Protesting against senior military officers who were celebrating the 48th anniversary of the military coup in Brazil, hundreds of students staged an angry protest outside Rio's military club building in the centre of Rio de Janeiro, yesterday.
Although the military dictatorship in Brazil has proved to be a disgrace to the country and its people in many different aspects, leaving more than 400 people dead or missing, some senior army members insist on calling the coup "the revolution of 1964".
The students protest and the clash of ideas between them and the senior military officers have been recently fired up by the imminent installation of Brazil's Truth Commission, formed by congressmen, which will be responsible to open and analyse the archives from the military dictatorship period. The army, for obvious reasons, is against the Truth Commission, as they consider that it will be based on a feeling of "revenge" against them.
During the demonstration in the centre of Rio yesterday, students, left-wing political parties members and relatives of victims of the 1964-1985 dictatorship gathered outside Rio's military club building chanting words such as "murderers," "torturers", "cowards, and "we are waiting for the truth." They also shouted other insults and showed pictures of dead and missing people to the elderly retired officers as they emerged from their meeting and made their way to a nearby tube station, protected by a police cordon.
There were a few moments of tension between the protesters and the police as they tried to break the cordon and get access to the building. The police officers used pepper sprays and Taser guns against the demonstrators. Five people were injured and one protester was arrested.
Unlike other South American countries that had also experienced right-wing dictatorships, political abuses, violence, torture and deaths, such as Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile, Brazil has never put the perpetrators on trial and still hasn't open the dictatorship archives.
Although 1979's Amnesty Law, upheld by the Brazilian Supreme Court in 2010, paved the way for the return of political exiles, it also protected the military officers and the whole status quo of Brazil's dictatorship times, or "The Lead Years", as Brazilians call it.
The president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, is, herself, a former leftist guerrilla who was jailed and tortured during the 1964-1985 dictatorship. For that reason, she has endorsed the creation of the Truth Commission in order to probe the rights abuses during the period. In addition, she also prohibited the military to celebrate the coup's anniversary in any official way.
During a recent event after the approval of the Truth Commission, President Dilma Rousseff said:
""For generations of Brazilians who died, we honour them today not through a process of revenge, but through a process of building truth and memory. The truth about our past is fundamental, so those facts that stain our history will never happen again ."
Agreeing with the Brazilian president, Navi Pillay, UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, added:
"This development shows Brazil’s commitment to addressing human rights at home, as well as elsewhere in the world. It is an essential and welcome first step towards healing the country’s wounds and clarifying past wrongs. Experience has frequently shown that societies cannot fully enjoy sustainable development and reconciliation without addressing past human rights abuses. As a rising political and economic power, Brazil’s clear acknowledgment of this is a very important development both in the region and at the global level.”
Protester Maria Auxiliadora Coelho, sister of a young student activist who was detained in 1974 by the military and never seen again, said:
"Brazil is so far behind on this. This is our history, and it's not told. My mother is 98 years old, and she doesn't want to die without knowing what happened to her son. This has been her life."
José Miguel Vivanco, head of the America's division of Human Rights Watch, says the protests and the Brazilian Truth Commission are no substitute for the justice that Brazil should provide for the military junta's victims:
"Brazil has a duty under international human rights law to bring to justice those individuals who committed atrocities and to provide a remedy for the victims. Taking seriously the right of victims to a remedy is also key to strengthen the rule of law in Brazil and make clear that everybody has the same legal duties and protections, whether civilian or military."
* The picture shows the protesters holding pictures of people who died or went missing during the military dictatorship against the a senior military officer.