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What Happens When a Brazilian Congressman Honors a Torturer on Live Television?

ICE Graveyard 20/04/2016 Francisco Toledo
JAIR BOLSONARO BRAZIL © Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters JAIR BOLSONARO BRAZIL

Representative Jair Bolsonaro (PSC) did not think twice before honoring Colonel Alberto Brilhante Ustra during Brazil's impeachment vote in the lower house of Congress. Bolsonaro praised a man responsible for the disappearance of more than 40 people during the military dictatorship and the torture of hundreds more.
And do you know what's going to happen? Nothing.
Absolutely nothing."What if a Congressman in the US decided to honor a former Klu Klux Klan leader during a session of Congress that was broadcast live to the entire country?"
Whereas other Latin American countries have made a point of sending their torturers and dictators to prison, such as Argentina and Chile, in Brazil the situation is different.
Instead, during the impeachment vote on April 17, controversial representative Jair Bolsonaro (PSC) decided to dedicate his vote in the worst manner possible.
Amazingly, Bolsonaro committed two blunders. The first one was to praise and congratulate the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha (PMDB). The second error was to honor Colonel Alberto Brilhante Ustra, a man responsible for the disappearance of more than 40 people during Brazil's military dictatorship.
His followers weren't pleased and complained on Facebook. Oh yes, they complained! They didn't like at all the fact that Bolsonaro congratulated Cunha. But they loved the praise that he heaped on the torturer.
That's how things work. For Bolsonaro's followers, keeping bribery money in overseas accounts is a major issue. And they are right. But if you tortured hundreds of people and were responsible for the disappearance of dozens of people, everything is fine. In fact, you are a hero.
How can this happen, broadcast live on national television, in a so-called democracy?
The first thing that came to my mind was the fact that the families of Colonel Ustra's victims were watching the voting by television on Sunday.
"Our young democracy is unable to mature because we haven't taken the time to discuss the military dictatorship and the effects it had on tens of thousands of people around the country during its 21 year rule."
We are talking about the sons and daughters who never had the opportunity to know their fathers and mothers. We are talking about sisters who lost their brothers. We are talking about people who carry scars of torture that are impossible to erase, that stick to their skins and will last for the rest of their lives.
What about the repercussion of this incident?
In a country without a properly democratized media, it is easy to imagine what the answer will be.
Yes, Bolsonaro was, somehow, the subject of many stories and articles on the day he cast his vote in favor of impeachment. But not because he praised a torturer, but because left-wing Congressman Jean Wyllys (PSOL) spat at him during the vote.
Jean Wyllys claims that Bolsonaro had offended him with homophobic remarks after he declared his vote against the impeachment. And that's why he spat at him.
The truth, however, is that this momentary quarrel has generated far more debate and controversy than Bolsonaro's praise for the torturer.
If you search on Google for "Jair Bolsonaro Ustra" in "News" you get 587 results, most of them from websites such as HuffPost Brasil and Revista Brasileiros.
But if you search for "Jean Wyllys spits" in "News" you get 33,000 results. In this case, Brazil's major media vehicles appear in the search results.
And that leads me to my next question: What if a Congressman in Spain decided to honor a torturer under Franco's regime during a session of Parliament that was broadcast live to the entire country?
What if a Congressman in the US decided to honor a former Klu Klux Klan leader during a session of Congress that, again, was broadcast live to the entire country?
The problem with Brazil is that we still don't know how to deal with a ghost called our past military dictatorship. Our young democracy is unable to mature because we haven't taken the time to discuss the dictatorship and the effects it had on tens of thousands of people around the country during its 21 year rule.
Imagine how complex it is to explain to an Argentinian or a Chilean the fact that we haven't arrested or prosecuted our torturers. Worse still: try to explain the existence of large pensions paid to the widows and families of such men, who were capable of doing dreadful and cruel things to innocent civilians, such as the journalist Vladimir Herzog.
We have a monopolized media. A manipulated democracy. And a hampered dictatorship.
This post appeared on HuffPost Brazil. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.It was originally published in Democratize and can be read here.

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