Amnesty and mismanagement by civilian governments over military personnel

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Created with the aim of being “generally broad and unrestricted”, the Amnesty Law sanctioned in 1979 was politically biased and laid the foundations for the coup movements that supported former president Jair Bolsonaro and culminated in the coup demonstration on January 8, 2023 .

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The evaluation is by the professor of Political Theory at UNESP and scholar of the history of amnesties in Brazil, Paulo Ribeiro da Cunha. For him, the 1979 amnesty reflects the history of ideologically guided and socially limited amnesties in the country since the beginning of the Republic, in 1898.

“The military personnel who were amnestied in the progressive and nationalist camp were reinstated, but never reincorporated, unlike the right-wing military personnel who were always reinstated in the Armed Forces, and many remained coup plotters. The historical milestone for this was 1935 (year of the Communist Intentona) and then we had the integralist movement of 1938 (attempted coup by the fascist-inspired movement created in Brazil) and this did not change in 1979”, he states. He recalls that, in 1979, the “broad” amnesty did not reach the movements of lower-ranking military personnel and those associated with progressive and nationalist causes, which only came to be discussed years later.

“The 1979 amnesty first had the assumption of related crimes, that is, it placed those who were persecuted by the dictatorship and their torturers on the same level and excluded a part of the military, especially soldiers and sailors”, he explains. “From an individual perspective, the military always managed to block political recognition of the category, but the sailors managed to some extent to be recognized years later, until the Bolsonaro government began to review and withdraw amnesty from some of them”, continues the professor.

According to the professor, unlike other movements, in the military, political movements linked to the left led by low-ranking military personnel have never been recognized as political manifestations but, as a rule, are framed as insubordination.

“Many of them (progressive soldiers and those opposed to the 64 coup) were savagely tortured, expelled from the Armed Forces for administrative acts. They did not have the right to amnesty because their struggles were not recognized within the context of defending legality as political demonstrations, but rather as disciplinary transgressions. They only came to gain amnesty much later, in the last amnesties and in the 1988 Constituent Assembly”, he explains.

Amnestied participants participated in coup in 64

Paulo Ribeiro da Cunha carried out a study on all amnesties in the country, from 1898 to 1979, to find that, as a rule, the Armed Forces tend to forgive and reincorporate into their ranks the highest ranking military personnel involved in political movements and demonstrations linked to on the right. In relation to the military, especially those of low rank, associated with progressive and even nationalist movements, they face more difficulties to this day in having their amnesties completely validated and being reinstated, for example.

One of the points that the professor draws attention to and that he uses to endorse his thesis are precisely the coup movements linked to the right that existed in the country before 1964 and that were amnestied, enabling several of the organizers of these attempts to return to power from 1964.

This was the case, for example, of two revolts organized by sectors of the Air Force that took place during the government of Juscelino Kubitschek: that of Jacareacanga (1956) and Aragarças (1959). The first was the seizure of a military base in the city of Jacareacanga, in the interior of Pará, by soldiers who accused JK of wanting to transform Brazil into a communist country. The second was organized by some of the Jacareacanga leaders who had been amnestied and planned, with the same arguments, to bomb the Laranjeiras and Catete palaces, in Rio de Janeiro.

In an article about amnesties in the country, the professor summarizes the outcome of the two episodes: “In both revolts, the rebels were politically isolated and faced with imminent defeat, they opted for exile. Juscelino Kubistchek would amnesty the first rebels shortly afterwards, and the last ones would be covered by the 1961 amnesty. There were no major losses for them in their careers, as many of them would reach generalship and some are currently on the list of torturers (from 1964)”, states the text.

At the other end, the military who joined progressive and nationalist movements, such as those who participated in the O Petróleo É Nosso campaign, which allowed the creation of Petrobras, were harshly persecuted. In the context of the Cold War, even those nationalist soldiers who were not exactly left-wing were persecuted and, according to Paulo Cunha, still face difficulties to have their amnesties recognized.

“At the Military Club, the entire board was exiled to garrisons far from Rio de Janeiro and the intensification of the anti-communist campaign in the armed forces, which affected everyone from de facto communists to progressive and nationalist officers indiscriminately, resulted in the arrest of around a thousand soldiers, The vast majority were sergeants, many of them expelled”, states the professor in his study.

“As for left-wing and nationalist officers, practically all of them had their careers aborted, and most promotions occurred based on seniority. As for the sergeants prosecuted, many of them were acquitted, but were not reinstated into the Armed Forces and some only managed to be amnestied recently, almost 60 years later”, follows the article

Civilian governments and military posture

More than a history of skewed amnesties, the professor makes a critical assessment of the stance of post-dictatorship civilian governments which, in his view, did not know how to deal correctly with the military, which enabled their resumption of protagonism in the Bolsonaro government and the attempt scam plotted in 2022.

“Since the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government and even the Lula government, it has made it possible for the military to still cultivate that they are guardians, that they are above the country and civil laws. The military cultivated this, although to some extent they were present in the historical process, but they never stopped having this self-valuation”, he states. On several occasions, during civilian governments, the military were not punished or even continued to occupy spaces and responsibilities that could have been carried out by civilians.

The Ministry of Defense itself, for example, to this day has a significant portion of its staff made up of military personnel, leaving debates on National Security focused on their vision, with little room for the action of civilian leaders or experts from outside the military. Furthermore, there is no shortage of examples of episodes in which the military was not properly reprimanded by civilian governments. One of the most emblematic episodes was a speech by the then commander of the Eastern Military Command, Hamilton Mourão, in 2015.

Even though he was prohibited from speaking out politically as an active military member, in the lecture, Mourão stated that the departure of President Dilma would not change the “status quo”, but that the “advantage of the change would be the elimination of incompetence, mismanagement and corruption” . In the lecture slides, Mourão presented messages such as “change is necessary” and spoke of “awakening to the patriotic struggle”. He ended up leaving the leadership of the Eastern Military Command but, even under the DIlma Rousseff government, he did not suffer any administrative punishment.

In addition to this scenario, Paulo Ribeiro da Cunha assesses that the country’s political parties themselves have difficulties dealing with the military and National Defense issues. “Many people blame Bolsonaro, from the perspective of sectors that aligned themselves with him, and forget the weakness of political parties. The parties, in general, have difficulty dealing with the military issue and the issue of public security. Look at the National Congress, how many parliamentarians are present on the Foreign Relations and National Defense Committee who, in fact, know about the topic?”, asks the professor.

For the professor, the majority of congressmen do not see the strategic importance of the commission and see it only from an electoral point of view as being of little interest.

In this context, he draws a parallel with the current situation in the country and says he hopes that the investigations into the January 8 coup will, in fact, lead to the punishment of military personnel involved of all ranks, thus breaking with the historical tradition of amnesties given to military personnel in Brazil

“Without this gradation (sparing high-ranking military personnel) we will have the return of these practices over the subsequent years and we will lose yet another opportunity to have the military as a component of a nation’s project only to be always threatened by them, or by sectors of them together with the civilians, of always beating the barracks, they will be the new vivanderas of the barracks with the clear certainty that they will go unpunished”, he states.

Editing: Rodrigo Durão Coelho

The article is in Portuguese

Tags: Amnesty mismanagement civilian governments military personnel

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