Printer Friendly

How U.S. policy trickled down to a Sao Paulo jail.

ROSLINDALE, Mass. -- A recent massacre in Brazil, horrible by any standards, has a disturbing further dimension: It is American policy come home to roost.

We have a particular obligation to protect human rights in situations our policies have helped create. Cases in point are the armed forces of many Latin American countries whose training and self-image were deeply influenced by decisions made by the United States at the end of World War II.

With the inauguration of the nuclear age toward the end of that war, it became obvious that Latin American armies would no longer be needed -- or able -- to perform the traditional function of armies: defense against external enemies.

The superpowers, meanwhile, were instigating the Cold War. The U.S. interpretation of Soviet intentions led it to define a new role for Latin American armed forces. The Soviet Union, it decided, would infiltrate movements for social change to create regimes in its own image.

Even before the Castro revolution in Cuba, which seemed to confirm this analysis, the United States developed a massive program of aid to Latin America's armed forces, an integral part of which was training their leadership in the Panama Canal zone and in the United States.

One of the continuing results of that project is the use of the military in what are properly police functions, both on the streets and in prisons, functions for which soldiers are not trained and for which because of the nature of their weapons -- they are particularly unsuited.

That reality was brought sharply into focus last October when military police massacred more than 100 inmates at the Carandiru jail in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The first account to reach the U.S public was an Associated Press story based exclusively on information provided by prison officials and confirmed by the Sao Paulo state security director. They blamed a gang riot for a melee in which "most of the deaths were caused by the inmates themselves." They also said the prisoners seized pistols and injured 34 riot troops sent in to put down the uprising.

A radically different picture emerges from an 8,000-word report to the Federal Ministry of Justice by the Sao Paulo Archdiocese's Prison Ministry Team. Separate inquiries by Americas Watch, Amnesty International and other human-rights groups confirm the accuracy of this report.

When the military police burst into Pavilion 9, the prisoners ran to their cells, stripped naked and sat in position of surrender with hands behind their heads. The military executed 93 prisoners in their cells and 18 others who had "run the gauntlet" or had volunteered to carry dead bodies.

Most of the prisoners in Pavilion 9 were young, and most were awaiting trial. Of those who had been convicted, most were first-time offenders.

Prisoners who survived the initial onslaught were rounded up and forced to run the gauntlet -- known in Brazil as the Polish Corridor. Soldiers, some with police dogs, lined both sides of a 100-foot-long corridor along wich the prisoners had to crawl, barefoot and naked, on hands and knees, all the while bludgeoned with billy clubs and beaten with the flat of bayonets and the butts of weapons.

"The prisoners unfortunate enough to stumble and fall," and delay even a second or two in getting up, to quote the chaplains' report, "were killed on the spot, either by a shot to the temple or forehead, or bayoneted (one prisoner was practically decapitated), or torn to shreds by the dogs."

Nor was the massacre at the Carandiru jail an isolated occurrence. The military police are among Brazil's primary human-rights violators, according to several recent reports.

In its survey of 1992, Human Rights Watch said that "children who live or work on the streets of Brazil are among those killed by death squads and by uniformed police... At least 2,290 children were killed in 16 states between 1984 and 1989."

An average of 40 minors a months were killed in Rio de Janeiro during the first four months of 1992, according to the Marginalized Population Coordinating Committee. The monthly average during the previous year was 25.

The military police of Sao Paulo have a notorious reputation, according to Americas Watch. "Every year, they kill hundreds of criminal suspects on the streets of Sao Paulo in purported shootouts. The number of these killings has grown under the current administration of Governor Fleury Filho."

According to Sao Paulo's own official police statistics, the police a decade ago killed a suspect every 30 hours; today, the average is one every seven hours. These official statistics described the suspects as marginais, the Portuguese word for "marginal" or "outlaw."

Soldiers are tained to kill. And it has long been recognized that they kill more efficiently if the enemy has been dehumanized, has become a Hun or a gook. Thehe Brazilian armed forces have learned this lesson all too well. Their enemy is the "outlaw," whether on the streets or in the jails.

The United States no longer trains the Brazilian military, but Brazilian soldiers are still taught in the military colleges developed with U.S. aid. These schools, as an air force academy official in Sao Paulo recently said, "turn soldiers into agents of repression."

So widely is this distortion recognized that human-rights groups have begun to challenge it. Amnesty International has joined with the Brazilian Justice and Human Rights Movement to organize a human-rights course for police officers in the state of Rio Grande do Sul.

This is an initiative that merits international support, and in particular President Clinton's support, to extend it to all of Brazil and all of Latin America.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Catholic Reporter
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Oct., 1992 massacre of 100 inmates in Carandiru, Brazil
Author:MacEoin, Gary
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Mar 19, 1993
Previous Article:Westminster archbishop has good sense of Hume.
Next Article:Report blames Bosnia Muslims as terrorists.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters