Researching the aporias of Brazilian democracy

Greetings from São Paulo.
Since I arrived here I’ve been researching and gathering material on police violence and prison rebellions as part of a larger project on the shortcomings of the Brazilian democratic regime as it exists since 1985. More specifically, I’m interested in exploring a legacy of torture and violence in the State security apparatuses inherited from the country’s military dictatorships, and the silence around this issue in Brazilian literary and cinematic production. Ultimately, I’d like to examine this symptomatic evasion in literature and film, and its subsequent displacement onto themes of gang and prison violence.
Initially, my plan had been to focus my research in the archives at NEV (Núcleo de Estudos da Violência), an institute connected to the University of São Paulo (USP). Yet as soon as I arrived and began talking to researchers and scholars, I found out about a special seminar on the thirty years of amnesty in Brazil, organized by Janaína Teles and Márcio Seligmann-Silva, which was going to discuss the amnesty law created immediately following Brazil’s last military dictatorship.

The seminar, which was organized in part to raise awareness about the issue, and partly to create pressure on the government to revisit the amnesty law, couldn’t have been more helpful or a propos of my subject. I therefore spent my first week in São Paulo accessing material in the NEV archives, and my second week attending the various round tables of the seminar. Round tables were organized around topics such as: “The International Rights of Human Rights Faced with the Impunity of Dictatorships in Latin America,” “The access to information and public archives”, “Settling accounts with the past; Truth commissions”, “Amnesty in Latin America and in the Inter-American system of human rights”, among others.
The seminar was held in the Law School of the University of São Paulo, and hosted speakers from all over Latin America, the United States, Germany and South Africa (although unfortunately the South African speaker canceled at the last minute). These included ex-political prisoners, who provided testimonies, and important personalities such as Nora Cortiñas, from the Madres de la plaza de Mayo, Peter Kornbluh, from the National Security Archive of the United States, and Pedro Nikken, ex-president of the Interamerican court of Human Rights.
Over the four days, a fruitful comparative approach was developed; a point reiterated by several speakers was that a society that doesn’t punish its torturers and criminals ultimately fosters a climate of violence and impunity. Carlos Alberto Rozanski, president of the Federal Criminal Court of La Plata, spoke of the need to condemn former State torturers, and provided Argentina as a model that Brazil could follow. In his words: “Yo creo que sin verdad no se puede haber justicia, sin justicia no se puede haber reparación, y sin reparación no se puede haber memoria”.
This raised a crucial point that I am exploring in my work on Brazilian literary and cultural production, which is an apparent absence of memory, manifested as an evasion of the theme of political and State violence. Professor Márcio Seligmann-Silva, a literary scholar and professor at UNICAMP, spoke very eloquently about this culture of forgetting in Brazil, which contaminates the cultural sphere and produces a literature of silence.
I’ll be returning to New York in a couple of days, and I look forward to examining the material I collected at NEV, and to following the leads provided in the various talks given at the amnesty seminar—a wonderful and unexpected bonus of the trip.

Micaela Kramer
PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature

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