Curtain Raiser

Choose to Remember, Colltalers

How crucial it is for a nation to confront its painful past? Here are two contrasting approaches: Chile sent nine soldiers to jail for murdering a singer, in a 1973 military coup; Brazil was censured by a human rights group for not protecting a journalist killed in 1975 by the dictatorship.
The issue is relevant to the U.S. too, as an upsurge of racial intolerance and religious prejudice threatens to turn back the clock on civil rights. As the Trump administration goes after made-up enemies, it’s also encouraging the biggest terrorist threat to the U.S. today: angry white men.
The same demographics concocted a horrific past in America, when hanging people of color was considered public entertainment. The hurt and open wounds of that time still resonate now, and before Trump, we were but in the early stages of a process of healing and redressing it.
No other president has been so lenient to displays of blatant racial violence by neo Nazis, or named at least one assumed white supremacist, Steve Bannon, to his cabinet. And his rallies have become festering, malodorous focal points for hordes of unhinged racists to congregate.
Trump and his enablers may come to regret the support of these groups, as they’re bound to become an out of control danger to the security of everyone. But that we’re allowing a comeback of an ideology with a proven track of cruelty and destruction, is beyond baffling, it’s egregious.
History provides centuries of examples of what happens when a leader creates villains to be demonized out of the demographics they don’t like, while giving a pass to ideologies

whose point is to prioritize a select group of individuals, under any excuse, and go after everyone else.
Take the horrific wave of military dictatorship that swept Latin America in the 1960s and took over two decades to send it back to the hellhole where it came from. Thousands were persecuted, tortured, killed, in the name of an order that turned out to be corrupted and vile and mostly to favor one group over others. Once incompetent generals grabbed throats and humanity of millions of people, it took years to kick them out.
That’s the first 911 era, of the military cup that deposed Chilean President Salvador Allende, and assassinated singer and songwriter Victor Jara. It took this long but justice is coming for him. His popularity didn’t save his life, but his songs are an integral part of his country’s history. Not so Vladimir Herzog, the journalist who went voluntarily to a São Paulo police precinct, only to be tortured and killed. Although the Dilma Rousseff-led Truth Commission, which probed the military rule, among other attributions, demolished the official version of ‘suicide’ as cause of death, it did not lead to court orders. Instead, and risking being unfair here, after compiling a file, it merely named a street after Herzog.
The aftermath of the tragic ‘junta era,’ when democratic representation was restored, gave rise to those two conflicting strategies about how to tackle and learn from the past. Some, like Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina, have taken steps to document what happened, shedding light on the faces and identities of those victimized by the regimes. And entrusted the judiciary to seek accountability and punishment for the guilty.
Others, like Brazil, chose a restrained approach, one of yes, finding and identifying victims – they’re far behind on that – but also of pardoning perpetrators. Thus an entire generation of criminals, torturers, immoral law enforcement officials, and members of the middle and upper classes, never faced a day in court or jail, or had to at least apologize for their deeds. Unlike their victims, they remorselessly walked free.
So it’s no surprise that many of them, and their political spawn, are all back to, and influent again, in public life in Brazil. That may explain in part why the country’s young democracy fell so quickly a prey to the old politics of deception and impunity most Brazilians actually despise.
Sticking to the comparison, both Chile and Brazil had first female presidents, who’d been tortured by the military, elected twice in landslides in the 2000s. But Michelle finished her terms and the Chilean democracy continues to mature. Rousseff wasn’t so lucky: she was ousted by a parliamentary slash media coup, and Brazil’s current state is that of a hostile political turmoil. It’ll choose a new leader in October though.
That’s why judicial probes into causes, and protagonists, of such a despicable era were vital: they restore at least some faith on democratic institutions. And that’s why tyrants hate, fear and undermine them. Speaking of which, those murderous regimes were propped up by the U.S.
Under a dubious, Cold War paranoia-infused assumption – the fear of ‘losing’ the region to the Soviet Union – anything was justified to prevent it, including supporting blood-thirsty dictators. As many know, the fallout of these disastrous policies also caused people to run and emigrate.
We mentioned torture, and it’s instructive to look again at the post-911 era, when the so-called war on terror was launched. For a few years, and mostly unbeknownst to the American people, the fetid business of torture was at full blast, lashing at the bodies of thousands of suspects.
17 years later, some perpetrators are still in power, and at the White House, no less. It’s a disturbing reality seeing government officials being rewarded by their participation in illegal acts with opportunities to do further harm. For more of the pattern, see L America, Dictatorship et al.
Americans too are heading to the polls this year, and ‘what ifs’ abound. Many an election have halted a catastrophic chain of events on its tracks, killing its momentum, and triggering long fought-for changes. But we’re already behind, and likely not done repeating history yet.
A record turnout in November just may beat the odds, as long as all are fully represented equally, with a few lucky change of hearts to boot. Democracies, either 20 or over 200 years old, depend on whom they represent, and are failures when lacking quorum. A lot is riding on the upcoming elections, and Brazilians and Americans need to vote like they mean and halt the momentum now, or bitterly regret it more later.
We’re thrilled about the rescue of those 12 boys and their soccer coach in Thailand. Here’s to a successful completion of such harrowing task.
We’re also rooting for Adul Sam-On, who became the group’s informal spokesperson as the only one who speaks English. Adul is one of about half million registered ‘stateless’ people born on Myanmar’s rebel Wa State. Yes, an undocumented alien is once again serving the community.
That’s intrinsic to the immigration experience, adding an edge of self-sacrifice to the proceedings. Isn’t it also part of being human? Evolution may have reasons why we may not be here tomorrow, and a lot is on our own account; haters and supremacists however have none. We resist. WC


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