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Brazil: Love and Revolution

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Brazil: Love and Revolution

by Jan Rocha

Who would have thought that a TV soap opera would so incense some retired military officers that they would want it banned?

love_and_revolutionA scene from Love and RevolutionBut this is no ordinary soap. SBT’s ‘Love and Revolution’ is set in the days following the 1964 coup and follows the fortune of leftwing militants and students who are persecuted, captured and brutally tortured by a sadistic police officer, which is apparently based on the late, real life delegado Sergio Fleury.

Waterboarding, pau de arara (parrot’s perch) and electric shock torture are shown in close-up detail. The dialogues are wooden – more like political speeches than conversation – and there is an unlikely romance between a beautiful student leader and a handsome army Intelligence officer, but probably what annoys the military most are the testimonies from real ex-political prisoners at the end of each episode, describing in graphic detail the torture they endured.

The military group’s justification for demanding the ban is that the TV soap opera is in conflict with the 1979 Law of Amnesty, which exempted all members of the security forces from being brought to trial for any crimes committed during the 1964-1979 period, the worst period of repression in Brazil. They are asking both serving and retired officers to sign an online petition in support of taking the soap off the airwaves.

In response, supporters of ‘Love and the Revolution’ are circulating their own petition, which asks SBT, the TV channel, to show all 180 episodes and to reject the attempt to censor the soap. They say it will help the younger generations to learn about the recent past.

That is the real importance of this soap – reaching an audience that knows little or nothing about what happened during the 21 years of dictatorship, or why there was a coup in the first place.

Soon Congress is due to vote on a government bill to establish a Truth Commission. It is important that  public opinion is better informed. Under presssure from the armed forces, the Commission’s terms of reference have already been watered down, and the word ‘justice’ has been omitted from the original title.

Brazil is the only one of the six Southern Cone countries that had dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s (the others being Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia) to have failed to bring any of the military to trial. The army has refused to reveal the location of graves of murdered dissidents in the Amazon. The archives of the armed forces remain largely unopened.

While Brazil insists on impunity for the perpetrators of crimes against human rights committed during the dictatorship, the story in neighbouring countries is very different. In Argentina, two former general-presidents during the dictatorship, both in their 80s, have just been sentenced to perpetual imprisonment, to be served in ordinary prisons. There, the amnesty laws granted by previous governments were repealed by Nestor Kirchner, a move sanctioned by Congress and the Supreme Court. In Uruguay the Senate has just voted to repeal their version of an Amnesty Law. In Chile, Paraguay and Bolivia there have been versions of Truth and Justice Commissions, and perpetrators have been imprisoned.

Brazil remains the odd man out, refusing to face up to the past. Some observers link this continuing impunity with the continuing torture in police stations of ordinary prisoners.

President Dilma Rousseff, herself an ex-political prisoner who suffered torture, has indicated that she has not forgotten the past, and wants more transparency. The question is how far she will go, and how well human rights orgnisations, TV soaps and the media, in general, can mobilise public opinion to support a Truth Commission with teeth.