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Bolsonaro’s Call to Commemorate the 1964 Dictatorship Sparks Protests in Brazil

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil recently called for the military to commemorate the 1964 coup d’État that ousted President João Goulart and replaced him with a military dictatorship that would last until 1985.

At least 434 people were killed or disappeared in Brazil during the dictatorship. Bolsonaro was quoted saying in 2008, “the error of the dictatorship was that it tortured but did not kill.”  Bolsonaro has also referred to the dictatorship as a “glorious” time in Brazil.

Latin America experienced many right-wing dictatorships in the latter half of the twentieth century characterized by repression of human rights and extreme brutality, including Pinochet’s regime in Chile and Videla’s regime in Argentina. However, unlike Chile and Argentina, the military officials responsible for the violations of human rights during the dictatorship in Brazil have never been prosecuted.

Bolsonaro’s decision to commemorate the dictatorship on its 55th anniversary provoked widespread disapproval, to which Bolsonaro clarified that the intent of the celebration is to commemorate the era and not necessarily the coup or the subsequent military regime per se.

Brazil’s Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement that read that commemorating the dictatorship would be celebrating “an unconstitutional regime responsible for serious crimes of violation of human rights.”

Commemorative dates in Brazil must be approved by Congress. Judge Ivani Silva da Luz barred Bolsonaro’s call to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the coup and military dictatorship, explaining that such a commemoration is “not compatible with the process of democratic reconstruction.”

However, an appeals court judge, Maria do Carmo Cardoso, overturned Judge Silva da Luz’s initial ban. Judge Cardoso stated that Brazil’s democracy was strong enough for a “pluralism of ideas.” She said, “I see no violation of human rights, particularly as similar demonstrations took place in the barracks in preceding years, with no negative consequences.”

Bolsonaro’s call for commemoration, and the subsequent overturn on the ban, has sparked protests throughout Brazil. Approximately two thousand people gathered in Rio de Janeiro to demonstrate against the dictatorship and its celebration. Several hundred citizens gathered in Ibirapuera Park in Sao Paulo and roughly one thousand gathered in Brasilia to protest as well.

Protestors holding up photographs of individuals who went missing during the dictatorship as part of the demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Nelson Almeida/ AFP/  France 24

Protestors holding up photographs of individuals who went missing during the dictatorship as part of the demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Nelson Almeida/ AFP/ France 24

Maria Fatima, age 65, commented at the demonstration of Rio de Janeiro, “It’s not a date that should be commemorated. It is a day of mourning, of violence, of cruelty.”

President Bolsonaro and armed guards at a flag ceremony at the Presidential Palace, two days before the 55th anniversary of the coup. Photo: Antonio Cruz/ Agencia Handout/  Reuters

President Bolsonaro and armed guards at a flag ceremony at the Presidential Palace, two days before the 55th anniversary of the coup. Photo: Antonio Cruz/ Agencia Handout/ Reuters

Brazil’s armed forces did in fact hold a ceremony at the Presidential Palace on Friday, two days before the actual anniversary date of the coup since Bolsonaro was scheduled to be in Israel on April 1, when the actual anniversary would take place. Other events commemorating the anniversary also took place.