A mediocre view of history

Image: Joel Santos


The dictatorship poisoned Brazilian society, its recovery can only come with history, memory, truth and justice. Which will only exist if the Armed Forces come down from the pedestal on which they are placed

We all already felt that during Jair Bolsonaro's government a military coup was being plotted. But a series of initiatives by the Federal Police, in February 2024, revealed the practice of concrete acts in this regard. Many military personnel agreed to participate in a military coup, many others heard that this was being planned and remained silent, but they were unable to coordinate the initiative, probably knowing that it would not be well accepted by anyone, especially the United States. According to the Minister of Defense, they could carry out the coup, but they didn't want to. So we were grateful. It will be?

This attitude, placid and accommodating, can be classified as shallow as a plain: it does not see what is behind and equally does not realize what may lie ahead. Because whoever doesn't want it today may want it tomorrow. What can be deduced from this news is that the military believes that they are guardians of the constitutional order, bearers of the power to discern what is good for the country and when it is good.

To think that, if the military does not move to attack, the answer is also not to move, is a bet fueled by a mediocre vision of history. It is the acceptance that the country can continue to be protected by the Armed Forces, which ensures the maintenance of order and progress, as long as its parameters are not exceeded. Everything that comes close to this immovability is considered a danger.

We were subject to messages on Twitter about good conduct. Civil society must not risk crossing this red line, sewn in ignorance of the Brazilian historical process after the proclamation of the Republic. Because the Armed Forces have not yet incorporated the changes that have occurred since the 1920s, including the role of defeated military revolts and the modernization of the country. The mentality of the military is anchored in the defense of Order and Progress inscribed on the flag.

With this imposed arrogance, the crimes against humanity committed by the civil-military dictatorship installed on March 31, 1964 – torture, deaths, disappearances – are forgotten, amnestied, reset, the opening takes place on a blank slate. Brand new democracy, without a past. So why now recreate a Commission on the Dead and Missing if, as a retired general once said, they are already dead and missing.

What is the natural result of this procedure? The normalization of torture, summary executions and disappearances carried out in the name of the State of order and progress. And since the rights of more than two hundred million people cannot be violated at the same time, it is necessary to find a privileged target for these practices. That will be found in the old slave tradition whose ideology remains in force.

The poor, black people and those living in the favela were never treated with the equality that their citizenship established since the abolition of slavery, but after the dictatorial experience, this inequality came to fruition in a persecution directly directed against them, materialized in summary executions and mass incarceration, with continuous violations of prisoners and their families.

When it took hold, the violence of the Brazilian State brought with it something even worse: the naturalization of this violence by the Brazilian population, the old and always renewed: “a good criminal is a dead criminal”.

Today, at the same time that governments, in all their instances and partisan colors, have enthroned the idea that combating “organized crime” means killing, invading the territories of poverty and causing a few dozen deaths, true public security , based on investigation and planning, is left aside, exasperating the population.

This trivialization of violence is the poison that the dictatorship bequeathed to us. Because it is not just about tolerating State violence, it is also about cheating with its exemplary punishment, in order to indicate who can violate rights. And it is in this process that impunity for State crimes is established, dampening any feeling of indignation with the suffering of poor and black populations, whether in cases of summary executions, or in everything that refers to prisons, prisoners, prisoners and their families.

The dictatorship poisoned Brazilian society, its recovery can only come with history, memory, truth and justice. Which can only exist if the Armed Forces come down from the pedestal on which they are placed.

*Angela Mendes de Almeida is a history professor at PUC-SP. Author, among other books, of Revolution and Civil War in Spain (Brasiliense).

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