A Giant Learns Humility, Colltalers
It may have been its easiest step in a steep climb, but Brazil’s National Commission of Truth has finally gathered the headlines around the world its mandate deserves: the body of João Goulart, the last democratically elected president deposed by the 1964 military coup, was exhumed last week.
No results as to whether Jango, as he was known, was poisoned to death in 1976 in Argentina, or died of a heart attack, are expected any time soon.
The exhumation, which may turn out to be merely symbolic although still powerful enough to ignite similar probes, may mark a turning point for Brazil, in ways that would surprise many and with a strong possibility for resetting the country towards a more enlightened future.
For the past decade or so, news about Brazil have been mostly of an unrestrained optimism about its economic prowess, potential for becoming a world leader, peaceful nature of its people and other jargons of political propaganda that hardly convey the complexities of the country’s inequalities.
Lately, though, such rosy assumptions have been assailed by doubts as to whether Brazil’s staggering social challenges and ingrained corruption of its political elites may be finally catching up with the news. There seems to be a new momentum to question such arrogance when there’s still so much to be achieved.
Ironically, it had to be the fears that a looming economic downfall may yet again undermine the country’s aspirations that may have bred this new sense of humbleness, in which the search for answers in Brazil’s history may be one of the most reliable strategies to restart it anew.
For among Latin American nations that went through a brutal wave of military coups, political assassinations, torture, disappearances of union and student leaders during the 1960s onward, the largest and arguably most economically successful of them all has been slow at probing its past.
While many argue, callously, that the military rule didn’t reach there the stratospheric levels of cruelty and violence that it did elsewhere in the region, with Chile, Argentina and Uruguay leading the sorrowful pack, Brazil’s still to come to terms with the implications of its fascist legacy.
Not that any of these countries have fully grasped the significance of having been ruled with impunity by violent and corrupt leaders for so long and how it’s effectively stunted their path towards democracy and social justice. Time will tell, of course, but it helps when something’s been done in the meantime.
Brazil didn’t have a charismatic organization such as Argentina’s Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who helped increase international pressure on the regime, or the almost happenstance of a referendum going awry in Chile, which is credited for having finally tilted the balance against the generals.
At one point or another, the core of opposition to the dictatorship in Brazil rested on fragile mini-organizations such as Mothers’ Clubs, and even a segment of the Catholic church, as most political leaders pre-coup had either being exiled or were left with a dwindling power of representation.
It’s been told that Jango was offered the military muscle and some political conditions to resist the coup by force, but that he declined the offer, due most likely to his shrewd calculation that such armed resistance would lead to much blood spilled and arguably slim chances of success.
He retired to neighbor Uruguay, doubtless under some kind of backstage agreement with the generals, as that country was itself also being ruled by a junta. Such accord, if it ever existed, held firm for 12 years, until he suffered a mysterious sudden illness and died officially of a heart attack.
Around the same time, middle of the 1970s, a sinister multinational coalition of repressive forces, codenamed Operation Condor, created by the right-wing dictatorships of several South American nations to unify resources and intel and go after opponents of the regime, was at full blast.
The suspicion that Jango was yet another victim of such paramilitary squad, rumored for years, gained a foothold in Brazil’s national debate a few years ago, when an agent who claimed to be part of the ex-president’s surveillance team, revealed that he knew for a fact that Jango had been killed.
Even though his allegations lack any material evidence, they fit a certain circumstantial scenario and may be true. It’s admirable that, despite all the political pressure against it, the Commission of Truth took it upon them to decide for the exhumation of the body of the former president.
The 7-member group has had a full agenda in the past two years, mainly focused on the overriding issue of human rights abuses. Among its many task forces, the one dedicated to probe crimes against native peoples by the dictatorship has the potential to surprise Brazilians, as few know the extent of what went on during the brief, ill prepared and desperate guerrilla efforts waged by some armed groups in the northern jungles of the country during the 1960s.
As for Brazil, where the word irony becomes redundant whenever one tries to gauge the country’s startling contrasts, there seems to be indeed a new momentum arising, triggered by intense discontent of the mind boggling amount of money being tossed at next year’s World Cup preparations.
The past week, some of the 25 associates to the ruling Workers’ Party convicted in a widespread corruption scandal, known as mensalão, that plagued President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s first term in the early 2000s, began finally heading to jail to fulfill their sentences.
Convicted for running a network of kickbacks in exchange for support to the party, the process took years to reach its trial and sentencing phase, and a last minute appeal to the Supreme Court failed to prevent what most Brazilians wanted to see happening: jail terms for those found guilty.
That includes José Genoíno, a former chairman of the party, with a previous distinguished trajectory as a opposition leader to the dictatorship, and José Dirceu, former Lula’s chief of staff, along with an assortment of political operatives that have done a great deal of damage to the party’s image.
Lula himself, despite remaining hugely popular, may have had some unwanted attention diverted to himself from the scandal. But it had to be this way, and it may turn out to be an important milestone in Brazil’s traumatic recover of its past, and assertion for a dignified present and future.
Great nations were never made of speeches and promises of a better future, but through the painful, gut-wrenching but ultimately rewarding courage to confront its own myths and the possibility that they are not, well, that great. And of citizens and society rising up against inequality.
If it all sounds like hollow words it’s because they’ve been overused and tossed meaninglessly to become almost deflated of any meaning. But it’s nonetheless always inspiring to witness when people awaken and start actively putting pressure towards righting the wrongs that have been done in their name, now rather than later.
Don’t give up now, Brazil. For Colltales, this is truly more important than to win the World Cup. Have a great one. WC