Mon May 27, 2024
May 27, 2024

Brazil: Why 60 years of Dictatorship Cannot be Erased, As Lula Wants

By: Luiz Carlos Prates (Mancha)

A policy of mutual agreement between U.S. imperialism, the military, multinational and national companies, and conservative sectors of civil society were the pillars of the 1964 coup in Brazil.

Persecution, firings, arrests, torture, and deaths

In 2014, the National Truth Commission (CNV) reported that 434 people were killed under the Brazilian dictatorship that lasted from 1964-1985, and man are still missing. Human Rights Watch (HRW) pointed out that more than 20,000 men and women were tortured. Thousands of workers were persecuted and sacked, placed on “blacklists” that prevented them from getting new jobs, and rural workers and students were both severely repressed.

According to the report by the CNV’s Dictatorship and the Repression of Workers and the Trade Union Movement Working Group, in 1964 alone, 409 unions and 43 federations suffered intervention by the Ministry of Labor. Between 1964 and 1970, 536 union interventions were carried out.

Indigenous peoples suffered genocide during those years. An emblematic case was the Waimiri Atroari, in the region of Amazonas and Roraima, who were practically wiped out between the 1960s and 1980s, mainly during the National Integration Plan (PIN) decreed by General Emílio Garrastazu Médici, with the aim of occupying 2 million km2 of the Amazon.

In 1968, the Brazilian dictatorship’s years of terror deepened with Institutional Act Number 5 (AI-5), which led to violent repression for ten years. It was a brutal response by the military to the massive student demonstrations that had been strengthened by the death of high school student Edson Luis de Lima Souto, who was shot at point-blank range in Rio de Janeiro. In June of that year, the student movement organized the historic March of 100,000, which also brought together workers, artists, and intellectuals demanding an end to the dictatorship.

With AI-5, the National Congress and state legislative assemblies were closed, more than 170 members of parliament were removed from office, prior censorship of the press and culture was instituted, and the president was given the go-ahead to intervene in states and municipalities. Among the articles included were the suspension of political rights, the prohibition of activities or demonstrations on matters of a political nature, and the application of security measures involving probation, a ban on going to certain places, and the obligation of having a fixed address.

Working class resistance and reorganization

Industrialization and economic growth came about through wage squeezes, poor working conditions, the end of tenure, and severe repression of struggles and strikes, with persecution, firings, and imprisonment of workers.

The global oil crisis was a milestone in the decline of the “Brazilian miracle.” The popular reaction soon manifested itself in protests such as the looting of shops, train, and bus breakdowns, and occupations of urban land.

The workers’ movement began to reorganize itself within its own ranks through left-wing organizations, basic ecclesial communities [1], or even spontaneously.

Among the left-wing organizations that played an important role in this reorganization process was the Socialist Convergence, which originated from the Trotskyist Workers’ League. Both the League and Socialist Convergence did not opt for armed struggle, like so many other organizations, but for the mass movement. This is how the struggle of metalworkers, teachers, bank workers, construction workers, graphic designers, dockworkers, and other categories came to be, while also paying special attention to the student movement.

League militants José Maria de Almeida, Celso Brambilla, and Márcia Basseto Paes faced arrest and torture in May 1977. This repression only became known thanks to the support of the student movement, which took to the streets of São Paulo in defense of the release of these workers.

The Convergence played a fundamental role in the founding of the Workers’ Party (PT) by defending the creation of a Socialist Party that represented the working class, and was active in building the PT.

This organization also had dozens of militants and activists arrested at the end of the 1970s, and throughout the 1980s, in the strikes of so many sectors of workers that took place during the period.

These strikes were of historic proportions, especially from 1978 onwards, with the strike that took place in the ABC region of São Paulo among the automakers and metalworkers. This was a milestone for major strikes in the 1980s. These struggles were mixed with a broad campaign in defense of amnesty for political prisoners and exiles. Cartoonist Henfil’s characters became an expression of this movement, such as Graúna saying “Tô vendo uma esperança” (I see hope), as well as João Bosco and Aldir Blanc’s song “O bêbado e o equilibrista” (The Drunkard and the Balancer), which was sung all over the country.

