Imagining a Path to Revolution #2

Zeichner_Brazil_072109, originally uploaded by CLACS – NYU.

During my final weeks in Brazil, the newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo, broke the story that retired coronel Sebastião Curió, the military official who was in charge of the campaign against the Araguaia guerilla movement from 1972-75, would now, after over 30 years of silence, allow a reporter to review his personal archives, as well as give his own public reflections on the barbarous role the military played during these events. In the days that followed the news story, interest in finding and reopening archival sources from the military dictatorship (1964-1985) became a hot political issue. As a historian, just the thought of gaining access to certain documents produced by certain branches was tantalizing, however, to be perfectly honest, somewhat difficult to imagine. The most useful documents I worked with this time, came from information compiled by the State Political Police divisions (DEOPS/DOPS) from 1964 to 1982. As one of the principal arms of state repression and executors of torture, the documents created by the DEOPS/DOPS forces are, in certain ways, treasure troves of useful information. However, the history behind the opening of DEOPS/DOPS collections is, sadly, one of very few victories. Today, thanks to the hard work and determination of several important activists, the Sao Paulo DEOPS/DOPS collection is almost completely open to the public. However, while the work in Sao Paulo has been successful, efforts in many other states were not.

It is also notable that the State Political Police was not the only government agency used by the generals to terrorize the nation. Today, the Lula government continues to restrict the public’s access to research of national security documents. It is interesting to note that after the story of Curió’s intention to allow his personal archives to be reviewed broke, many of the individuals I interviewed on this trip, some of who had previously thought differently, voiced their desire to request their own documents. Now in their sixties and seventies, I spoke with individuals who were excited that I was interested in the history of those who considered themselves the “forgotten heroes,” and were eager to offer me their help in the future. Because a great many of the yet “confidential” national documents are accessible only by request by the featured individual, I expect that the contacts I made on this trip will prove highly valuable in the years to come. And, while the public’s desire not to forget the past will hopefully continue to pressure the government to open archives, I know that if progress is made it will likely be a very long and arduous process. As for myself, I will do what I can through my own contacts to make available the documents I manage to recover. One step at a time.

Natan Zeichner
PhD student, History

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