Friday, April 19, 2024




One of the most important official documents of the last century, listing a long series of crimes and human rights violations inflicted on indigenous groups during the military dictatorship, has just been unearthed.

nigeldickinson.photoshelter.comThe expedition covered over 16,000 kilometres and visited more than 130 indigenous posts where countless crimes and human rights violations were being inflicted on the Indians. Despite this, the government of the day ignored the demand in the report, known as the Figueiredo report, for 33 government employees to be sacked and 17 suspended. After disappearing for 45 years, one of the most important documents produced by the Brazilian state in the last century, the so-called Figueiredo report, which documented the extermination of entire indigenous tribes, torture and all kinds of cruelty against the Indians – principally carried out by landowners and employees of the now extinct Service for the Protection of the Indian (SPI) – has resurfaced almost intact. Thought to have been destroyed in a fire in the Ministry of Agriculture, it was recently found in the Museum of the Indian in Rio de Janeiro, with more than 7,000 pages intact and with 29 of the original 30 volumes. In one of the many brutal accounts in the document, it relates how the Minas Gerais State Government knew about, and on the Day of the Indian published details of, one of the most common torture instruments, known as the “trunk”. It described it as follows: “It works by grinding the ankles of the victims, who are tied between two stakes, which are buried in the ground at an acute angle. Pulleys bring the stakes slowly and continuously closer together so that the ankles are crushed.”

Photo included in the Figueiredo Report 

  The document, written by then Prosecutor Jader de Figueiredo Correia, denounces the hunting of Indians with machine guns, the throwing of sticks of dynamite from planes, the deliberate injection of smallpox into the Indians and the donation to them of sugar mixed with strychnine [a poison]. It may well become a trump card for the Truth Commission, which is investigating human rights violations between 1946 and 1988. The report, written in 1967 in the middle of the dictatorship at the request of the then Minister of the Interior, Albuquerque Lima, as a result of parliamentary enquiries in 1962 and 1963 and later demands by deputies, was produced after an expedition that covered more than 16,000 kilometres, interviewed dozens of SPI employees and visited more than 130 indigenous posts. Jader de Figueiredo Correia and his team witnessed many crimes, proposed that many more, recounted to them by Indians, should be investigated, and were shocked by the cruelty and bestiality of some government employees. However, justice was never done. Albuquerque Lima called for the sacking of 33 SPI employees and the suspension of 17 more but later many of them were exonerated in the courts.

Photo by Marcelo Zelic

The only records available before now were those given in newspaper reports written after a press conference had been held in the Ministry of the Interior, in March 1968, to explain what Jader and his team had found. The press conference had international repercussions, with reports being published in newspapers like The New York Times. However, the investigations did not continue after this and many of the government employees involved in the denunciations were acquitted. Many were transferred to other posts in an attempt to hide what had happened. On 13 December of the same year, the government decreed Institutional Act no. 5, restricting civil liberties and making the authoritarian regime more rigid. Marcelo Zelic, the vice-president of the group, Tortura Nunca Mais, and the coordinator of the Memory Archive Project, was the person who discovered the document, stored in 50 cardboard boxes in Rio de Janeiro. He says that, even before the discovery, the Figueiredo Report was worrying those who might be mentioned in it. “There are already people attacking the authenticity of the report. I think they’re really afraid of what it might say. People are attacking it without having seen it.”

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