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An analysis of the Collective Memory of the Guerrilla of the Araguaia in Brazil and its consequences

26 Nov 2017 15:57 | Izabela Zonato Villas Boas
1. Introduction

The present essay deals with collective memory in Brazil, thus, will explain the theme of the Araguaia Guerrilla, which occurred during the period of the military dictatorship in the 1970s. The traumatic result was dozens of dead and missing militants, which until today remain missing. Faced with this, the families decided to seek answers and filed a lawsuit against the Brazilian State, first in the Brazilian justice system, and later at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, resulting in the condemnation of Brazil, just in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and not in the Brazilian justice system.

2. Historical Report - What did the Guerrilha in Araguaia

The military dictatorship in Brazil was from 1964 to 1985. It happened when the government of President João Goulart (constitutional president elect) was overthrown by the intervention of the military counting on the civilians support, and including with the National Congress, that approved of the coup. For 21 years, Brazil underwent several repressive measures, such as suspension of political rights, dismissal of civil servants and expulsion of military personnel from the Armed Forces. During this period, several operations were made, for example, Operação Limpeza (Operation Cleaning) sought to eliminate all elements identified with the previous period or considered threatening to the objectives of the new regime. In the midst of such repression, several groups emerged against the dictatorial regime, but the one that was most known (later) was the Guerrilha do Araguaia.

In 1966, about 70 members of the Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B), based on the Chinese and Cuban Revolutions, went to the southern region of the State of Pará known as the Rio Araguaia (Araguaia River) region. Their objectives were to organize an initial base of work, without the assistance of the public power, without schools, hospitals, etc., in order to educate the local population to transmit political doctrines such as the implantation of socialism in Brazil through the armed struggle.

These militants were already persecuted politicians, and the Guerrilla of the Araguaia was a movement against the military dictatorship in Brazil. After arriving in the Araguaia region, there were a total of about 90 people, including militants and local people, who joined the movement.

Before the fighting began, during the military dictatorship, there were about six military operations made by the Brazilian Army, Navy and Aeronautics, to repress this movement in the place. These operations happened underground, without the society or the press knowing or knowing the existence of the Guerrilla at that time. And, because of this, most of the members were killed by the repressive organs of the military government in Brazil at that time, because in that time the express order of the then President of the Republic, General Medici, was that "no one should leave alive". (1)

After 1979, with the Amnesty Law (Lei de Anistia) in force in Brazil, the relatives of these dead and disappeared bodies, waited for their returns, and since this did not happen since they were all dead, after 1980, these relatives began to look for their loved ones and they discovered that the vast majority of them had disappeared, in fact been killed, in that region of Araguaia.

Their bodies were never found, with the exception of two found until today. One of the bodies was Maria Lúcia Petit, who died in June of 1972 (22 years old) in an ambush and her remains were identified only in 1996. The other body located was the one of Bergson Gurjão. These are the only two dead and later identified, who had a dignified burial given by their relatives.

And in 1982 the relatives of those who disappeared in the region of Araguaia filed a Civil Action against the Brazilian State to find out where their relatives were, but were not successful in this request, because the internal requirements in justice never had the attention they deserved on the part of the Brazilian State, the process lasted until 2008.

3. The case in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

In times of postmodern (globalized and universalized) the decisions of the Supreme Court of Brazil (Supremo Tribunal Federal – STF) when talking about human rights no longer means the last word, because above the Brazilian Judiciary is the inter-American Human Rights System. This system is composed of two organs: the Inter-American Commission (Washington) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Costa Rica). In Europe the situation is similar to that of the European Court of Human Rights.

This is because, in 1992, Brazil ratified the American Convention on Human Rights of 1969, known as the Pact of San José of Costa Rica, without any reservation. Therefore, when the rights provided for in the Convention are not covered by the Brazilian courts, it is possible to appeal to the Inter-American Commission, which becomes a kind of legal "5th instance" for Brazilians. (2)

The violations of human rights not covered by the Brazilian Judiciary must be brought to the attention of the aforementioned Commission, which resolves the matter or forwards it to the Inter-American Court (like in the Araguaia Case).

The Case Gomes Lund and others ("Guerrilha do Araguaia") Vs. Brazil, Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned Brazil, a sentence on November 24, 2010, for the arbitrary detention, torture and forced disappearance of 62 people, including members of the PC do B and local farmers.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, following its jurisprudence in relation to Argentina, Chile, and respecting the rights of victims and their families, decided that crimes against humanity (deaths, torture, disappearances, etc.) condemned by State agents during the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-1985) must be properly investigated, prosecuted and punished.

