Mon, Oct 25, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Photos bring up past for Brazilians

UNRESOLVED The military's response to the publishing of photos of a journalist who died in army custody decades ago has revived anger over military abuses


Vladimir Herzog died in military custody nearly 30 years ago in what remains one of the most notorious cases of human rights abuse in Brazil. Now the publication of a pair of photographs said to have been taken in his last hours has reopened that old wound and widened differences between the armed forces and the left-wing government that is now in office here.

The army's attempt, decades after the episode, to justify its treatment of Herzog and several hundred other political prisoners has enraged public opinion here. Though President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has moved to discipline the army, the resurfacing of the case has also exposed other violations that may prove harder to address.

"The immediate political problem may have been resolved, but the deeper one has not," Joao Luiz Pinaud, president of the government's Special Commission on the Death and Disappearance of Political Prisoners, said. "The residue of an authoritarian system is still there, concealed in the shadows."

In interviews last week, the military intelligence agent who supplied the photographs, Jose Alves Firmino, has also raised eyebrows by saying that military intelligence continued clandestinely to spy on left-wing parties and politicians, unions and social movements long after military rule ended. He said that during the mid-1990s he even monitored da Silva's activities, offering a photograph of himself with the future president as proof.

Herzog, a Sao Paulo television journalist, was summoned for questioning at intelligence headquarters there on Oct. 25, 1975, on suspicion that he had Communist ties, the government has said. He died the same day after being tortured. The military called his death a suicide, and made public a photograph, later proved to have been staged, that showed Herzog hanging from a belt in his cell.

His death became a symbol of the military dictatorship's excesses, though an amnesty precluded any attempt to bring those responsible to justice. But the Herzog case has been addressed in books, films and television programs over the years, and when the Brasilia daily Correio Braziliense learned that photographs of Herzog, jailed, naked and in despair had been found in the archives of a congressional committee, where they had been sent by Firmino some years ago, it interviewed him and made them public.

The armed forces maintains that all relevant official documents about human rights abuses were legally destroyed after civilian democratic rule was restored in 1985. But Firmino says they are part of a trove of 50,000 documents that a military officer gave him a few years ago.

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