60 years since the coup: journalism against historical erasure

BdF keeps fighting historical erasure and silencing, besides shedding light on the struggle for memory and justice

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
Brazil must fight for memory, truth and justice regarding the period of the dictatorship - Foto: Wikimedia Commons

If there was no popular resistance against the authoritarian regime, there were no crimes during the dictatorship. This is the logic of erasure, which silenced the constant cries of struggle during 21 years of Brazil's civilian-military dictatorship. The same government that promoted state terrorism against thousands of people worked systematically to erase their stories.

"Invisibility is a historical mark of bourgeois dominance," summed up José Genoíno, a former Brazilian political prisoner and former member of the guerrilla in Araguaia, during an episode of the Thrês por Quatro podcast. They had no documents, history books, opportunity to speak to radio stations, TV channels or newspapers. Often, their bodies are missing forever because of the violence of the dictatorship. 

It was like that with the Araguaia guerrillas. "To give you an idea, when O Estado de S.Paulo [one of the largest Brazilian newspapers] published a note in 1972 about what was happening in the south of Pará state, the newspaper was seized to prevent it from publishing more about it," Genoíno recalled. Sixty-seven guerrillas and 31 peasants were killed. The dictatorship acted to obliterate any trace of the movement. "To this day, you can't find the location of the bodies."

On the 60th anniversary of the coup, Brasil de Fato continues to fight historical erasure and silencing, besides shedding light on the struggle for memory and justice. That's journalism we believe in and have shared for over 20 years.

While the traditional Brazilian press allied itself with the dictatorship and, to a large extent, took advantage of it to thrive – until recently insisting on the “dictabranda” [a pun between the Portuguese words for “dictatorship” and “soft”] – we chose the side of those who did not surrender, either out of revolutionary convictions or indignation.

That was the case of Frei Betto, who was persecuted and imprisoned twice during the dictatorship and emphasized in an interview to Bem Viver show the role of memory so that what he experienced would not be repeated; of the Krenak Indigenous people, one of the many native peoples subjected to state violence during the period and who are still fighting for reparations; of journalist Amelinha Teles, imprisoned and tortured by the regime; of filmmaker Jorge Bodansky.

Prevent history from repeating itself: Bolsonarism on the prowl

By not confronting memory, Brazil is making room for the right to steal it. While Lula says he doesn't want to “dwell on the past” and keeps the Special Commission on the Dead and Missing – dissolved by Bolsonaro – on the shelf, military personnel are being called to testify about new coup acts: those that culminated on January 8, 2023.

It's not about the past. The intrusion of the military into politics has never ceased to be an issue in Brazil and is even the subject of a Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) being discussed in the Senate. They have the guns and have already shown they can use them to make their vision prevail.

“That's why they [the military] staged a coup, remained in power for 21 years, guarded the democratic transition and guaranteed their privileges in the New Republic. That's why, in 2014, when the National Truth Commission revealed some of their crimes during the dictatorship, there was such an outcry. That's why the military supported the coup against President Dilma, Lula's imprisonment and didn't hesitate to get on board with the Bolsonaro government," told Brasil de Fato historian Carla Teixeira, coauthor of the book “Ilegais e Imorais: autoritarismo, interferência política e corrupção dos militares na história do Brasil” (“Illegal and Immoral: authoritarianism, political interference and corruption by the military in Brazilian history,” in a rough translation).  

For part of the Public Prosecutor's Office, the policy of "deliberate pardon, secrets and obliteration of history" is precisely what encourages the repetition of coup attempts. Professor Paulo Ribeiro da Cunha, who studied all the amnesties in Brazil from 1898 to 1979, explains that military officers who were amnestied for previous coup attempts were the ones who took power in 1964.

According to him, historically, the Armed Forces have tended to pardon and reincorporate high-ranking military personnel involved in political movements and right-wing demonstrations. The same doesn't happen with lower rank personnel.

Today, most of the Brazilian population is against amnesty for those involved in the January 8 attacks. Therefore, the unanswered question is: will the chiefs, generals, captains and admirals finally be punished?

A cursed legacy

Brazilian society as a whole was a victim of the military dictatorship in the country. The "economic miracle" was a perverse period of income and wealth concentration, and deepening regional inequalities.

The consequences were not the same in all territories. In the Northeast region of Brazil, for instance, the military interrupted ongoing social policies and put an end to the most significant popular movements. The dream of rebuilding the "anachronistic agrarian and social structures" was buried.

This interrupted future is the subject of a report series by the same name produced by Brasil de Fato. It’s available in text, podcast and video. The content revisits the biographies of three crucial names for the region during that period: Celso FurtadoPaulo Freire and Josué de Castro

Going to the streets

In recent days, we've seen the struggle for memory, reparation and justice on the streets of the country. We saw the Caminhada do Silêncio and the Cordão da Mentira in São Paulo, escrachos [public acts to expose and make fun of someone] against new coup plotters and popular acts in the states of Minas GeraisRio de JaneiroPernambuco and throughout Brazil.

At Brasil de Fato, memory is alive. We won't forget the legacy of the dictatorship when dealing with the present so that it doesn't happen again. Never again.

We continue to struggle.

* Rodrigo Chagas is editorial coordinator

Edited by: Rafaella Coury