The Court  understood that the judicial remedies of the relatives of the victims to obtain information about the facts were not effective to guarantee them access to information about what really happened in Araguaia, and more than that, the legislative and administrative measures adopted by the Brazilian government, such as the enactment of the amnesty law, only restricted the right of access to information to these relatives. (3)

The first achievement with this decision is that the Brazilian Amnesty Law no longer has the legal value to prevent the investigation of the crimes committed by state agents (dictators or those who have acted on behalf of the dictatorship). (4) This means that it should no longer continue to present an obstacle to the investigation of the facts of this case, nor to the identification and punishment of those responsible, nor can this law have the same or similar impact on other cases of serious human rights violations enshrined in the American Convention. (5) 

The Court condemned Brazil for people that were dead and disappeared due to occurrences in the Araguaia Guerrilla during the military dictatorship, and in 2010 already blamed the country, stipulating that it should prepare a report with the reparations provided for victims of the disclosure by March 2015.

The Brazilian Amnesty Law that impedes the investigation and sanctioning of human rights violations has no legal effects, as it is incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights.

After the decision, the country should eliminate all legal obstacles, including this Law, so that it does not prevent the victims access to information, truth and justice, since the right to access memory and justice.

Thus, the main condemnations of the court are to initiate relevant investigations into the facts of the Araguaia Guerrilla, determine the material and intellectual perpetrators of the forced disappearance of the victims, and ensure the investigations and guarantee the Human Rights Education in the Armed Forces. (6)

The court also ordered that Brazil designate the "day of the political disappeared", when activities were carried out to remind people who disappeared during the military dictatorship, to help raise awareness of the seriousness of the events and to ensure that they do not recur, and the designation of the commemorative date mentioned at the national level would be added to the commemoration of the International Day of the Political Disappearing, which takes place on August 30 of each year. (7)

4. Collective Memory

In Brazil, official policy of preserving the memory of the military dictatorship faces great difficulty. This should be done through the commemorative practices, for example, monuments with names, commemorations, collections, archives, museums, laws, decrees, national holidays, day of remembrance, books, special TV programs, parades, activities by the educational system, etc. The archiving of the documents of this period faces difficulties in individual actions and serious governmental policy of preservation and archiving. (8)

After the dictatorial regime, in February 15, 1991, Brazil promulgated a national decree (Decreto nº40/1991), after the ratification, making valid the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Even today, the soldiers of the time who are still alive insist on omitting reports about Guerrilla warfare, and this contradicts the well-known precept that history is usually told by the victors. Thanks to the oral tradition it is possible to know the history of the Guerilla, otherwise the memory of the guerilla would be erased. (9)  In light of this, it can be said that most of the information available on the guerrilla today is due to journalistic matters, which preserved memory and avoided forgetting.

According to Brazilian Criminal Law, no one is obliged to create evidence against himself, which makes it difficult for the facts confessed by the military and some also for the militants, such as articulation, torture, execution, concealment and disposal of mortal remains.

Of course there are exceptions, such as published books and testimonials provided. As an example we have the book of Colonel Licio Maciel, who worked in the fight against the Guerrilla, told his story after 30 years, and the book of captain aviator Pedro Cabral, helicopter pilot, who published "Xambioá - Guerrilha do Araguaia" confirming that participated in so-called 'cleaning operations', transporting bodies to be burned in the Serra das Andorinhas. But the key characters didn’t give testimony, which means that the problem cannot be completely solved.

The Brazilian State also published a book on the dictatorship, Direito à Memória e à Verdade (Right to Memory and Truth), dedicating 76 pages exclusively to the narrative of the events of the Araguaia Guerrilla. (10)

Among the museums that keep the history of the Guerrilla, there are the archives organized in the nearby Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi – nearby the Araguaia region –, which has the intention of making available to the general public all collected material, such as interviews, maps, sketches, photos and documents. The intention is to connect this collection with other archives and memory centers that already exist or are being deployed in Brazil, such as Memorial da Anistia Política no Brasil. In addition, it should join efforts for the preservation of memory that are being undertaken in the region, such as the small Museu da Guerrilha do Araguaia (Araguaia Guerrilla Museum), in São Geraldo do Araguaia, and the Instituto de Apoio aos Povos do Araguaia (IAPA - Araguaia Peoples Support Institute), in Xambioá.

