Human rights

Bolsonaro mocks victim of military regime: “I can tell you how he disappeared”

“One day, if the chair of the Bar wants to know how his father disappeared during the military era, I’ll tell him”

President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, mocked the father of the Brazilian Bar Association chair, who disapppeared during the military regime / Isac Nóbrega/PR

The far-right president of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro sparked outrage on Monday after he attacked Felipe Santa Cruz, the chair of the country's Bar Association, whose father disappeared in the 1970s during the military regime.

“One day, if the chair of the Bar wants to know how his father disappeared during the military era, I can tell tell him. He will not want to hear the truth. I can tell him,” Bolsonaro said while speaking about the Bar Association’s move to protect the attorney-client privilege in the case of Adelio Bispo, the man accused of stabbing the then presidential candidate.

“Why didn't the Bar let the federal police access the phone of one of [Bispo's] esteemed lawyers? What’s the Bar’s intention? Who is this Bar anyway?” the president said, commenting on a rumor that the country’s Bar Association had tried to protect the defendant’s phone privacy.

While speaking about the case, Bolsonato took the opportunity to personally attack the chair of the Bar, Felipe Santa Cruz, whose father is among more than 400 victims of the military regime that ruled the country between 1964 and 1985.

Later the same day, while he live streamed his haircut, Bolsonaro once again spoke about the case, saying that Fernando Augusto Santa Cruz de Oliveira, who disappeared in 1974, was betrayed and killed by his fellow comrades.

However, the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights issued last week a death certificate for Fernando Santa Cruz, the father of the now chair of the Brazilian Bar Association.

The statement issued by the cabinet led by the ultraconservative Damares Alves reports that the death of the activist in the 1970s was “unnatural, violent, caused by the Brazilian State.”

The date and location of his death, according to the certificate, is February 23rd, 1974, in Rio de Janeiro, “in the context of the systematic, widespread persecution against those seen as politically opposed to the 1964-1985 dictatorial regime.”

Cruelty and lack of empathy

Felipe Santa Cruz, the chair of the Brazilian Bar Association, released a statement saying that Bolsonaro’s comments show “cruelty and lack of empathy,” while also calling the president to disclose what he knows about “all the others who disappeared” during the dictatorship.

“If the president knows from ‘experience’ so much about the case and all the others who ‘disappeared’, our families want to know,” Santa Cruz wrote, quoting the president, who said he knew what happened to his father “from experience.”

Felipe, who is now the chair of the country’s Bar Association, was two years old when his father Fernando was arrested by military agents in February, 1974. A Law student at the time of his disappearance at age 26, Fernando became a symbol of resistance against the dictatorship. He worked at the São Paulo Water and Energy Department and was a member of the Marxist-Lenininist People’s Action, a group that fought against the military regime.

“It’s not my version. It’s just that, from experience, I came to this conclusion at the time. His father was part of the People’s Action, the bloodiest, most brutal guerrilla group they had up there in Pernambuco, and he disappeared in Rio de Janeiro,” Bolsonaro said.

However, there is no evidence that Fernando was involved in armed resistance. A report produced by the Truth Commission also shows that he was not someone who fought “underground” or was a “fugitive”; conversely, he had a job and fixed address.

After Fernando was arrested, the army repeatedly denied that he was in custody. Even after 45 years, his family never stopped searching for him – his mother recently died at age 105.

One of the theories about the whereabouts of Fernando’s body is that it may have been incinerated by the military to destroy evidence.

Adélio Bispo

The president’s remarks about the Bar Association were actually a response to questions about why he decided not to appeal a court decision that acquitted the man accused of stabbing Bolsonaro during a campaign event, after a judge ruled that Adélio Bispo was mentally ill.

“If I appealed [the decision], he’d be tried not for murder, but for attempted murder, and could walk in one and a half or two years. But because I did not appeal, now he’ll be deemed crazy for the rest of his life. Now he will have to stay in court-ordered commitment, which is something like a life sentence,” the president said.

Edition: Rodrigo Chagas | English version by Aline Scátola