The memory removed

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By EDSON TELES*

Ignorance of facts or the voluntary archiving of history has caused damage to Brazilian democracy

Between 2019 and 2022, the country experienced a government that denied facts and tried to subvert the meanings of history by glorifying the dictatorship and honoring torturers, as it did with Colonel Ustra (convicted as a torturer of the Teles family in all instances of justice). One of the most impactful results of nationalized denialism was the recent attempted coup d'état in our history: that of January 8, 2023.

The mobilization of the mass of far-right supporters was only possible with the narrative that there was a moment of growth and order during the Dictatorship of 64, favorable to “good” people and the “family”. With this fake news history combined with national and global right-wing strategies created favorable conditions for the emergence of the coup forces.

Of course, all of this was only made possible by the presence and direct action of the Armed Forces, an institution historically involved with illegalism and which emerged from the Dictatorship without being held responsible for the serious rights violations committed by its commanders and subordinates. The hijacking of State institutions to promote the growth of large capital corporations by promoting economic benefits and promoting repressive processes against workers, unions and traditional and original populations was also not investigated.

Knowing these stories, unlike what was recently declared by President Lula, is not rehashing the past. Ignorance of the facts or the voluntary archiving of history has caused damage to Brazilian democracy, which, even before the government of the ineligible party, was already a low-quality regime. Eloquent proof of this was the articulation of the tucanada “friendly” right that allied itself with other right-wings (including the extreme right) to carry out the “institutional” coup against President Dilma Rousseff. Including using the speech of “good” people, “family” and praise for torturers. Part of this right wing regretted the alliance. The other party invoiced and continues to invoice.

This indicates the context in which the president's interview takes place. In his third term, Lula evidently no longer has the popular support he had at other times, nor a party with the strength it once had. Added to this is the fact that the military gained positions of power never before achieved since the Dictatorship. This forces him to ally himself with a good number of those who signed the coup against the only female president we had and who were in the authoritarian government defeated at the polls in 2022.

Without them you cannot govern. The curious thing is that you don't govern with them either. The blanket of democracy is short and the climate of institutional breakdown is constantly punishing.

In this context, another relevant aspect stands out: history. The power of the military at this time is such that not even the recreation of the Special Commission for the Dead and Missing (CEMDP), an institution created by Law 9.140/95 (through a project by the FHC government) could be reconstructed.

In a disrespectful game with society and with the family movements of politically disappeared people and victims of this past, the government plays the game of pushing the responsibility for recreating the Commission from one ministry to another and does not reestablish the humanitarian and constitutional right to know the story, find the remains and carry out the dignified burial that those people deserve.

Not to mention the due judgment of the agents responsible (this has always been an unacceptable step for our democracy, whether in the current context or in previous governments). Thus, the president's excellent memory, in trying not to dwell on the past, seems politically to bring together several narratives: from the State, from part of society, from the left, from democracy.

It is necessary to remember that the hegemonically narrated history erased the crimes of slavery. The false narrative was constructed that the country lived a “racial democracy” to reduce or nullify the conflicts arising from the racist society in which we live. With the past of the Dictatorship, the Brazilian State seems to be moving in the same direction by creating, at least until the ineligible government, the narrative that we lived in a regime with consolidated institutions and that, gradually, the country would grow, its economy would develop and poverty and inequalities decrease. We saw that what was being consolidated was the model of a liberal democracy, subject to the capital of large corporations, regional aristocracies and the process of extracting our wealth, our land and our people.

It is a fact that we must agree that the 1964 coup is history. However, reliving it as significant facts for understanding the present seems fundamental. I remember a speech by President Lula when he was a constituent deputy, he was in another political context and Congress was about to approve the new Constitution: “The military remains untouchable, as if they were first class citizens, so, in the name of the Law and the Order, can repeat what they did in 1964 (…). We voted against because, even though there are advances in the Constituent Assembly, the essence of power, the essence of private property, the essence of the military's power remains intact” (Brasília, September 22, 1988).

* Edson Teles is professor of political philosophy at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP). Author, among other books, of The abyss in history: essays on Brazil in times of truth commission (Mall). [https://amzn.to/48Esshj]


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