Federal Highway Police yesterday and today

Image: Lucas Pezeta


Not one more day of complacency, lethargy, apathy, omission or indifference in the face of police brutality

It is chilling to see the terrible coincidence of dates. Only two years separate, precisely, two murders under torture. On May 25, 2020, using his own knee as a vile garrote, US police officer Derek Chauvin extrajudicially executed George Floyd.

On the same 25th of May, Brazil, Sergipe, 2022, criminal police improvise a small gas chamber in their vehicle to eliminate Genivaldo de Jesus Santos. The two murdered were African Americans. One American, the other Brazilian. Nobody knows if Genivaldo managed to repeat those words that still asphyxiate our memory: “I can't breathe”.

What everyone knows is that the brutality filmed in the United States generated a huge wave of indignation and protests, which greatly contributed to the defeat of Donald Trump in the following elections. No one knows whether there will be a comparable repudiation in Brazil. Or whether, here, society and public authorities will assimilate the trivialization of evil, remaining indifferent, inert and complicit.

The realization that the murder of Sergipe relegated to the background another Bolsonarist tragedy, which took place 24 hours earlier, in the community of Vila Cruzeiro – the poor outskirts of the most beautiful Brazilian city – occupied by storm troopers that left a trail of fur should also be chilling. minus 23 dead.

In both cases, the very serious performance of the Federal Highway Police was shocking, a corporation that, in the period prior to the 2016 coup, was on the right path of becoming an efficient, well-equipped and rigorous force, but committed to respect for the Human rights.

Article published by Brazil of Fact remembers that this police had already participated in at least three other similar episodes, in the last period, configuring a scandalous deviation of function. A Globo recalled, in Fantástico, that at least 18 other people had already been victims of truculent behavior by the Federal Highway Police.

What country is this? It is a country dangerously divided into two blocs. Applauding this spiral of violence and the license for police to kill before investigating are supporters of a president who dreams of a new dictatorship and reiterates his determination not to respect the popular vote in the upcoming elections. On the other hand, the citizen majority is growing in the polls, seeking the best solution for Brazil to unite again under the civilizing mantle of the 1988 Magna Carta.

In the Constitution that Ulysses Guimarães named citizen, the PRF is mentioned only in article 144, which reads in a short and bold way: “The Federal Highway Police, a permanent body, organized and maintained by the Union and structured in a career, is intended, in the form of the law, to the ostensive patrolling of federal highways”. Anything that escapes from this clear and direct text is nothing more than fabrication laden with dark intentions.

For what obscure reasons do the current leaders of this Police accept or encourage this path? Would they eventually be engaged in the same coup delirium as the president? Were they being trained or seduced for dictatorial adventures? For what ulterior motives, at the beginning of May, did the head of the corporation extinguish the Human Rights Commissions created in each Regional Superintendence in 2008, causing immediate interpellation by the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office in Goiás?

There was a time, not too long ago, when this Police was advancing in the opposite direction. It's worth remembering. On the same date and at the same ceremony where President Lula presented the PNDH-3 to Brazil, so controversial for establishing the creation of a National Truth Commission to investigate violations during the dictatorial period, the director general of the Federal Highway Police, Helio Derene, received the national human rights award in the Public Safety category.

It was December 21, 2009 and this homage was in response to the meritorious engagement of this police in operations to combat slave labor and also in the national mobilization to face the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, as well as the trafficking of adults for any other reason.

The person who presented him with this award, to strong applause, was Minister of Justice Tarso Genro. Minutes later, in the Right to Memory and Truth category, it fell to Minister Dilma Roussef to deliver the same award to her resistance partner during her youth in Belo Horizonte, Inês Etienne Romeu. Inês was the only survivor of the House of Death, in Petrópolis, where she suffered brutal torture, being sexually abused by the same criminals that the current president honors in the figure of Colonel Ustra.

There was a time, not so long ago, when President Dilma courageously appointed a certain patrol officer, Alice, as Director General. The first woman to command the Federal Highway Police, Maria Alice Nascimento Souza, would also receive, in 2012, for the same merits, the João Canuto award conferred at UFRJ by the Human Rights Movement/MHuD. João Canuto was executed in 1985, with 14 shots, by the ruralist militias of Pará, when he was president of the Union of Rural Workers in Rio Maria.

The MHuD is an entity that brings together important human rights defenders in Rio de Janeiro, such as Father Ricardo Rezende, who was responsible for burying that union leader, as well as artists such as Wagner Moura, Camila Pitanga, Letícia Sabatella and Dira Paes, who today visits our houses like Filó from the soap opera Pantanal.

If we are curious to return to even more distant times, we will read in an official publication of the PRF, commemorating the 90th anniversary of its existence, that it was created in 1928, when Washington Luís was president, being called Police of the Roads. The first of his patrolmen, nicknamed Turquinho, would receive from the chief engineer of the Highway Commission, none other than Yedo Fiuzza, presidential candidate in 1945 for the Communist Party, the determination to organize surveillance on the Rio-Petrópolis, Rio-São Paulo highways and Union and Industry.

