torture in brazil -- 5/08/15

Today's selection -- from The History of Brazil by Robert M. Levine. In 1964, after a liberal president tried to enact sweeping reforms, the military took over the government of Brazil in an almost bloodless coup. Before long, dissent against this military dictatorship resulted in repression and torture to quell that dissent:

"By 1969 tensions had increased and the atmosphere had become more confrontational. At the local and state level, police and military officers, often acting on their own, stepped up arbitrary arrests of persons they considered subversive, and reports began to surface of brutality and torture. Under [General Emiliano Garrastazu] Medici, repression at the national level also worsened. ... The political police and the intelligence agencies of each of military services carried out mass arrests and drove thousands of others from their jobs or into exile. As ever, whether one was tortured, murdered, or simply allowed to leave the country depended on one's personal and family connections; it helped to have a cousin or brother-in-law who was a colonel. ...

This monument depicts the "pau de arrara," the infamous 
"parrot's perch" torture rack, widely used in Brazil during the
Military dictatorial regime in the late 60's & 70's.

"During the 1960s and 1970s the armed forces and their civilian agents used intimidation to teach patriotism. Billboards overlooking city streets showed a hand holding a work permit, and a warning in large letters: 'Without proper documents you are nothing!' Military and police censors drove newspapers and book publishers out of business and tightly censored the Brazilian movie industry, theater, and popular music. Television networks constantly carried government propaganda. Bumper stickers were distributed with slogans like 'Brazil: Love It or Leave It.' ... The chilling warnings against dissent and in favor of patriotic loyalty hammered home in the government's propaganda campaign came through loud and clear in the selection titled 'The Maximum Norm of the Exercise of Liberty.' Consider this excerpt from a textbook required for all secondary school students:

Brazil, to us in 1973, in the tenth year of the Revolution, is an enormous land distinguished by its greatness among the nations of South America; it is a land of hope, destined for power and for world leadership. Its population of 110 millions form a western people forever united in pride and bravery. We are known for our generous character and Christian values; we love this country because it is ours; we triumph in its progress. .... This is my country; I am proud to call myself Brazilian .... We Brazilians know that teamwork is more effective than individual effort. ... To subordinate our own freedoms to the common good is the maximum norm of the exercise of liberty in the social order.

President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff,
at 22 in 1970 as a captured guerrilla at
a military hearing. She was forced into
the parrots perch. (Seen above).

"Courageous investigative reporting as well as inquiries by foreign human rights organizations and the Brazilian Catholic Church revealed scores of hideous abuses. Agents of the Second Army's OBAN (Operation Bandeirantes) and Sao Paulo's DOI/CODI (Internal Operations Department) conducted tortures so brutal that most victims died or were permanently impaired. ... Victims were grabbed in their homes during the night and immediately hooded so they could not see who had kidnapped them. The dictatorship institutionalized the torture apparatus by creating a nationwide network of information and training -- in some cases with active consultation with the U.S. FBI and other military and police agencies. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supplied field radios that were used to administer electric shocks.

Oxygen was introduced only through tiny holes in the walls. For the first five days of incarceration, the prisoner was nude and hooded, his or her arms tied behind the back. Food was withheld and no sleeping was allowed. The captive had to defecate and urinate on the floor of the cell; every movement was monitored through closed-circuit television. During the day, the victim faced beatings --especially the 'telephone' torture, in which objects were mashed with great force against the ears. The captors administered electric shocks -- 'in the fingers, hands, feet, genitals, stomach, chest, and arms.' 'During the night, bone-chilling sounds were played with the objective of 'destructuring' the captive's personalty. Diabolical sounds ... seemed to penetrate the head like a corkcrew.'

The torturers subjected their prisoners in the geladeira to cycles of heat and cold, noise and silence, first 'lowering the temperature inside the box and playing loud recordings of aircraft noise over the speakers and starting the strobe lights blinking.' Then the cycle went on to 'heat up [the box] to about 115 degrees, all lights turned of ... [to create] dead silence.' Once this cold/loud/hot/silence relationship had been established, the combinations were reversed until in some cases 'weeks of constant exposure to a changing constellation of sense patterns ... causes ... a total nervous breakdown.' "


Robert M. Levine


The History of Brazil (Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations)


Palgrave Macmillan Trade


Copyright Robert M. Levine 1999


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