Analysis. For him, the coup of 60 years ago ‘is now part of history.’ He’s more concerned about the attempted coup of 2023 and restoring the military’s loyalty.

Brazil’s military coup was 60 years ago, but Lula is moving on

Even 60 years after the coup, the military is still arousing fear in Brazil. On March 31, 1964, the coup led by General Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco ended the democratic government of President João Goulart, accused of being “in the service of international communism.” His guilt lay in intending to pass the so-called Reformas de base: first of all, agrarian reform, to achieve the democratization of land ownership that the country is still waiting for after 60 years, and then educational reform (based on Paulo Freire’s approach to pedagogy), fiscal reform and urban reform. The coup was actively supported by the United States, as was shown in 2004 by declassified documents published online from the National Security Archive, which point to the involvement of, among others, Lyndon Johnson (while John F. Kennedy was already planning military action against Goulart), Robert McNamara and Lincoln Gordon (the U.S. ambassador to Brazil).

The deposed president would later die in Argentina on December 6, 1976, a few months after General Videla’s coup: officially of a heart attack, but possibly poisoned as part of Operation Condor. And 434 opponents of the coup regime were killed or disappeared together with him, according to the report on the crimes of the military dictatorship presented by the National Truth Commission (CNV) in late 2014.

Even if that figure might seem modest compared to Argentina’s 30,000 desaparecidos, the atrocities documented in the report are no less shocking – especially since the promulgation, in December 1968, of AI-5: the Institutional Act that began the most brutal phase of the dictatorship, with the closure of Congress, the institutionalization of repression and torture, the censorship of the media and the suspension of political rights of opponents. Ten years after that report, the CNV’s desire for a “full reconciliation” of the military with Brazilian society has been left largely unfulfilled – as the military’s participation in the attempted coup of January 8, 2023 resoundingly showed, but also according to the interpretation of the 1964 coup by broad sectors of the armed forces as a “democratic movement” committed to “saving” the country from Communism.

For all these reasons, Lula’s decision to cancel all official events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the coup has caused disappointment and dismay: the anniversary was to be approached “as quietly as possible,” the president said on February 27 in an interview with RedeTv!, saying he was “more concerned about the January 2023 coup than the ’64 coup.” For him, the coup of 60 years ago “is now part of history,” and today’s military “were children back then: some were not even born.” Therefore, he said, “I don’t want to keep dredging it up,” since it’s the right time to “rebuild the loyalty of the military.”

In summary, in the midst of the investigations into the attempted coup of 2023, which involved wide participation by the armed forces, Lula had no desire to start a new polemical clash with the military, and thought that the best course was to let everything pass in silence. However, his words certainly didn’t satisfy the 150 organizations that make up the Coalizão Brasil por Memória, Verdade, Justiça, Reparação (Brazil Coalition for Memory, Truth, Justice, Reparation): “Vehemently repudiating the 1964 coup,” they wrote, does not at all mean “dredging up the past,” but rather “reaffirming the commitment to punish the coups of the present as well” and averting “any future attempts.”

The same bewilderment was apparent in the words of Iara Xavier of Familiares dos Mortos e Desaparecidos Políticos (Family Members of the Killed and Disappeared for Political Reasons), who called Lula’s statement “very offensive,” “because those who have had family members killed, arrested, tortured, those who have been exiled, those who have dared to oppose the military regime and suffered the consequences, deserve respect at the very least.” The president had shown such respect in the most convincing manner in Argentina, when he met with the Mothers of May Square in January 2023; instead, he is denying the same respect to the family members of the victims of the Brazilian dictatorship who are also carrying on the same struggle, even leaving their request for a meeting unanswered.

Lula also hasn’t followed through on his promise to reconstitute the Comissão Especial sobre os Mortos e Desaparecidos Políticos (Special Commission for the Killed and Disappeared for Political Reasons – CEMDP), dissolved by Bolsonaro on the penultimate day of his term, despite the recommendation to do so that recently came from the Federal Public Ministry. According to a number of human rights organizations in a press release from March 9, failing to follow up on the reconstitution of the CEMDP would be “an unforgivable omission,” “a historical error” and “inexplicable cowardice.”

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