It is written in the book: “At that time, the heavy rains required better signage and diversion of stretches, including the use of red lamps at night”. In summary, the PRF was born almost 100 years ago to defend life, the cornerstone of all principles, laws and treaties on Human Rights. Ten years ago, it was engaged in courageous operations related to the defense of these rights and received awards for it. For what reasons have they been turning, in the Bolsonaro government, into yet another uncontrolled messenger of death? How to reverse this setback?

The answer can only be an extremely urgent summons. One more. Addressed to each one of us and to all people who are present in the powers of the Republic – from the municipality to the Union –, as well as to all organizations, entities and popular movements that make up the rich Brazilian civil society. Not one more day of complacency, lethargy, apathy, omission or indifference.

It is quite true that the national calendar reserves for October a special opportunity to change this whole climate of stimulated violence. Time to ensure that the polls no longer elect a president who defends hatred, torture, the superior power of weapons and violence. Never.

But October and January are still too far away for us to be allowed to wait without reacting with the same indignation shown by the American people when George Floyd was murdered. The craziest sectors of Bolsonarism – who preach insanities such as terraplanismo and the cure for chloroquine – can perfectly assess that the best electoral strategy in favor of their myth is the unbridled repetition of massacres like those of May. Every month. Every week. Maybe every day. Even in remote territories like Altamira, where 12 people were eliminated that same month, without investigation or arrest of those responsible.

Much less believe that Bolsonaro's attacks against electronic voting machines, against the TSE and against the Supreme himself are nothing more than bravado and bluffs. And that he will docilely and surprisingly accept the voice of the polls, which will inevitably be hostile to him.

It cannot be tolerated that the Chamber of Deputies – in other countries called the House of the People –, whose members now travel through the states asking for votes, remains dominated by the heel of a president, disciple of Eduardo Cunha, who always acts to monetize and subjugate the Legislature in relations with the Planalto.

Much less, that an Attorney General of the Republic remains engaged in covering up all excesses and crimes, when this important body essential to the exercise of Justice has members who continue to act as fearless and disciplined guardians of the Constitution.

Since hope is a historical, political and theological virtue that must be permanently cultivated, it is appropriate to close this reflection with a just tribute to the federal prosecutors of Goiás, who promptly released a detailed Recommendation number 19, of 30/5/2022, to curb this institutional lack of control: Mariane Guimarães de Mello Oliveira and Marcelo Santiago Wolff.

Committed to revoking the Ordinance of May 3, by which the General Director of the Federal Highway Police, Silvinei Vasques, had extinguished the Human Rights Commissions in the Regional Superintendencies, an ordinance that violates the principle of “non-regression”, constant in the treaties, these attorneys wrote a piece that deserves wide national dissemination, with emphasis on teaching in law courses and in the pedagogical units of the different police or military corporations.

In no less than 20 recitals, the constitutional texts, laws, international conventions, decrees and rulings in force are listed that point to the need for the Federal Highway Police to maintain in its preparatory courses, entrance exams, improvement programs and the practical exercise of police, broad knowledge and strict observance of the universal postulates of human rights.

The recitals include innovative references that were built over decades, such as the National Plan for Education in Human Rights, which perhaps would not even exist without the dogged commitment of defenders such as Margarida Genevois and Maria Victoria Benevides, who honor the Arns Human Rights Commission as indispensable colleagues:

“Human rights education constitutes a strategic instrument within security and justice policies to support the consonance between a culture of promotion and defense of human rights and democratic principles”, having as a principle the “promotion of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in training and qualification actions for professionals in the area and specific disciplines of education in human rights”.

In a more extensive transcription, it also incorporates normative paragraphs from the National Guidelines for the Promotion and Defense of the Human Rights of Public Security Professionals (Interministerial Ordinance number 2/2010 Ministry of Justice and Human Rights Secretariat), a document that resulted from two years of research, studies and seminars with different police forces from several states, under the coordination of Federal Police Chief Daniel Lerner, Deputy Chief of Staff of the SDH, together with lawyer Isabel Figueiredo, specialist in public security, then advisor to the Minister of Justice.

This document, an initial step in the construction of a national program for the defense of the human rights of police officers, proposed: “To promote the adequacy of the curricula of the academies to the National Curriculum Matrix, ensuring the inclusion of disciplines aimed at teaching and understanding the system and policy national public security and human rights”; “permanently updating the teaching of Human Rights in the academies, reinforcing in the courses the understanding that public security professionals are also holders of Human Rights, must act as defenders and promoters of these rights and need to be seen in this way by the community”; “direct training activities towards consolidating the understanding that the work of public security professionals guided by international standards of respect for human rights does not hinder or weaken the activity of public security institutions, but gives them credibility, respect social and superior efficiency”.

* Paulo Vannuchi, journalist, was Minister of the Special Secretariat for Human Rights in the Lula government (2006-2010). He is currently a member of the Arns Commission.


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