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Sixty years of the coup: remember so as not to repeat it!

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Sectors of society in Brazil celebrate the sixth anniversary of the 1964 coup, evidence of their support for the military dictatorship. The conservative conspiracy against the expansion of democracy came from afar and previously had motivated other coups, the writer says. Picture: Correio da Manhã / Brazilian National Archives / Taken March 31, 1970

By Raimundo Bonfim

The military coup of April 1, 1964 turns 60 years old, but it is part of a past that insists on being present in Brazil even today, given the rise of the extreme right to power in 2018 and the attempted coup on January 8 2023.

Therefore, as one historian said, it is necessary for both the State and civil society to face the legacy of the “years of lead”, clarifying facts not yet known and holding accountable public agents who committed human rights violations.

What happened in those days was much more than a military rebellion, involving right-wing politicians, sectors of the business community, the mainstream media and sectors of the Catholic Church and the middle class. These segments overthrew a reformist project headed by President João Goulart (Jango), whose main expression was basic reforms (agrarian, urban, electoral, educational, fiscal, banking and administrative).

But the conservative conspiracy against the expansion of democracy came from afar and was recurrent in the history of Brazil, with coups or attempted coups by military and civilians in 1945, 1954, 1955 and 1961, which culminated in 1964.

It is interesting to note that long before the dissemination of fake news by the right, the authors of the coup were already creating “narratives” to justify it. First, the conspirators boasted that there was a leftist coup under way to transform Brazil into a “syndicalist republic” or a communist country. So, they dressed up the constitutional rupture as an action to “restore democracy”.

Not satisfied, they began to call the coup a “redemptive revolution”. To date, they have changed: the coup was consolidated on April 1, but began to be celebrated on March 31 for fear of being associated with a lie.

Some right-wing politicians, such as Carlos Lacerda and Adhemar de Barros, supported the coup, believing that, once Jango and the “communist danger” were removed, the military would return to their barracks and respect the electoral calendar. But, that time, those in uniform showed that they were here to stay: they suspended the elections and ended up including some architects of the coup in the list of politically impeached, like the two mentioned above.

The military’s authoritarian modernising project would show its repressive face from the first days, with arbitrary arrests, torture, impeachment and exile of those who opposed the installation of the dictatorship.

But this project would become more radical in 1968, when students took to the streets in several marches against the dictatorship, harshly repressed by the police. With the issuance of Institutional Act No. 5 (AI-5), on December 13, 1968, a “coup within a coup” occurred that gave the regime even more discretionary instruments of repression.

The torture and systematic murder of political activists by bodies of political repression , such as DOI-Codi (Department of Internal Operations of the Army), Cisa (Aeronautics) and Cenimar (Navy), in addition to the DEOPS (Departments of Political Order and of the states), became a State policy.

According to the book Right to Memory and Truth, 475 political activists died under torture or had their deaths simulated, such as suicides and being run over. According to a survey carried out by the National Truth Commission (CNV), 210 people who resisted the dictatorship are still missing, with only 33 bodies having been located.

The agents of the organs of repression identified so far, responsible for torture and murders, total 337. None of them have been punished. Data collected by several human rights entities shows around 20,000 Brazilians were tortured during the dictatorship. In addition, 130 people were banished, 4,862 people were deprived of their rights and hundreds of peasants and indigenous people were murdered.

In addition to barracks and police stations, many of the “disappearances” of political prisoners occurred in private clandestine spaces, such as the “ Casa da Morte ”, located in Petrópolis (RJ), and the “Sítio 31 de Março”, both under the direct command of the armed forces.

In the second half of the 1970s, exhausted by the economic crisis, new student protests and worker strikes in São Paulo’s ABC, the dictatorship abolished the AI-5 and promoted a restricted political amnesty, the corollary of which was impunity for public agents involved in torture. and murders. Even so, these “basement” agents were unhappy and began to commit terrorist acts, which culminated in the failed attempt to blow up Riocentro in 1981.

The dictatorship left the scene in 1985, but the reactionary sectors that generated it, although initially weakened, continued to operate in the country. They fought the first governments of President Lula and President Dilma Rousseff, who resumed Jango’s reformist impetus.

They came to power again in 2018, with Jair Bolsonaro, who attempted another coup against democracy on January 8, 2023. This time, thanks to the mobilisation of civil society and popular movements, they failed. But the attempt showed that the military remains coup plotters. We therefore need to remember the coup of 1964 and always say: dictatorship, never again!

Raimundo Bonfim is national co-ordinator of the Central de Movimentos Populares (CMP).

This article was first published in Brasil de Fato