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Second Presidential Message – SALALM LX

Throughout 2014, many institutions in Brazil and the United States held conferences and other academic events in observance of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 coup in Brazil.  In 1964, the Brazilian military overthrew the democratic government of João Goulart.  For the next 21 years, Brazil was ruled under a right-wing military dictatorship that caused hundreds of deaths, extensive human rights violations, and the curtailment of political and civil liberties through direct repression and censorship.  Brazil was the first in a wave of military takeovers that engulfed Southern Cone countries, leading to the institutionalization of terror as state policy.

Beyond the tragic loss of human lives and political freedoms, the onset of the military regime had profound consequences in the realms of education, cultural production, and information access rights in Brazil.  Informers and purges at universities were widespread.  Many scholars and intellectuals were forced into retirement and banned from teaching in Brazilian universities.  Prominent historians Emília Viotti da Costa and Maria Yedda Leite Linhares and social scientists Florestan Fernandes, Otávio Ianni, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso experienced forced retirement and exile firsthand.  Mass media and the entertainment industry were closely policed by the regime’s censorship agency.  Due to their ability to reach mass audiences, newspapers and news broadcasts were prime targets of censorship.  Film, popular music, and the performing arts were directly submitted to government control as well.

Censorial interventions in the book publishing sector were not as overt as in the entertainment and news media, but the effects were no less damaging.  A recent study by Sandra Reimão, Communications Professor at the University of São Paulo, found that hundreds of books were screened by government officials in the years from 1970 when systematic censorship began to 1988 when it finally ended.  Out of 492 titles, 313 books (or 64 percent) were officially banned; the remaining 179 were cleared by censors.  Although many political texts were censored, most of the banned materials were pornography and erotic fiction imprints.  Pornographic content was the dominant criterion for banning books, as authorities were obsessed with content considered harmful to public morality.  Additionally, literary works that leveled criticism against the regime were also targeted.  One of the most emblematic novels banned and confiscated by the regime was Zero by Ignácio de Loyola Brandão, a prominent voice in contemporary Brazilian letters.  Reimão’s book, Repressão e resistência: censura a livros na ditadura militar [2011; Repression and Resistance: Book Censorship during the Military Dictatorship], is based on the extant records of the Department of Public Entertainment Censorship, the central censorship agency.  These records are currently housed in the National Archives in Brasília.

Censorship also affected research and academic publishing in Brazil.  Writing in the late 1970s, our colleague Peter T. Johnson argued that official censorship created an environment that restricted the choice of research topics by Brazilian historians and social scientists.  As the author describes, labor, student activism, and social movements were “off-limit topics,” as were analyses of contemporary issues especially if they were critical of the policies of the military regime then in place.  Likewise, the publishing marketplace placed constraints on academic presses.  Reliance on government subsidies led some publishers to avoid sensitive themes, effectively adopting self-censorship as a strategy in their publishing programs.  Censorship had the overall effect of eroding the practice of public debate about problems in Brazilian society.  Peter’s piece “Academic Press Censorship under Military and Civilian Regimes” appeared in Luso-Brazilian Review in 1978.

In 2012, the Brazilian government established the Comissão Nacional da Verdade (CNV, or National Truth Commission) to investigate the human rights abuses committed in the country between 1946 and 1988, with particular attention to post-1964 events.  The creation of the CNV represented a milestone in the field of human rights advocacy in Brazil.  Several Latin American countries that either experienced military dictatorships, such as Argentina and Chile, or were affected by civil strife, as in Guatemala and Perú, promptly created truth commissions as a form of transitional justice as they tried to restore democratic institutions.  Brazil did not follow this path—until recently.  A few days ago, the CNV officially submitted its report on the killings, disappearances and cases of torture perpetrated during the dictatorship to current President Dilma Rousseff.  Incidentally, the report was released on Human Rights Day, a United Nations observance that takes place every year on December 10th.  While the official report provides solid evidence of extensive and systematic use of torture by the military regime, the lack of access to key records from the armed forces hampered the investigation into the fate of many of the disappeared victims. The complete report can be accessed on the CNV’s website.

Access to information is paramount to fully understanding this troubled chapter of Brazil’s recent past.  For years, LAMP—an organization that has long-standing ties to SALALM—has been instrumental in the preservation of an important piece of the historical memory of this era.  Formerly known as the Latin American Microform Project, LAMP is a cooperative initiative seeking to preserve and promote better access to primary materials from Latin America.  Since its creation in 1975, LAMP has been managed by the Center for Research Libraries (CRL).  In 2011, LAMP and CRL entered into a partnership with the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in São Paulo supporting the digitization of the Brasil: Nunca Mais collection.  Available in microfilm, this unique collection consists of 707 court cases involving civilians tried by the Military Supreme Court during the years from 1964 to 1979.

The Military Supreme Court served as the appellate court in the special military justice system set up by the dictatorship to try civilians accused of violating national security laws in Brazil.  These offenses ranged from relatively innocuous charges of writing anti-government articles in the press to the more grave accusation of involvement with subversive organizations.  The military court system was the subject of a stimulating study by political scientist Anthony W. Pereira.  In Political (In)justice: Authoritarianism and the Rule of Law in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina (2005), Pereira states that the political trials served to apply a veneer of legality to the regime’s repression.  It was important for the regime to show that civilian opponents were taken to court for their crimes against national security.

Secretly copied by lawyers and human rights advocates, the military court records show human rights violations by the military government in Brazil.  These records were the cornerstone of an unprecedented report coordinated by the Archbishop of São Paulo documenting the systematic practice of torture by the military regime.  An abridged version of the report, including excerpts of the court cases, appeared in the best-selling volume Brasil: Nunca Mais, published by Editora Vozes in 1985.  The English-language edition, Torture in Brazil, came out in 1986.

Shortly afterward, in 1987, Librarian Emerita Laura Gutérrez-Witt, serving as LAMP chair, negotiated for the transfer of the complete microfilm copy of the court records from the Brasil: Nunca Mais project to CRL.  Significantly, CRL agreed to store the 543-reel microfilm set and to improve access to the records it also created a comprehensive finding aid for the complete collection.  In 2011, with funding from LAMP, duplicates of the original film were made and sent to Brazil for digitization.  The open-access portal Brasil: Nunca Mais digit@l was officially launched in 2013.  It goes without saying that LAMP and CRL—and SALALM by extension—have been good stewards of this invaluable record of Brazilian history.

You can learn more about the intriguing history of the Brasil: Nunca Mais collection in the Winter 2012 issue of CRL’s Focus.  The issue was dedicated to human rights documentation projects managed by the Center for Research Libraries.

I would like to take the opportunity to remind SALALM and non-SALALM members of some approaching deadlines.  The deadline for conference proposal submissions is January 30, 2015.  Preferably, please use the online form for submitting your proposals.  Please note that information regarding hotel reservations will be coming out in early February 2015.  There is also time to apply for the following travel award programs: the ENLACE Travel Awards and the Presidential Travel Fellowship.

As the year draws to a close, I would like to wish you a happy holiday season and a very productive new year.

Boas Festas – Felices Pascuas –  Happy Holidays,

Luis A. González
President, SALALM (2014-2015)
Indiana University
13 December 2014

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