Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Troubling Authoritarian Ties of Geraldo Alckmin

For reasons I can't explain, for all of the issues, important and unimportant, that have been made in the press and society in the Brazilian presidential elections, one that has been nearly completely overlooked is the extremely troubling ties between Geraldo Alckmin and the authoritarian dictatorship in Brazil (which lasted from 1964 to 1985, longer than any other Latin American 20th-century dictatorship outside of Paraguay's Alfredo Stroessner).

Least troubling, perhaps, are his family ties to the dictatorship. Alckmin is the nephew of José Maria Alckmin, who was the first vice president during the military dictatorship, serving to president Humberto Castelo Branco, the general who lead the coup that overthrew João Goulart in 1964. However, this is perhaps least Alckmin's fault, for he can't control who is his unkle, and it wouldn't be too troubling in and of itself, if it were the only tie he had to authoritarian forms of government.

Unfortunately, it isn't. In 1972, as a young deputy, he sent a letter to president Emílio Garrastazu Médici. Médici oversaw the most repressive phase of the Brazilian dictatorship, when tortures reached their all time high and repression, censorship, and open police violence dominated. However, Alckmin was nothing but laudatory towards Médici. In a letter written in 1972 (when most of the Brazilian populous, as well as the international community, was well aware of the atrocities of the Médici state), he praised Médici for showing himself "sensible to the social, labor, and social security problems" in working for "the greatness of Brazil." Throughout this period, Alckmin distanced himself from any resistence movemnt in Brazil, be it radical or even moderate, a fact which reveals, as one journalist puts it, "an affable tone" with the regime, "revealing the posture of not confronting the military dictatorship, a fact corroborated by the accounts of [Alckmin's] colleagues in college and politicians with whom he worked."

Some may still say that such activities were 34 years ago, and that he may have turned over a new leaf, but his latest decisions indicate otherwise, pointing to his most offensive activity in this area. Alckmin has made clear that, if he wins, he will appoint Aparecido Laerte Calandra as his chief of national security. Calandra, a military man, was one of the fiercest torturers during Brazil's dictatorship, overseeing hundreds of tortures in the period. Alckmin could have taken a stance. He could have disassociated himself from the repressive past to which he is tied by picking somebody else (even though he most likely will not win Sunday). He could have said, "the dictatorship did horrible things, and I will not support those who openly participated in the torture or repression of innocent civilians." But he hasn't. He has openly embraced a man who practiced torture on fellow civilians, and has decided such a man would make a good head of national security.

There are many reasons why Brazil is better off without Alckmin as president, but these facts are absolutely unforgiveable. Alckmin could have shown a break with the authoritarian, repressive ties to his past. Instead, he has openly embraced them, revealing himself to be little better than authoritarian dictators the world over. And for this, he should be condemned, both in Brazil, and in the international community writ large.