Interview with AP’s Peter Prengaman on his book about Dilma Rousseff, Torture and the Brazilian Holocaust by Daniela Arbex, Fighting Authoritarianism with Eduardo Bueno

Interview with Associated Press News Director for Western US on his book about Dilma Rousseff, the ousted former president of Brazil

The Past is Always Present

The UN Brief interviewed Peter Pregaman, Associated Press news director for the West Region in the US. He just published a book on the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2016, the first female president of Brazil, together with his colleague Mauricio Savarese, AP’s Brazil reporter. The book draws from their reporting of the proceedings at the time, that they covered extensively, examining the political context that led to her fall.

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His series of stories, Lives Lost, on the plight of the nurses that were on the front lines at the start of the sanitary crisis and people who lost loved ones to COVID, won a Dart Award for Trauma Reporting, in 2020. It is a beautiful photographic essay and reportage, a poignant reminder of the losses families incurred all over the world.

Peter Prengaman: For California’s COVID Nurses, Past and Present Collide

AP’s “Lives Lost” Series, Inside The Outbreak

Peter Prengaman is The Associated Press’ news director for the western United States. Follow him on Twitter at Follow Los Angeles-based AP photographer Jae C. Hong on Twitter at

Brazilian Holocaust: Why Victims of Torture Must Seek Reparations

“You are not poor. You have been robbed.”

Today Brazil celebrates its Independence Day, the end of colonial rule by Portugal.

It took place in 1822.

But it can be said that Brazil has yet to find its stride as far as independence goes. The country still suffers from the vagaries of past misguided US foreign policy that supported coups. The last ones being 1964 and 2016. But Brazilians should not only hold accountable the neighbors to the North. Brazilians have had everyone under the sun try to get a piece of the action since the beginning of its colonial history, from precious gems, to gold, to the biodiversity present in the Amazon Rain Forest on Brazilian territory.

Brazilian governments past and present are too quick to oblige and trade access to valuable natural resources without establishing a proper counterpart. For example, letting researchers from Europe and the US exploit Amazon’s riches, taking its flora and fauna biodiversity — failing to protect Brazil’s Amazon Rain Forest’s natural resources — the wealth of the people of Brazil, after all.

Getting back to Brazil celebrating its independence, when the current government of Brazil decides to praise the military dictatorship and the coup of 1964 it shows a tremendous callousness. A lack of knowledge of the country’s history, its dark chapter of torture, rape, and enforced disappearances of civilians, Brazil’s public intellectuals, academics, and philosophers. The military dictatorship destroyed Brazil’s burgeoning, enlightened middle class, from 1964 to 1985. Even prior to that the massacre of members of left wing political parties had started, with the closing of radio stations, attacking community organizers of the Grupo dos Onze, and other intimidating tactics by entering people’s homes by force, torturing them in front of their children, and taking people to prison without a reason or due judicial process.

Watch our interview with the UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Truth, Justice, Reparations and Warranties for Non-recurrences, and Memorialization, Fabian Salvioli. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has a special procedure mandated on torture and another working group on enforced disappearances, and the special rapporteurs work together in some cases.

The fact that an “amnesty” was negotiated, that “pardons” the Brazilian militaries who were the perpetrators of torture and rape of civilians is abhorrent, and as Salvioli explains, not in line with Brazil’s obligations as signatory of UN Treaties, including the Covenant on Political and Social Rights. The civilians subject to brutalities, torture, crimes against humanity, were — for the most part — simply wanting to exercise their democratic right of expressing their party allegiance, a party that had Brazil’s interests foremost, as well as the dream of a more just society, the party of the late political leader Leonel Brizola.

They were not “communists” — as the academic literature shows, as little by little researchers dig out the facts, interview people who lived through that time, and access DOPS archives.

There is much yet to be researched and revealed on the atrocities committed by extreme-right and center-right Brazilian citizens to those who espoused a center-left and left political view, a social justice vision for the country.

No Solace for the Victims of Torture and Their Families

Here below is a list of readings for those interested in understanding why Brazil has slipped to the far-right now, to an authoritarian government, result of not addressing its dark past to bring to justice the generals that committed these crimes against humanity, the perpetrators of multiple violations of International Human Rights Law.

Brazil is currently run by a government that is not only illiterate, anti-science, but that treats the UN Human Rights Council as a joke with ridiculous anti-abortion statements coated in fake ”family values”.

