Brazil Hides its Crimes Through Inhumane Legislation

It has been 25 years since Brazil’s military regime ended.  Yet, the crimes and violence enforced by the country’s authorities from 1964 to 1985 have failed to see the light of justice.

Military Dictatorship in Brazil

Brazil's Military Regime

As a condition to allow the restoration of democracy in Brazil in 1979, the military regime enacted legislation designed to provide blanket amnesty for ”political or political related crimes” committed since 1961.  The law has been used since then, to provide state agents with immunity from crimes they committed during the country’s military era.  Because of it, state officials were able to get away with torture, enforced disappearances and killings.  These crimes are so grave, that they  fall under the jurisdiction of international law.

A few months ago, in April of 2010, the Brazilian Supreme Court had an opportunity to repeal the amnesty law.  Many of us hoped that the “new Brazil” would show maturity and respect for human rights.  Instead, they decided to uphold the old interpretation, indicating that crimes committed by members of the military regime were political acts and therefore they were protected by the amnesty law.

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Freedom of Expression, Incessantly Suppressed in Latin America

The Inter American Press Association has been calling attention to numerous governmental acts intended to censure and inhibit freedom of expression in Latin America. As political leaders in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela have been leading the efforts in funding media outlets that do little else than disseminate political propaganda, the problem is spreading fast throughout the entire region.

Silence Image

In Ecuador, the federal government seized the newspaper El Telégrafo, after they also confiscated the assets of banker and major shareholder Fernando Aspiazu, who was jailed on charges of fraud and unlawful activity in the now defunct Banco de Progreso he owned.  The authorities redesigned the newspaper and are now using it to spread hard-hitting official advertising campaigns.

In Argentina, President Cristina Kirchner declared the two leading newspapers in the country, El Clarin and La Nacion, as enemies of her government. Since then, she has tried to find ways to control their activities. With this objective in mind she took over the nation’s main supplier of newsprint, alleging that the two leading newspapers illegally conspired with dictators to control the company three decades ago and then used it to drive competing newspapers out of business.

In Brazil, with the blessing of the federal government, at least five states are trying to enact legislation intended to create agencies that would allow the local Executive Power to control and overrule local media’s activities.

In Mexico, it is not the action of the government, but its inaction that is affecting local media. In the past six months 14 journalists have been killed. The headquarters of the Newspaper “El Sur”, in Acapulco, were attacked by drug cartels, all because the reporters and the media dared to denounce the illegal activities and organized crimes in the country.

The examples go on and on.  Authorities in Latin America are trying to suppress freedom of expression.  Without these vital components of democracy, the livelihood of the nations is endangered at its very core. Hundreds, if not thousands of people throughout the region have given money, work and their lives to ensure that their countries may one day enjoy true freedom of expression, uncensored and unadulterated by their governments.  But, with the most recent actions (or inactions) of the regions governments, all pro-democratic efforts may result in vain.  The progress that had been made is being reversed. The days in which one could give an opinion may soon come to an end.  Authorities must stop.  And civil society must act now.

To those of you who are reading this article, realize that you are doing so precisely because some freedom of expression is still possible.  Together we can and we must ensure that oppressive governments do not put an end to our rights.

Homophobic Hate Crimes Spreading Throughout Brazil

Alexandre Ivo, a 14-year-old boy, was tortured and killed in June 2010 in Rio de Janeiro.  Why? Because he was gay. Ms. Patricia Gomes and Ms.Sandra de Moraes, two female professors living in Parana, were killed in their own home in December of 2009.  Why? Because they were lovers.

Sao Paulo Gay Pride 2010

Although Sao Paulo hosted in 2010 the biggest gay parade in the world, with over 3.3 million people, Brazil suffers from one of the highest numbers of hate crimes in Latin America. The fear of homosexuality in the country is increasingly being expressed through horrific crimes nationwide, as reported by multiple sources.  The Latin-American Center on Sexuality and Human Rights has identified that the states of Parana and Bahia have the two highest numbers of crimes against homosexuals in the country and at least 15 people were killed in each Brazilian state in 2009, simply for being members of the LGBT community.  According to Senator Fatima Cleide, from the state of Rondonia, one person dies every two days, as a victim of homophobic crimes in Brazil. The Brazilian gay rights group Grupo Gay da Bahia (GGB), which is funded by the World Bank and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), estimates that between 1980 and 2009 well over 3,100 homosexuals were killed by hate crimes in the country.

Brazil is at a pivotal moment in its history.  The new administration can choose between allowing hate crimes to continue festering the nation’s stance towards human rights, or promote respect and equality for all.  Its neighboring country, Argentina, has already shown the world that progress is not only possible but it also ought to be considered imminent in Latin America. Brazilians can, if they decide to do so, show their leadership and put an end to homophobic hate crimes in the nation, reverse the titles held by Parana and Bahia, and become a promoter of equality.

While hundreds of people die every year based on hate crimes, Brazilian Congress has struggled since 2006 to approve legislation categorizing homophobic violence as crimes. Religious and conservative interests have proven to be strong and effective opponents to this human rights law.

Not only are Brazilian LGBTs treated as second-class citizens, but people are dying because of this.  Successful professionals, loving couples, and young boys and girls, among many others, are suffering of intolerance and are being killed because of the lack of action of society and legislators. It is an unfair reality.  The question I have for the readers and the country’s newly elected politicians is: When will ALL Brazilians be protected and have equal rights under law?

A Friendship Forged During the Dirty War

Marshall Meyer

Marshall Meyer

When the world you live is filled with the constant threat of disappearances, torture and murder, how do friendships happen?

On Monday, in a small lecture hall at Duke University, Argentine Ambassador Hector Timerman, son of famed journalist Jacobo Timerman, told about one unexpected friendship that developed during that country’s infamous Dirty War and how it helped to save his father’s life.

The Duke event was a celebration of the life of Rabbi Marshall Meyer, the American who lived in Argentina in the 1970s risked his life to help the Timerman family and many others.  Hector Timerman couldn’t attend the event, but he sent a letter that moved everyone who heard it.

Timerman wrote of how Meyer refused to let both the violent threats and the petty bureaucratic obstacles of the Argentina military junta stop him from action.  But 30 years later, the thing that puzzled Timerman was why?  Why did this man who didn’t know the family, who wasn’t even Argentinean, come to their help?

Even now, I sometimes have difficulty understanding the decision Marshall made to risk his life, as well as that of his wife and children, for a few victims whom he hardly knew, for a country that was not his own and against some murderers who had not included him among their enemies.
Marshall could have been one more of the thousands of liars that are still saying that they did not know what was happening while their neighbors were kidnapped and murdered.

To read the full text of the letter, click here.

Photos courtesy Duke Archive for Human Rights

Photos courtesy Duke Archive for Human Rights

Rabbi Meyer, who died in 1993 (his letters detailing his amazing life promoting human rights both in South America and in the United States are held in the Duke Archives for Human Rights), believed human rights activists had a particular imperative to tell true stories.  Debora Benchoam, the second-youngest person to be arrested by security forces during the Dirty War, was at the Duke event. She said that after Meyer helped gain her freedom and leave the country, he gave her a mission.

“As we waited to board the airplane, he told me to tell my story, as a way of making sure that people knew what had happened in Argentina and who was responsible,” she said.

Now story telling is not sufficient in itself, but Meyer’s belief is a nice reminder of the importance of story telling to human rights work and how essential it is to taking action.