It was Henfil, in 1979, who created the historic character of the São José dos Campos Metalworkers’ Union, Dito Bronca, who always expresses his indignation at exploitation, harassment and poor conditions in the workplace. Because of Dito Bronca, the union suffered several lawsuits filed by the company.

In 1983, a general strike against austerity brought approximately three million workers from important industries to a standstill. These included metalworkers, subway workers, bank workers, shopkeepers, dockworkers, and civil servants. There was intense repression, intervention in unions, and the arrest and imprisonment of leaders and workers.

But the seed of a new trade union organization in Brazil had already been planted. As were the student movement’s struggles, which also spearheaded the overthrow of the dictatorship, even though the UNE (National Student Union) was underground. In the mid-1980s, strong strikes by oil workers, metalworkers, and bank workers led to the weakening of the military dictatorship, which officially ended in 1985.

In 2013, the Amnesty Commission recognized the role of Socialist Convergence in the struggle for democratization in Brazil. The 77th Caravan granted amnesty and reparations to 25 of the organization’s activists, when the Commission’s president, Paulo Abrão, recalled the importance of Socialist Convergence: “One of the political groups that stood tall and held its head high and paid a high price for it; the Amnesty Commission dedicates this public session to Socialist Convergence, recognizing its role in the struggle against the dictatorship and also against the social injustices of this country.”

Let’s not forget, so it never happens again

Brazilian bourgeois democracy is feeble. Here, there was no punishment for the military, one of the only countries in South America not to punish its executioners. This is unlike what happened in Argentina, Peru, Uruguay and Chile, for example.

In Brazil, the amnesty for political prisoners and exiles in 1979 went hand in hand with the amnesty for military personnel who had committed serious crimes.

The National Truth Commission did a lot of work to map and investigate the deaths and disappearances, the genocide of indigenous people, the persecution of peasants and the relationship between companies and the military dictatorship, but there were no consequences.

In addition to letting criminals go free, the lack of punishment in Brazil has left traces in everyday life, such as the continuation of the institutionalized violent action of the Military Police in the poor outskirts of Brazil, claiming mainly the lives of  youth and of black people.

The constant attacks on trade union freedom and autonomy are also part of the remnants of the dictatorship.

Impunity for the crimes committed during the dictatorship gave the military a new lease of life and made possible the January 8 coup orchestrated by Jair Bolsonaro, members of the Armed Forces, and conservative sectors.

The amnesty processes for those who were politically persecuted between 1964 and 1985 are at a standstill.

That is why President Lula cannot order the suspension of official events to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the military coup. It is not possible to erase the crimes committed by the military during the dictatorship.

Lula’s action was greeted with indignation by victims, relatives, and all those fighting against the dictatorship. No wonder. Conciliation with the military and torturers of the dictatorship is unacceptable and only serves to strengthen the far right.

In contrast, we will organize and participate in activities that remember the atrocities committed by the military regime that deeply affected the Brazilian people, with the aim of taking up and strengthening the struggle for Memory, Truth, and Justice in an independent way. [2]

We demand the immediate imprisonment of Bolsonaro and all the coup conspirators. No amnesty or conciliation with these would-be coup makers.

We demand reparations for the victims of the dictatorship, with amnesty for those who have not yet received reparations.

So that we don’t forget, so that it never happens again. Dictatorship Never Again!

Article first published at, 3/22/2024.

Translation by: John Prieto

The term for small local groups which studied the bible and applied it to their daily lives, popularized by Liberation Theology.
[2] Memória, Verdade, Justiça is a slogan used in Brazil to demand an end to impunity for the crimes of the Dictatorship.

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