Dictatorship files on the web

Yesterday the Brazilian government announced a series of initiatives that will allow access to classified files held by the dictatorial government between 1964 and 1985. 

The first one is a draft law that regulates the classification and access to government files, a Brazilian version of the Freedom of Information Act. President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva urged the Congress to approve the law as soon as possible.

The President also announced a website with information from this period. The site is part of the National Archives and allows any citizen to navigate through hundreds of documents held by state governments and universities.

This is the biggest move to avail files from the dictatorial period to the public. Until today many military officers defend that they were acting righteously when persecuting, arresting and torturing opponents of the regime. They claim by doing so they saved Brazil from the communist threat.

However, as many human rights advocates have repeatedly pointed out, the broad amnesty led to absolute impunity of crimes committed in that period. Even though torture is well documented, until today not one official has been punished for crimes committed in the name of “national security”.

That’s why the release of such documents is a landmark move. Some say a name-and-shame approach might bring some justice to the families of the 475 opponents who died in the hands of the military between 1964 and 1985.

However, the government’s delay in publishing them (Lula himself was a political prisoner) only proves that many of those involved in the dictatorship are still influential.

Professor Fábio Konder Comparato, a respected lawyer and jurist, was skeptical about the news. “The government is trying to repair the damage because it was sentenced by the Interamerican Court of Human Rights for not unveiling information about the Araguaia Guerrilla (a set of guerrilla operations that happened in the North of Brazil in the 70s)”, he told radio Jornal Brasil Atual. But for him, the damage is already done since many documents have already been admittedly destroyed by military officials.

Human rights groups see the move as a step forward, but still unsatisfactory. They urge the government to open the archives of Armed Forces – which they say can help to unveil the fate of the militants who have died or are still missing.

Other South American countries like Chile and Argentina have already done so.