But there are also memorials and tributes to the soldiers killed in combat, for example, with the militants of the Araguaia Guerrilla. Among these honors we can find the website Museu Vítima dos Comunistas (Museum Victims of the Communists).

On May 15, 2008, the Minister of Justice, Tarso Genro, signed the ordinance establishing the Memorial da Anistia Política no Brasil (Political Amnesty Memorial in Brazil). The memorial should have been built by 2010 and house a documentation center with collections from the repression periods between 1946 and 1988, as well as all Amnesty Commission files. It should also promote actions to promote the research and publication of socially relevant materials on the struggle for democracy in Brazil. (11) But as of January 22, 2016, there is still no Memorial, as on this date the Banco Nacional do Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (National Bank for Economic and Social Development – BNDES) approved financial support of R$10 million for its creation. (12)

In Recife, the monument "Tortura Nunca Mais” (Torture Never Again) is the first monument of the type built in the country in honor of the dead and disappeared politicians and victims of the military dictatorship installed in Brazil in 1964. In Porto Alegre the City Hall inaugurated the Memorial aos Mortos e Desaparecidos (Memorial to the Dead and Disappeared). In São Paulo, the Memorial da Resistencia (Memorial of the Resistance) was inaugurated in the building where the Department of Political and Social Order (DOPS) operated, which was one of the most feared places of repression of the military dictatorship in the city of São Paulo.

It is important to say that the existence of the crimes committed by the Brazilian State is indisputable, since the very existence of the Associação dos Torturados da Guerrilha do Araguaia (Araguaia Guerrilla Torture Association), in the city of São Domingos do Araguaia, is already evidence of this violence. That is why it is important to emphasize the collective memory not only local but also national so that the event is not forgotten - as they still want sectors of the State.

After the condemnation by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, those who died during the military dictatorship won a monument in Belo Horizonte - The first of ten monuments to be erected in Brazil to honor the dead and missing politicians in the struggle against the military dictatorship. (13)

In 2014, at Ibirapuera Park, one of the most visited in the city of São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, was inaugurated a monument with names of 463 dead and missing during the period of military dictatorship. The monument is located near the gate 10 of the park, making neighborhood with the Comando Militar do Sudeste (Southeastern Military Command), which at the time of the dictatorship was known as the Quartel Gerenal 2 do Exército (Army's Gerenal Quarters 2) and also with the former Destacamento de Operações de Informação - Centro de Operações de Defesa Interna (Deployment of Information Operations - Operations Center of Internal Defense – DOI-Codi), considered one of the greatest torture centers of the dictatorship.

Among the commemorative and remembrance practices we can find: federal government website which is the largest collection on the history of memories of the military dictatorship (14);  a big diversity of documentaries and interviews, for example, the Brazilian documentary “Osvaldão”(15) – which tells the story of the militant Osvaldo Orlando da Costa who was the first combatant to arrive in the region of Araguaia with the mission of establishing a guerrilla group along with other comrades (16) –, the documentary Camponeses do Araguaia: A Guerrilha vista por dentro (Peasants of Araguaia: The Guerrilla seen from within) the movie “Araguaya Conspiração do Silêncio” (Araguaya Conspiracy of Silence). (17)

Recently, a super series called Os Dias Eram Assim (The Days Were Like This) was reproduced in prime time of Brazilian TV. The story happened at the time of the Brazilian Military Dictatorship, showing images and recordings of that time and showing how the crimes were supposedly committed and how the support of the military was given.

Among the personalities who fought against the military dictatorship regime are the two former presidents-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, and the former deputy José Genoino. Genoino was in combat in the region of Araguaia and managed to survive. Nowadays this prisoner, but the doubt as to the reason for his arrest is: is he imprisoned for being corrupt, or not corrupt, but a political prisoner persecuted to this day?

Peasants of Araguaia received compensation after 30 years, this was based on a work that had hundreds of testimonies on cases of torture, loss of small properties and deaths during the action of the Brazilian military against the guerrilla. These testimonies were collected, filmed and recorded in the Araguaia region by the Comissão de Anistia (Amnesty Commission). In addition, in order to promote moral and not just economic reparations, a public apology was issued in the square of Santo Antônio do Araguaia, in the State of Pará, with the presence of the then Minister of Justice. (18)

In the year 2009, on June 18, in a public act where hundreds of people were present in the streets of São Domingos do Araguaia, the Amnesty Commission of the Ministry of Justice made public the granting of political amnesty to 44 peasants persecuted for military repression during the Guerrilha do Araguaia.

