Brazil’s Truth Commission said yesterday that it planned to investigate the death of former Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek, a centrist politician popularly known as “JK,” who died in a car accident in 1976.
According to a report released late last year by the Minas Gerais chapter of the Ordem de Advogados do Brasil (OAB), a branch of the national bar association, Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime likely ordered Kubitschek’s death. In 2000, former Rio de Janeiro Governor Leonel Brizola alleged that the car crash that killed Kubitschek was arranged as part of Operation Condor, a secret hemispheric campaign of state terror responsible for the death and disappearance of thousands of people during a wave of Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s.
Kubitschek governed Brazil from 1956 to 1961, and was well known for his role in overseeing the creation of the city of Brasilia to develop the country’s interior. He opposed the military coup and had ambitions to run for president again. Both Kubitschek and his driver, Geraldo Ribeiro, died on August 22, 1976. The OAB says that Ribeiro was shot in the head by an unknown assailant and the car crashed into a truck on a highway between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, killing both men.
Brazil’s seven-member Truth Commission was approved in 2011 and began work last year to investigate the country’s dictatorship-era human rights abuses. The commission does not have the legal authority to put defendants on trial, due to Brazil’s 1979 amnesty law that shields civilians and military from prosecution for crimes against humanity. However, the commission may reveal the names of those responsible for Kubitschek and Ribeiro’s deaths and provide evidence that could be used in a criminal trial.
One year ago this week, the Honduran military expelled President Manuel Zelaya from the country. The coup immediately prompted domestic tumult and international condemnation. With elections in November, however, the Honduran political establishment and the Obama administration banked on the country moving beyond the coup domestically and normalizing relations with the world. But theirs were rose-colored glasses; a coup’s effects are not so easily undone.
Honduras is now struggling with the long-term damage that coups inflict on the rule of law and the enduring costs of international isolation. Even after de facto President Roberto Micheletti ceded power to Porfirio Lobo following an election, insecurity and impunity reign domestically, and most of Latin America continues to isolate the country. The battle for international legitimacy remains President Lobo’s principal concern, and has also brought issues onto the domestic agenda that put Lobo at loggerheads with powerful supporters of last year’s coup.
Many on the Right claim that, by ousting Zelaya, the political establishment was responding legitimately to an over-reaching president. And, indeed, in the first half of 2009, Zelaya flouted court rulings that deemed unconstitutional a referendum that would pave the way for a constituent assembly. At one stage, Zelaya and his supporters seized referendum ballots held by the military under Supreme Electoral Tribunal orders.
On December 9, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will formally announce the establishment of a Brazilian Truth Commission. Brazil is the only country in Latin America that has not yet held trials or investigated deaths, disappearances and torture under military rule.
While there were fewer abuses in Brazil under dictatorship than in Argentina or Chile, nearly 500 people were killed by security forces or disappeared between 1964 and 1985.
A 1979 Amnesty Law has effectively prevented any Brazilian officials from being criminally charged for human rights abuses, though the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded on April 9, 2009, that amnesties and statutes of limitations cannot be applied to crimes against humanity committed by the dictatorship.
Although there has been no formal investigation, Catholic and Protestant priests covertly wrote and released “Brasil: Nunca Mais” in 1986. Once released, the report led to city-based inquiries, local reparations programs and communities honoring victims. President Lula's government also released a report based on an 11-year investigation in 2007, but has done little to hold human rights violators accountable.
President Lula, who was jailed for union organizing efforts under the dictatorship, announces the commission with just one year remaining in office. Some members of the coalition government are reportedly opposed to reopening the past. Defense Minister Nelson Jobim has called the prior efforts of families and torture survivors to obtain justice merely seeking "revenge."