Lula rows back on plans for military abuses inquiry

 

BRAZIL’S LEFT-WING government is set to back away from plans to set up a truth commission to investigate human rights abuses during the country’s military dictatorship after military chiefs strongly opposed the proposal.

The armed forces denounced the idea of a commission to investigate torture and other abuses committed when they ran the country between 1964 and 1985 as “excessively insulting, aggressive and vengeful”. The country’s civilian defence minister and the heads of the army, navy and air force all threatened to resign in protest if the move went ahead.

Faced with such opposition President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has sought to distance himself from his own government’s national human rights plan, which called for the setting up of the commission, saying he signed the plan into law at the Copenhagen summit without having read its contents.

On his return from his summer holiday on Monday the president started a review of the plan and reportedly is studying dropping its references to “political repression” as he searches for a way to avoid confrontation with the armed forces before he sends the final document to congress for approval in April.

Though far less bloody than its contemporaries in Argentina and Chile, the military dictatorship in Brazil oversaw 21 years of political oppression, which saw more than 400 left-wing activists “disappeared” and thousands more tortured and exiled.

A 1979 amnesty law protects both military officers and former guerrillas who fought against them from prosecution for activities during the period. Several prominent members of President Lula’s left-wing administration, including his chosen candidate to succeed him in elections later this year, are former guerrillas.

Paulo Vannuchi, the president’s human rights secretary and a former communist guerrilla, says he will resign if his plan is watered down. Mr Vannuchi has led a campaign to force the military to open archives on unresolved cases of persons who disappeared during their rule. To much scepticism, the military insists the relevant paperwork is either lost or destroyed.

Despite the return of civilian rule in 1985, Brazil’s military has been largely successful in resisting efforts to impose rigorous civilian oversight of its activities. Since the signing of the human rights plan, someone in the air force leaked a technical assessment conducted on bids to supply Brazil with its next generation of fighter aircraft.

The leak showed the air force favours awarding the multibillion contract to Sweden. The revelation was severely embarrassing for President Lula, who has already strongly come out in favour of buying France’s Rafale fighter in order to cement a deepening military alliance with Paris. The air force document questioned the value of the Rafale fighter, which is twice the price of Sweden’s Gripen jet.

As well as opposition from the military the new plan has also provoked opposition from Brazil’s Catholic Church, usually a government ally on human rights issues.

Brazil’s bishops fear the plan opens the way for the legalisation of abortion and gay marriage. Local media also expressed concern over plans to track media coverage and rank them according to commitment to human rights issues, a move denounced as a threat to press freedom.