The Truth Commission, the Brazilian Military and Strengthening Defense


By Kenneth Maxwell

Igor Gielow, reported in Folha de Sao Paulo on Saturday 12 March, that now President Dilma Rousseff has established a Truth Commission to look into cases of deaths and disappearances during the military regime (1964-1985).

The Brazilian government was intending to strengthen the position of the Minister of Defense, Celso Amorim, with the commanders of the air force, army, and navy, by moving ahead with re-equipment programs for the armed forces.

Celso Amorim is not well regarded by the armed forces because of his links to the left and scant knowledge of military affairs. He served as foreign minister under former president Lula during Lula’s two terms in office.

His predecessor, Nelson Jobim, was subject to similar criticism in the armed forces, but he overcame this by allying himself with the military on the question of changing the law of amnesty, and by supporting the modernization of the armed forces.

Amoim has had difficulties with the armed forces over the question of amnesty, and by cautioning officers who criticized the president.

However, the air force is expecting that the decision on the purchase of fighter aircraft, at the cost estimated to be R$10 billion, will be resolved this year, Gielow reports, and that the air force will also request up to a R$1 billion for new tanker aircraft.

The army, meanwhile needs new anti-aircraft defense equipment, and at least five countries are completing for this contract, on which the Brazilian government is moving rapidly.

The navy is expected to announce new surface purchases estimated as costing up to R$7.5 billion, and still lacks five frigates, two oceanic patrol ships, and a landing craft.

These purchases are expected to take several years, but the political incentive is for the government to move soon.

The military has received the names appointed to the truth commission discretly, Eleane Cantanheda, reportsin the same edition of Folha. There was some resistance to the appointment of Rosa Maria Cardoso da Cunha, who had defended Dilma Rousseff when she was arrested and tortured by the military dictatorship.

There was no opposition to the naming of Jose Carlos Diaswho had served as minister of justice under president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

But on the Internet retired officers criticized the appointment of Paulo Sergio Pinheiro who had defended the idea of a revision of the amnesty law. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro is head of the UN commission on Syria.

But in general, Cantanheda reports, the individuals that President Rousseff has appointed are regarded by the military was experienced and balanced. President Rousseff also took the precaution of informing the commandants of the armed forces in advance, as well as defense minister Amorim.

There is worry, however, among the military that the minister of human rights, Maria do Rosario, is waiting for a more opportune moment to open a debate on the amnesty law, despite the fact that the presidential palace has not supported this officially, and in 2010 the Brazilian Supreme Court upheld the law where in involved those accused of torture.

On Wednesday May 16, President  Rousseff will formally introduce the appointees to the Truth Commission at a ceremony in Brasilia in the presence of the former Brazilian presidents who have served since democracy was restored: Jose Sarney, Fernando Collor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Itamar Franco who succeeded Collor following his resignation in face of impreachment proceedings died in 2011).

Professor Maxwell is reporting from Brazil where he is on a regular visit.

Professor Maxwell recently retired from Harvard University after a distinguished career as a leading expert on Brazil and Latin American Affairs. Kenneth Maxwell is a historian, an expert in Portuguese and Brazilian History and has taught at and been involved for many years with Harvard University, Yale, Columbia, Princeton and writes a weekly column for Brazil’s popular Folha newspaper. Dr. Maxwell currently lives in Devon, England.

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