Rio de Janeiro and the 1964 Military Coup
In the meantime, the urgent demands of the middle class, not to mention the millions who remain chronically impoverished, for education and health care, as well as long overdue attention to the Brazil’s crumbling infrastructure of roads and public transportation, are sacrificed to the fantasies of the elites to project Brazil on the global stage as a world power. While Brazil is hardly the beggar country of years past, there are disturbing echoes of the country’s former enthrallment to the IMF in the broad consensus of its economic chieftains to embrace the neoliberal constraints of the free market. Sadly, rather than ride the currents of popular unrest to re-arrange Brazil’s economic priorities, the Dilma government seems more preoccupied with her campaign for reelection rapidly approaching next October.
With the above as a general orientation of the status quo in today’s Brazil, the events surrounding the 50th anniversary of the coup this March and April will divert Brazilians into a short period of historical self-reflection. Over the past year, Brazilians have paid desultory attention to the work of national and statewide truth commissions which, through archival research of police and military records, and public eyewitness testimony are coming to grips with the stories of those who were tortured, murdered and, in cases, “disappeared” over the decades of repression. Much of the upcoming retrospective around the 50th anniversary will be centered in Rio, which will enjoy a brief pause between two invasions of foreign visitors, the recently ended week of Carnival before Lent and the upcoming games of the World Cup in June.
With little significant exception, the feeble disclaimers of a few survivors implicated in the most vicious criminal practices in those years, one expects that there will be virtually no public defense of the coup, its perpetrators and enforcers, across the full spectrum of political institutions, to include the views expressed by the most ideologically right wing elements of the media. A version of the past is being constructed into a Never Again consensus that will potentially leave the most pressing socioeconomic struggles unresolved.
I will be in Rio over several weeks in March and April to witness some of this national remembering, official, academic and, one hopes, spontaneous on the streets as well. The one thread of investigation I have become aware of that might aid in empowering those Brazilians who seek real solutions to persistent implacable injustices, will attempt to steer the national discourse away from a single focus on Brazil’s military as the sole bogeymen of this historical trauma and concentrate on the much more numerous ranks of enablers throughout civil society without whose collaboration the uniformed regimes could never have been installed or sustained. Legions of these individuals have seamlessly transformed themselves without consequence from authoritarian collaborators into pious hypocrites now very content to see the dictatorship unambiguously denounced, as long as it is labeled for posterity exclusively as military, and not as it ought to be, military-civilian.