assurance that her reelection a year from October was within reach. That, if it seemed then already won but still distant, it’s now far from secured, and approaching really fast.
Ignited by the not too sudden realization that huge investments flowing into the country, in preparation for the World Cup next year and the 2016 Olympic Games, were being diverted from needed public works and towards mammoth and over budget soccer stadiums, Brazilians simply couldn’t take it anymore.
The small Confederations Cup was good enough of a trigger for the widespread expressions of discontent, followed by acts of police brutality and repression that only helped fueled the loose movement. As with the Occupy Wall Street rallies, it refused to be driven by the traditional leader plus political cause flags.
Despite having fallen off the main media glare, and to many, to disarray due to internal fractures over which direction to take, dissatisfaction still runs high, and public awareness of what really ails Brazil (whose growth seems to have chocked, generating economic and political instability) is still very much alive.
Thus Amarildo, as the daily laborer is known, has been the galvanizer of the moment. His disappearance gives citizens a platform to demand answers from the police, which had denied any involvement until the footage surfaced, and the government, seemingly unaware of the scary shadow that his case projects.
His is far from being a unique event: Rio de Paz, an independent agency, puts at a staggering 35 thousand the number of Brazilians who vanished since 2007 in connection with police raids and arbitrary arrests. That’s as many as the believed to have missed in Chile, for instance, in the hands of Pinochet’s brutal paramilitary forces.
So the only surprise about the secret files from Brazil’s EMFA, the armed forces’ command during the 1960s, is that besides conducting torture and intimidation, it also spied on its regional allies, with whom it had a working relationship to share intel about political activists fighting in other countries too.
Brazilian generals, who at the time would pose with their counterparts of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia and so many others, to show a unified, and terrifying front, against the opposition, regardless whether they spoke Portuguese or Spanish, also kept close tabs on them all.
Information about troop movements, arms, logistics, training, even how many horses los hermanos had prepared to help crush street rallies, were part of a constant flow of field surveillance, a collection of data that probably only assured the Brazilian militaries that they had nothing to fear from across the border.
Sunday, several organizations led by Amnesty International gathered in Rio, to mark the 28 days since Amarildo was taken. Typically, following the peaceful act, gunfire was heard at Rocinha, which not coincidentally was one of the first raided by the Military Police in 2011 as a preparation for the World Cup.
As elsewhere in Rio, São Paulo and other cities, the zeal to raze and reoccupy wide swaths of the urban favelas, in the name of security for the thousands of tourists expected for the games, has represented a boom for the private construction industry and local governments, and a disastrous homeless explosion.
What the Rousseff administration doesn’t seem to get about the mass movements, unheard of since the 1980s, is that the more it sells an international image of progress and might, the more increases its own responsibility to assure the inclusion of all Brazilians left out of its model for prosperity.
Whatever happened to Amarildo, rampant street violence, unrepentant corruption of law enforcement and governments alike, and the insistence in ignoring the dictatorship’s legacy of terror from which it emerged less than three decades ago are all part of what ultimately may trip Brazil over its own ambitions.
The president, whose party has been under heavy artillery for failing to abide by the most basic ethical standards, must heed the warnings the streets of Brazil are sending. No amount of goals the Seleção may score will be able to mute public indignation about impunity. Have a great week. WC