Brazilians Learn Harrowing Details Of Military Torture
RIO DE JANEIRO
FOR David Capistrano Jr., it should have been a time of celebration. On Sunday, the left-wing politician swept to victory in the mayoral race in the Brazilian port city of Santos.
But several days earlier he and hundreds of other Brazilians who lost family and friends to torture and murder during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship had learned how their loved ones actually died.
In 1974, Mr. Capistrano's father, a leading communist, was picked up in the south of the country, taken to a house outside of Rio de Janeiro, tortured, and executed - most likely with an injection of a drug used to destroy horses. After his killers removed his fingertips to inhibit identification, his corpse was dismembered, placed in concrete-weighted sacks, and the parts scattered.
The details of the elder Capistrano's death and those of others on the military's "elimination list" were contained in interviews with Marival Dias Chaves do Canto, a 45-year-old former Army sergeant and intelligence agent, published last weekend in the news magazine Veja.
While the abuse and "disappearance" of the military regime's opponents has been a matter of public record for nearly a decade, the news still managed to shock. Mr. Chaves is the first member of Brazil's security fraternity to break the silence concerning the methods of repression, and he has provided Brazilians with the first inside look at the operations of the feared Internal Operations Detachment of the Army Internal Defense Operations Center.
According to government and independent human rights groups, 144 leftists vanished during the military government's "dirty war" against subversion. While this number pales in comparison to the estimated 10,000 who disappeared during Argentina's military repression of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Chaves's revelations show that repression in Brazil was far more systematic and violent than many thought.
"It horrifies me to see up to what point the ferocity of the dominant classes can go to defend their interests," Capistrano told the Rio de Janeiro newspaper Jornal do Brasil. "We knew that he had been killed under torture, but the details are cruel."
CHAVES - who says he was never personally involved in torture - revealed the location of several mass burial sites and torture centers, named key torturers, and explained the grim details of his agency's methods.
Brazilians also learned the names of prominent leftists who were actually in the pay of the security agencies. Most were tortured themselves before they changed sides, but their reports were crucial to the identification and later execution of many leftist leaders.
Because of his revelations, the government is now planning a search of the Rio Novo, a river near Sao Paulo, where many of the body parts were dumped. But Chaves's new information provides little hope that any of the bodies will be identified, even if they are found. He added that former security force members have, on at least one occasion, moved corpses buried underground just as investigators were closing in on their location.
And the revelations are unlikely to result in any prosecutions. In the transition to civilian rule, a blanket amnesty was given to nearly all involved in repression and violent revolutionary activity during the military regime. The government has said it will try to compensate families for their suffering.
Joao Luis de Moraes, president of the Brazilian group Tortura Nunca Mais (Torture, Never Again), lost his leftist-revolutionary daughter, Maria Moraes Angel, in 1973. For many years her family believed she had died in a shootout with security forces in Sao Paulo.
Chaves confirmed that she died under torture.
"People didn't believe this happened. We knew, but people were afraid," says Mr. Moraes, an Army reserve officer. "Chaves has confirmed all our years of work and suffering."