After 50 years of the beginning of the military regime, the Comissão Nacional da Verdade (CNV – National Truth Commission) was established in Brazil in 2011, and began work only the following year. The National Truth Commission was yet another of the determinations of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. (19)

This commission is extremely important because it not only aims to construct the narrative of memory and truth about the practices of violence and repression of the State at that time, but also formulated 29 recommendations with the purpose that the State can promote justice in relation to the crimes occurred in the period, repair symbolic, perfecting democracy and focusing on the non-repetition of human rights violations that occurred in that period. (20)

5. Collective memory and social-cultural featuring

It is very important for the community to preserve the memory, so that the gaps are not left are important witnesses of the story and also its protagonists, what causes me not to have a single memory but rather polysemic. (21)

Currently, Brazil is governed by a democracy, and is also a signatory of international conventions and agreements that deal with Human Rights. In addition, the jurisprudence of international courts demonstrates and serves as a reminder that a country (not only Brazil) needs to know its past and assume its faults.

Currently in Brazil, the division between parties and followers of "right" (conservative) and "left" (progressive) political parties is very large. Often this is confused with corruption and not with conservatism or progression, which causes the population to end up being divided not by ideals but by supporting a party that is not what is involved with corruption at the moment - this is technically impossible in Brazil, since all parties are involved in corruption.

For this reason and because of a number of other factors, it is still difficult to know what the truth is in the context of the present and in the past of the country, but one thing cannot be denied that the military dictatorship really happened, unfortunately, there are people who deny that the military regime was a coup, but that it was only a time when there were many uprisings - that's why there were deaths - but that the country's economy improved significantly at that time, but there are also those who say the contrary, which makes complete sense, given that even the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recognized the guilt of Brazil.

By way of illustration, in my own family the two versions are present, through a person who fought against the regime and another who is retired military, who says that the command of the military is governed with great efficiency.

The last two president-elects of the country, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Vana Rousseff, who fought and were perceived by the military regime, advanced significantly in respect of the impositions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. But other things were not accomplished, such as the already-mentioned Memorial construction that has been thinking for almost 10 years, and having including authorized money for the construction.

The current president, Michel Temer, assumed the presidency after several articulations against the president Dilma Rousseff, who ended up being removed from power by having suffered impeachment.

At the beginning, a large part of the population was supporting the process of impeachment, but after, in the early days of government, it became clear that the concerns of the president are not linked to the memory of the country and neither to the population, personal interests and of great businessmen and politicians.

Despite the great evolution over the years, Brazil still has a lot to do to keep the memory of those who fought and still have much to do so that the practices of remembering what happened is really remembered so that it will not happen again.


(1) Marcos José Pinto, A condenação do Brasil no caso da Guerrilha do Araguaia pela Corte Interamericana de Direitos Humanos. Available in: https://jus.com.br/artigos/21291/a-condenacao-do-brasil-no-caso-da-guerrilha-do-araguaia-pela-corte-interamericana-de-direitos-humanos

(2) Luiz Flávio Gomes e Valerio de Oliveira Mazzuoli, Condenação internacional do Brasil e o dever de investigar os crimes da ditadura. Available in: http://www.migalhas.com.br/dePeso/16,MI123895,11049-Condenacao+internacional+do+Brasil+e+o+dever+de+investigar+os+crimes

(3) CIDH, Caso Gomes Lund e outros ("Guerrilha do Araguaia") Vs. Brasil, Exceções Preliminares, Mérito, Reparações e Custas, sentença de 24 de novembro de 2010, Série C, nº 219, parágrafo 219: Este Tribunal salientou que o direito de acesso à justiça deve assegurar, em um prazo razoável, o direito das supostas vítimas ou de seus familiares a que se faça todo o necessário para conhecer a verdade do ocorrido e, se for o caso, sancionar os responsáveis.  A falta de razoabilidade no prazo de andamento de um processo judicial constitui, em princípio, por si mesma, uma violação das garantias judiciais. A esse respeito, a Corte considerou quatro elementos para determinar a razoabilidade do prazo: a) a complexidade do assunto; b) a atividade processual do interessado; c) a conduta das autoridades judiciais, e d) a afetação provocada na situação jurídica da pessoa implicada no processo.

(4) CIDH, Caso Gomes Lund e outros ("Guerrilha do Araguaia") Vs. Brasil, Exceções Preliminares, Mérito, Reparações e Custas, sentença de 24 de novembro de 2010, Série C, nº 219, parágrafo 253: (...) o Brasil deve adotar todas as medidas que sejam necessárias para assegurar que a Lei de Anistia e as leis de sigilo não continuem a representar um obstáculo para a persecução penal contra graves violações de direitos humanos. Além disso, solicitou que se publiquem os resultados dessa investigação, para que a sociedade brasileira possa conhecer esse período de sua história.

