excerpt from “Remembering Brazil’s Military Coup 50 Years Later” (NACLA, April 2014):
In 1964, the Brazilian military dictatorship rolled in like a bad dream. President João Goulart fled to Uruguay, and with him went the hopes of progressive reforms. The first of seventeen military decrees, or Institutional Acts (AI), were issued. Institutional Act 5, decreed by military president Artur da Costa e Silva on December 13, 1968, suspended habeas corpus and disbanded congress. Inspired by the 1959 Cuban revolution, and insurgent guerrilla movements in Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, Communist Party militants went underground and formed armed movements against the dictatorship, including the National Liberation Alliance and the Popular Revolutionary Vanguard, which would later become the Revolutionary Armed Vanguard Palmares (VAR-Palmares). […]
Dissidents were tracked down, arrested, imprisoned, tortured, disappeared, or worse. According to the 2007 report from the Brazilian government’s Special Commission on Murders and Political Disappeared entitled “The Right to Memory and the Truth,” 475 people were disappeared during the twenty-year-long military dictatorship. Thousands were imprisoned and roughly thirty thousand were tortured. More than 280 different types of torture were inflicted on “subversives” at 242 clandestine torture centers, by hundreds of individual torturers. Current Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was at the time a student activist who became active in the VAR-Palmares (among other guerrilla groups). She was captured by the Brazilian military on January 16, 1970, tortured, and imprisoned for two and a half years, for participating with the guerrilla. Within a few years the armed resistance to the Brazilian dictatorship had been largely eliminated.
Meanwhile U.S.-Brazilian relations became tighter than ever, as the United States worked to turn Brazil into a “success story” in the fight against communism. According to a five-and-a-half-year 5,000-page investigation into the human rights violations of the dictatorship, entitled Brasil Nunca Mais (Brazil Never Again), CIA agents, such as U.S. officer Dan Mitrione, actively trained hundreds of Brazilian military and police officers in torture techniques, or what they called the “Scientific Methods to Extract Confessions and Obtain the Truth.” Several documented accounts reveal that Mitrione tested his techniques on street kids and homeless beggars from the streets of Belo Horizonte. Many of these techniques would be replicated across the region through the U.S.-sponsored Plan Condor, as Brazil’s neighbors also fell to military dictatorships.
The Brazilian military regime employed a “sophisticated and elaborate psychophysical duress system” to “intimidate and terrify” suspected leftist militants in the early 1970s, according to a State Department report dated in April 1973 and made public yesterday. Among the torture techniques used during the military era, the report detailed “special effects” rooms at Brazilian military detention centers in which suspects would be “placed nude” on a metal floor “through which electric current is pulsated.” Some suspects were “eliminated” but the press was told they died in “shoot outs” while trying to escape police custody. “The shoot-out technique is being used increasingly,” the cable sent by the U.S. Consul General in Rio de Janeiro noted, “in order to deal with the public relations aspect of eliminating subversives,” and to “obviate ‘death-by-torture’ charges in the international press.” […]
Brazil’s Comissão Nacional da Verdade (“National Truth Commission”), which is investigating torture and other human rights abuses committed by the Brazilian dictatorship, has released all 43 of the recently declassified US documents on their website. To view the memos in their entirety, see: “CNV torna públicos documentos entregues pelo governo norte-americano“