Brazil is run by semi-literate officials appointed by Bolsonaro, that do not read the country’s history and have as “advisor in foreign affairs”, a quack, a former astrologer whose claim to fame is that he makes a fruit salad of extreme-right political tenets, a far-right conspiracist, in true Carmen Miranda fashion. As for Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current president, he is a retired army captain that has not understood the implications of his friendship with another conspiracist of the far-right, who draws his power from the “streets”, meaning the social media illiterate. Bolsonaro’s grotesque comments supporting torture are disgusting and constitute a violation of International Human Rights Law, of which Brazil is a signatory.

To the list:

We Cannot Remain Silent, Duke University

Washington Post: Bolsonaro’s push to commemorate Brazil’s military rule is a celebration of torture

“Ustra was an army colonel who headed the Doi-Codi intelligence service in the 1970s. He became known for overseeing the use of horrifying torture techniques on political prisoners. Under his leadership, the Doi-Codi reportedly even tortured pregnant women, inserting rats into women’s vaginas and forcing their children to watch.”

No Justice for Horrors of Brazil’s Military Dictatorship 50 Years On: President-Elect Jair Bolsonaro Defends Military Regime, Human Rights Watch

The Guardian

“They were subjected to beatings, death threats and rounds of Russian roulette; hogtied and slung from a metal bar lashed behind their knees, and strapped to a metal chair that delivered electric shocks. Cockroaches were forced into Paes’s mouth.

The Ghosts of Brazil’s Military Dictatorship How a Politics of Forgetting Led to Bolsonaro’s Rise, By Kenneth P. Serbin, January 1, 2019

The Might and the Right: How Far Will Brazil’s Military Back Bolsonaro?

On Bodies as Object: a Postcolonial Reading of the Brazilian Holocaust

By Rodrigo Matos-de-Souza, Universidade de Brasilia; Ana Carolina Cerqueira Medrado, Universidade Federal da Bahia

“The Hospital Colônia was a profitable machine of killing the insane, that would get its profit as the new patients arrived, including children. It was one of the devices of the so-called ‘industry’ of madness, that describes the military dictatorship period, in Brazil, when the psychiatric hospitals would receive a daily rate for each hospitalized patient. That made the number of beds in such hospitals raise from 14.000, at the beginning of the dictatorship, to around 70.000, in 1970.” Daniela Arbex, Holocausto Brasileiro

History of Brazil During the Military Dictatorship

Hospital Colônia (Colony, in Brazilian Portuguese) was founded in 1903 and its first director was Dr. Joaquim Antônio Dutra. Colônia had capacity to give shelter to 200 patients. Located in the city of Barbacena, 102 miles away from the capital of the State of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte and in the heart of the Mantiqueira Mountains, the place became a national symbol of psychiatric care in the 20th century. Those who required medical attention were sent by train to Barbacena from all Brazil. Those transports were so common they originated the regional expression "trem de doido" ("crazy train").

By 1960, Colônia was operating heavily over capacity and had over 5,000 patients. Most of them were always partially dressed, some were fully naked and forced to labor, including children, elders and people with disabilities. At least 16 people perished everyday due to sickness, malnutrition, heat shock due to exposure to low temperatures and Scottish showers, electroconvulsive therapy or murder. The staff benefited from remains of the dead patients, as they were often smuggled to universities across the country. Whenever the demand was low, corpses were simply dissolved in acid or buried in nearby grounds. Over 70% of the patients were never diagnosed with any sort of psychological disorder; they were placed under permanent care by political interests and social stigma. These patients were often alcoholics, epileptics, prostitutes, homosexuals, unwanted children, homeless people, women whose virginity was lost before marriage, enemies of the local elite or simply considered "inadequate" according to the social norms of the past century, such as shy men and women with a sense of leadership. It is also notorious that a good parcel of the population in Colônia was of African ancestry.

In 1980, due to pressure in the mass media, the national anti-asylum movement managed to shut down the institution and transfer the very few survivors to be placed under proper care while receiving indemnization from the state.

By 1996, it was turned into "Museu da Loucura" (Brazilian Portuguese: Museum of Madness). Source: Wikipedia

Eduardo Bueno: Bringing the History of Brazil to the Masses

A former journalist and author of several books making Brazil’s history accessible to all, Eduardo Bueno grew up in the South of Brazil, in an upper-middle class family. His irreverent ways of presenting facts, figures, and hot historical gossip makes Brazilian history interesting and alive.

Today he presented a short sketch on the proposed manifestations pro-authoritarianism that are being called for on social media platforms in Brazil.

Taking advantage of the social media illiterate, these campaigns are being paid for by extreme right groups outside of Brazil. Bueno is worth a follow if you want to know more about the cultural dimensions and the political evolution of the largest Portuguese-speaking country in the world, and in South America. And if you love sarcasm, histrionics, and a good laugh. *the videos are in Brazilian Portuguese.