The Sorry Spectacle of the Widows of the Dictatorship

Many people in Brazil are still rather sympathetic to the military dictatorship that ruled the country until the 1980s. It isn’t uncommon to hear from older people that, back then, jobs were plenty, public education was decent, and violence was not out of control — that the country was in order. Sure it was. But whom did that order serve?

The dictatorship effectively imposed something that resembled order. Like every authoritarian government, it was accountable to no one, it censored the opposition and scoured the streets in search of “subversive” activities. Violence? It did exist, but news about it was suppressed. Information the population got was filtered by the regime and critics were silenced and persecuted.

Even the idea that Brazil was economically prosperous in the “Years of Lead” is entirely false. The so called “Brazilian miracle” of the 1970s — which consisted basically of inflation and rising public debt to finance pharaonic government projects such as the Trans-Amazonian highway — put the country on the path toward economic collapse. Which in fact occured: Brazil was the Zimbabwe of the 1980s, a lost decade, of impoverishment and suffering for the people, who had to live with inflation topping 3000% a year.

Conveniently, the more nostalgic forget these facts. And even when they remember them, they minimize the problems. The number of dead and disappeared people due to political persecution during the dictatorship is calculated to be around 400. It’s a relatively “low” number compared to other military regimes from Latin America or even the communist regime of Cuba, so authoritarians dismiss any discussion of the subject as a non-issue. Which is, of course, absurd, because justice is not a comparison of the number of dead bodies. To them, Vladimir Herzog was the exception, rather than the rule.

This March 22 was the day for the widows of the dictatorship (as they are often called) to celebrate their illusions about the regime that made Brazil freeze in time for over 20 years. On the anniversary of 50 years of the misleadingly named Marcha da Família com Deus pela Liberdade (literally, March of the Family, with God, for Liberty, later called the Victory March by the new government) — that protested against the government of then leftist president João Goulart — some conservative groups decided to organize “protests” in several cities all over the country. The new “Marches of the Family” took the streets.

They called for “military intervention” (that is, a coup d’état) against the “communist threat” in Brazil. They called for the re-establishment of the farcical order of the military regime. Cheers for generals Médici and Geisel (two of the military presidents) could be heard. The fact these manifestations celebrated a contemptible figure such as congressman Jair Bolsonaro (an overt homophobe known for defending public lynchings of criminals) speaks volumes about the political ideals of those present.

However, we shouldn’t ascribe too much importance to these “marches.” Few people actually participated in them. Several leftist and anti-fascistic organizations were concerned, but in the end there wasn’t much reason to be. São Paulo’s March boasted about a thousand people, while Rio’s was able to attract 200. Negligible numbers in huge cities. Not to mention the sorry groups of 6 people in Recife and 9 in Natal. The widows of the dictatorship enacted a depressing play, not only for the reactionary views they defended, but because it made absolutely clear how irrelevant they are.

Brazilian newspapers found it important to cover the protests, but if anything, they have shown us that their ideology and values, much like the dictatorship, are buried in the past. They are fossils that very few people are willing to dig out.

The few in the streets this last Saturday want to turn back the clock, but they haven’t noticed they do not control the gears anymore. And there’s nothing they can do about it.

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