AI-5 and the forbidden future of Brasil

On the 50th anniversary of Institutional Act 5, the 1968 “coup within the coup” which ushered in an even more brutal and repressive phase of the Military dictatorship, historian Fernando Horta explains how its malign influence never went away, and is now again casting a shadow over Brazilian society.

by Fernando Horta.

It has been said that ephemeris mean nothing. Chronological time does not lend meaning to history. It is human time, full of memories, experiences and perceptions that really matters. Philosopher Paul Ricoeur has shown that remembering is an intentional and creative act, but that forgetting is also an act.

It makes little sense to speak about 50 years of the AI-5, signed on December 13, 1968. My grandmother was born in 1934, my mother in 1955 and I in 1977. There are four generations, including my sons, directly impacted by AI -5. The military regime taught my grandmother that “religion, politics and football are not discussed.” And this was passed by my mother to me, against which I fought long after I became a historian. “Dictation” has become effective across generations of Brazilians. Politics was dirty, tainted and not fit for decent people. For this reason, supposedly, the military was going to “clean it up”. The Constitution of 1988 did not manage to change this perception. Practicing politics, since the military regime, is an act of social self-sacrifice. “Moral people” do not get into politics, it was said, only those who are not.

The Lula governments were our best bet that all this would be left behind. Seeing Dilma, a woman tortured during those times, climbing the ramp of the Planalto Palace and being greeted with salutes by those who had previously massacred her, was a symbolic moment of “page turning.” Brazil chose another way for its transitional justice. It was not the Argentine path of confrontation and stigmatization, of open sores dealt with exemplary punishments. Nor was it South Africa’s path to Mandela’s gigantism and the historical (but not criminal) recognition of the crimes perpetrated. The Brazilian path seemed to be that of institutions. Democracy, plurality, and law guided transition from the bloody past to a promising present.

In the last 90 days I caught myself asking my son not to discuss politics in high school. He was given a ride by parents who voted for Bolsonaro and they harassed him politically the whole time. Outraged, my twelve-year-old son asked me for “arguments” to use. “I asked you not to get into politics.”, it was not long before I repeated the saying I had heard from my mother. Not long at all.

If my shame can not be hidden from what I told my son, we must reflect why, after all, we are entering this same situation again. The truth is that the elected government of Bolsonaro demonstrates that AI-5 never left Brazil. The ghosts of violence, repression and torture become more and more present. We are already afraid of being arrested for “criminal opinions”, censored through “lack of knowledge” or fired for “insurgency”.

The truth is that Brazil, because it did not treat its wounds, had an amputation. Our democracy elapsed and our institutions have been taken by coup-mongers and defenders of torture and violence, certain that neither the state nor Brazilian society will do anything to oppose them. The impunity of those monsters from 1964 to 1985 guaranteed the safe passage of Temer, Padilha and their crowd through the new coup. And yet more certain is that Bolsonaro, with a totally irregular campaign, with suffer nothing. Our state does not protect our future from the violence of the present. In fact, with the elected Fascist, our state rejoices at its bestiality.

Twitter generals, who changed their uniforms for pajamas, continue to warn everyone (including the Supreme Court) that AI-5 is very present. The commander of the Army himself revealed this in a recent interview. Unafraid of any reprisal. This is the “I do because I want” that has characterized ALL Brazilian institutions since 2016, at least. A democracy that is empowered by armed powers. That, in truth, never stopped living with torture. And this can be very well understood by any young, black, poor Brazilian who has been approached by our “valiant” Military Police. And woe to those who testify in the courts of resistance. Marielle Franco remains the permanent example of our social inability to protect our future.

AI-5 was designed to attack the future. Democracy had been battered since 1964, confidence in our political system since 1961. The signing of the document that opened the doors to unbridled violence in Brazil was aimed at future generations. Maybe mine and my son’s. According to professor Carlos Fico, affected were 333 retired parliamentarians, 66 university professors, 3 supreme court ministers and a number of artists. The choices clearly followed an attack on representation. Politicians who were real politicians, because they had the capacity for popular mobilization, were dismissed.

The new Brazilian politics is inaugurated, one in which representation is maximised with minimum participation. Every four years politicians leave their palaces, supported by the weight of public gold, walk among the plebs, embrace, promise, photograph and disappear. Rodrigo Maia, president of Congress, showed the truth about the type of policy produced after AI-5 in the second half of this year. Maia said that “Parliament was not obliged to listen to the people”. Of course, after the vote, the chaos of the ballots, it is a  appropriate that these sweaty, brown people who speak badly and smell badly will be restricted to the ghettoes where the system permits them to be.

Entrenched in Brasilia, the City-Palace of the Republic of Brazil, the parliamentarians live quietly for four years, recovering from electoral wear and tear. Walking, shaking hands, listening and hugging the rabble is not something simple for those who live in gatherings watered by Champagne and seafood. As of 2014, it was still possible to convince the poor and the destitute that they are not “workers”. They are potential entrepreneurs. Embryonic millionaires who only do not develop because of the “oppressor state”. And the failure of Brazil is their fault, each and every one of them.

They convinced the poor of this country that those who fight for the poor and the workers are enemies. Infiltrators. Indoctrinators. Extortionists. Well, it’s the businessman who never worked, the millionaire who has never ridden a bus, and a manager who graduated from a university that the immense majority of the population can not even repeat the name of. Unions are trash, social movements are parasites, and activists, evil incarnate. This is the same rhetoric created by AI-5 and its DOI-CODI secret police. The goal is to prohibit the future of the country. Without the dance of politics between situation and opposition on an equal footing, a monochromatic, monochronic, authoritarian and doomed country is formed.

We have the worshipper of a torturer in the presidency and a statesman who received the homeless and the landless at the Planalto with the same pomp as heads of state, arrested. Marshal Henrique Teixeira Lott buried with near anonymity in 1984, and the exaltation of Carlos Brilhante Ustra. There is no future. AI-5 is a historical demon that has never been exorcised.

The country embarks on the authoritarian adventure again. As in ’64, it is believed that “everything is functioning” and violence is only against “radical groups”. Juscelino Kubistchek would be telling us now: “Do not believe this, again.”

We are waiting for a new AI-5. We already have everything organized and prepared for this. If Bolsonaro had not been elected it would appear. If his campaign had been deemed improper by the STF it would appear. If Lula is released it will appear, and if my son or his children decide to wake up from this nightmare and protest, it will surely reappear. Brazil is living through the interdiction of its future. And this was envisaged by those who created AI-5.

I just hope that future generations will learn to punish the criminals of the past. That they arrest, dishonor and throw to the gutter those putschists of 2016 and 2018. Those with the courage to do what we have not done. Or their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will pay again, with blood, and hunger.


By Fernando Horta

PhD in History of International Relations at the University of Brasília (UNB). Denver University Visiting Scholar.