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Eric Ehrmann

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Brazil Amps Up Human Rights as Spike Joints in to Chill Favela Fever

Posted: 05/22/2012 4:55 pm

Dilma doing a cameo in a Spike Lee joint, and spotlighting human rights violations. Lula rolls out a new Facebook page and gets tagged at an arts crawl with Dilma. It's all part of the cultural public diplomacy designed to make those who say "they don't care about us" say Go Brazil, Go! before the World Cup and the Rio Olympics.

But on the hard power front the same smoke grenades and tough riot control tactics used to push back the Arab Spring are being employed to quell political and drug-related violence in the favelas where Michael Jackson and Spike Lee made their controversial 1995 hip hop culture video. Federal forces now occupy Rio's troubled neighborhoods not far from where World Cup matches will be held and armored units assist during firefights with the Red Comando and other narco guerrilla groups who have their own ideas about brutality and what is right and wrong based on a mashup of politics, drugs and hip-hop and Brazilian music. This manufactured militance is a problematic consequence of the globalization of culture and is more visceral than the intellectual class struggle politics that drove Dilma's old VAR-Palmares crew or the Tupamaros in Uruguay and their tactics in shooting down helicopters are like Black Hawk Down on steroids.

After installing the commission that will provide Brazilians with the facts about the nation's dirty war Dilma did some cultural public diplomacy last week visiting the Memorial da America Latina in Sao Paulo, designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

At her side was former president Lula, who started the process to provide freedom of information for victims of the repression and families back in 2004. They toured the War and Peace exhibition featuring Brazilian artist Candido Portinari, whose massive murals depicting the struggle to preserve the rights of man are viewed by thousands each day at the United Nations headquarters in New York, also designed by Niemeyer, who is 102 years old and still working.

A few days prior to Dilma's visit, Uruguayan author and former political prisoner Carlos Liscano spoke at the Memorial about his dirty war experience. The ex Tupamaro guerrilla shared his feelings about it was like to live in isolation and darkness, without any sense of time. "I lived in perpetual delerium for five years," he told this writer and others who attended his talk.

Unable to fight back tears at the truth commission ceremony, Dilma, who was also a political prisoner, would have been touched by Liscano's revelations. Liscano was taken on his thirteen year ride when an informer snitched him off to authorities who nabbed him at the birthday party for his young sister.

Director of Uruguay's Biblioteca Nacional and former deputy minister of culture, Liscanao is one of the most respected living literary figures in Latin America. Schooled in mathematics, Liscano taught himself to write in a prison with the Kafkaesque name Libertad (freedom) after pressure from international organizations caused improvements for some politicals in the dirty war gulag.

His novel The Truck of Fools, depicting prison life and the darker side of the human condition, was published in the United States in 2004 by the Vanderbilt University Press and was amped up by Pravda as a cultural public diplomacy feature of this year's Venezuelan culture fair Filven.

As it was in Uruguay, Brazil must grapple with the troublesome issue of whether to include in their report the technical, intelligence sharing and advisory role played by the Pentagon through the annual Conference of American Armies that started back in 1963 and the School of the Americas. There is also the sensitive question of tagging the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, who provided the services of, among others, torture tutor Dan Mitrione under diplomatic cover to the governments of Uruguay and Brazil, including a stint in Dilma's home town of Porto Alegre.

A Mitrione-like character was played by the Communist French singer-actor Yves Montand, in the controversial Costa-Gavras film "State of Siege".

Like U.S. president John F. Kennedy, Montand allegedly had an affair with actress Marilyn Monroe. He split with the Communists after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia crushed the "Prague Spring" democracy movement in 1968.

Just like the movie character Mitrione was tried in real life by a "peoples court" and executed. A well-funded analysis of the Mitrione kidnapping was subsequently prepared by the Rand Corporation. Some old-school players with connections inside the Beltway consider the late public safety advisor a hero and a patriot.

Uruguayan human rights investigators did not include the hidden American hand behind their dirty war in their report. But Brazil is not a small market democracy and there were other Dan Mitriones operating in their midst teaching the same electric shock torture that was still being used on prisoners in the U.S. state of Arkansas when former president Bill Clinton was planning his political career there.

While "truth commissions" like Dilma's and others conducted in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile succeed at providing a modicum of moral accountability that can help strengthen democratic institutions they fail to mediate the actions of the overarching power elites who influence policy and define the scope of political and social action on the left and the right.

The problem in Brazil is complicated since competing factions among the military officer corps are only one generation removed from a repressive tradition that lacked the constitutionally guaranteed system of checks and balances that exist in the United States and other western democracies. Waking up to smell that coffee in Brazil is a stark reminder that profitable free markets are easier to develop than stable democratic institutions, which feature more equitable income distribution and the real social inclusion that comes with it.

The restless, impoverished Northeast of Brazil, with the world's largest black population outside Africa, is struggling to bridge the digital divide and can't afford the cost of pay to play private universities and English language schools. So while Spike and Dilma amp up Go Brazil, Go! global gangs and extremists who have parachuted into the hemisphere's second largest drug market are becoming one of the quiet reasons for the military occupations in the favelas.

Brazil's human rights conundrum is likely to continue with Dilma's recent approval of closer military, intelligence and security cooperation with Washington, ostensibly linked to the World Cup and the Rio Olympics. While it may help Brazil gain U.S. support for the permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council it wants, the deal could lead to a low profile Colombia-style U.S. presence in Brazil that has the contingencies to quell favela unrest by any means necessary. With the new arrangements comes the risk of mission creep that could find Brazil paying a steep social cost for reliving the past.

 
 
 
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