(5) CIDH, Caso Gomes Lund e outros ("Guerrilha do Araguaia") Vs. Brasil, Exceções Preliminares, Mérito, Reparações e Custas, sentença de 24 de novembro de 2010, Série C, nº 219, parágrafo 174: Dada sua manifesta incompatibilidade com a Convenção Americana, as disposições da Lei de Anistia brasileira que impedem a investigação e sanção de graves violações de direitos humanos carecem de efeitos jurídicos. Em consequência, não podem continuar a representar um obstáculo para a investigação dos fatos do presente caso, nem para a identificação e punição dos responsáveis, nem podem ter igual ou similar impacto sobre outros casos de graves violações de direitos humanos consagrados na Convenção Americana ocorridos no Brasil.

(6) CIDH, Caso Gomes Lund e outros ("Guerrilha do Araguaia") Vs. Brasil, Exceções Preliminares, Mérito, Reparações e Custas, sentença de 24 de novembro de 2010.

(7) idem.

(8) Joana D’Arc F. Ferraz, Carolina D. B. Scarpelli. Ditadura Militar no Brasil: Desafios da Memória e do Patrimônio. Available in: http://encontro2008.rj.anpuh.org/resources/content/anais/1212961440_ARQUIVO_TrabalhoCompletoanpuhrj2008.pdf  page 2

(9) Rodrigo Corrêa Diniz Peixoto. Guerrilha do Araguaia and the afterwards war's social memory. Available in: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1981-81222011000300002#back10

(10) BRASIL. Secretaria Especial de Direitos Humanos da Presidência da República. Direito à Memória e à Verdade. Comissão Especial sobre Mortos e Desaparecidos Políticos. Brasília: Secretaria Especial de Direitos Humanos, 2007.

(11) Idem, page 3.

(12) Brazilian Government, Memorial da Anistia Política do Brasil terá R$ 10 milhões. Available  in: http://www.brasil.gov.br/economia-e-emprego/2016/01/memorial-da-anistia-politica-do-brasil-tera-r-10-milhoes

(13) Hoje em dia. Mortos da ditadura h=ganham monumento em Belo Horizonte. Available in: http://hojeemdia.com.br/primeiro-plano/pol%C3%ADtica/mortos-da-ditadura-militar-ganham-monumento-em-belo-horizonte-1.150554

(14) Governo do Brasil, Memorias da Ditadura. Available in: http://memoriasdaditadura.org.br/ 

(15) Portal Vermelho. Celso Sabadin. Osvaldão é filme obrigatório sobre líder do Araguaia. Available in: http://www.vermelho.org.br/noticia/274314-11

(16) Revista Fórum, Filme narra a historia do comandante da Guerrilha do Araguaia que virou mito. Available in: https://www.revistaforum.com.br/rodrigovianna/vestigios/filme-narra-historia-comandante-da-guerrilha-araguaia-que-virou-mito-na-regiao/

(17) Filme Araguaya - A Conspiração do Silêncio. Direção: Ronaldo Duque. Manaus. Produtora Paris Filmes. DVD, stereo, color. Duração: 109 min. 2007.

(18) Governo do Brasil. Camponeses do Araguaia vão receber indenização após 30 anos. Available in: http://www.brasil.gov.br/cidadania-e-justica/2011/11/camponeses-do-araguaia-vao-receber-indenizacao-apos-30-anos

(19) CIDH, Caso Gomes Lund e outros ("Guerrilha do Araguaia") Vs. Brasil, Exceções Preliminares, Mérito, Reparações e Custas, sentença de 24 de novembro de 2010

(20) Memórias da Ditadura. Comissão Nacional da Verdade. Available in: http://memoriasdaditadura.org.br/comissao-nacional-da-verdade-2/index.html

(21) Joana D’Arc F. Ferraz , Carolina D. B. Scarpelli. Ditadura Militar no Brasil: Desafios da Memória e do Patrimônio. Available in: http://encontro2008.rj.anpuh.org/resources/content/anais/1212961440_ARQUIVO_TrabalhoCompletoanpuhrj2008.pdf  page 6.

Note: This essay was conducted for the evaluation of the course Sociological Analysis of International Law (Prof. Moshe Hirsch - Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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