A commission investigating the former junta unearthed evidence that Volkswagen, Mercedes, Ford and other firms may ha helped identify “subversives” on their payrolls. http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/brazil-dictatorship-companies/
SAO PAULO, Brazil – When João Paulo de Oliveira was fired in 1980 by Rapistan, a Michigan-based manufacturer of conveyor belts, his troubles were only beginning.
In ensuing years, the military dictatorship that ran Brazil arrested or detained him about 10 times. Police cars passed by his house in São Paulo’s industrial suburbs, he said, and officers would make throat- slashing gestures or wave guns at him.
Oliveira’s apparent offense: Being a union organizer during an era when the military considered strikes to be tantamount to communist subve
“I used to joke that my house was the safest in the neighborhood, with all the police,” said now 63. “But it was tough, really scary, like psychological torture.”
Worse, he said, local manufacturers refused to hire him for years afterward, vaguely citin past. Other colleagues met the same fate. “We always suspected the companies were passi information on us to the police,” he said. “But we never knew for sure.”
Newly uncovered evidence suggests that Oliveira’s suspicions were well-founded.
A government-appointed commission investigating abuses during Brazil’s 1964-1985 dict has found documents that it says show Rapistan and other companies secretly helped the identify suspected “subversives” and union activists on their payrolls. Among those name Oliveira. The official report isn’t scheduled to be released until December, but the commis allowed Reuters to review the evidence involving companies as the investigation nears its
Foreign and Brazilian companies are cited in the documents, including, most prominentl of the world’s biggest automakers: Volkswagen AG, Ford Motor Co, Toyota Motor Corp a Mercedes-Benz unit of Daimler AG, among others.
No companies have been accused of any crimes. Whether they collaborated with the dictatorship, and to what extent, are in dispute. Nevertheless, human rights advocates and some of the named in the documents say they may pursue civil lawsuits or other legal action as a result in the commission’s findings.
Some workers want the companies to pay reparations for lost wages. Others, including th doubt the commission’s findings will be conclusive enough for a court case, say they would satisfied with an apology.
The National Truth Commission was created in 2012 by President Dilma Rousseff, herself former leftist militant who was jailed and tortured by the military in the early 1970s.
The commission is tasked with shedding new light on abuses during that era and who was responsible for them. The U.S.-backed dictatorship killed some 300 people and tortured imprisoned thousands more in what it saw as a fight to stop leftists from turning Brazil in version of Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
Rousseff, who is running for re-election in October, has expressed hopes that a fuller hist record will help ensure that Brazil, now a thriving democracy and rising economic power, repeats that era’s mistakes.
Businesses in general benefitted from the dictatorship’s conservative policies. Academics long believed that local and multinational companies helped the regime identify employe were fomenting labor unrest or otherwise posed a supposed threat to stability.
Now, the commission’s researchers have discovered evidence that they believe proves suc relationship.
“THE BLACK LIST”
The documents do not provide a complete record of state repression during the dictatorship. Some papers from that period were burned by the military or otherwise vanished; some have been found in the past year in the homes of former officers after they died; others are scattered among state archives.
The commission’s most prized discovery to date is a document found in São Paulo state’s archives that researchers informally call “the black list.”
The typewritten list contains the names and home addresses of some 460 workers from 63 companies in an area of Greater São Paulo that is sometimes called “Brazil’s Detroit” because many foreign automakers are based there.
The list dates from the early 1980s. It was put together by the Department of Political and Social Order, or DOPS, a police intelligence agency that existed primarily to monitor and repress leftists. Historians say DOPS detained an undetermined number of people, including President Rousseff, and tortured many of them.
“We always suspected the companies were passing information on us to the police. But we never knew for sure.”
João Paulo de Oliveira, blacklisted factory worker
Volkswagen had the most employees on the DOPS list, with 73. Mercedes-Benz was secon 52.
The document does not say what DOPS used the list for, or what criteria were used to sele names. The document also does not indicate how DOPS obtained the information.
Rosa Cardoso, a lawyer who heads the truth commission’s subcommittee investigating against blue-collar workers, said the list appears to have been used to monitor labor activist time when unions in Greater São Paulo were becoming more assertive in their demands f wages and working conditions.
The document, or some version of it, may have also been circulated to companies to prevent workers from getting jobs elsewhere once they were fired, she said, based on interviews th commission has conducted.
The list includes so much proprietary information that, Cardoso argues, the data had to h provided by the companies. More than half the entries on the list include the area of the f where the workers labored. That information, made in handwritten notes next to the wor names, is highly specific, denoting either the department’s function (“Maintenance”) or it internal name (“Sector 4530”).
“It’s proof that these companies conspired to repress their workers,” Cardoso said. Some scholars caution that it is possible that worker information was obtained by other for instance, via union informants, or by the DOPS itself. Asked about these alternative explanations, Cardoso said: “Not in these numbers, with this detail.”
Some documents uncovered by the commission more clearly indicate that companies pas information to the military.
Researchers found a two-page letter from São Paulo’s civil police force to the DOPS, date 9, 1981, regarding David Rumel, then a doctor for the metalworkers’ union.
The letter includes Rumel’s date of birth and home address but is mostly focused on his le past. It notes that he joined the Brazilian Communist Party as a student in 1971 and was imprisoned for five months from 1975 to 1976.
In the letter, the police state the information was “collected by the security service of Volk Brazil.”
Rumel’s name did not appear on the “black list.” Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.
In response to detailed questions from Reuters about whether it provided information on and others to the military, Volkswagen Brazil said it has not yet been contacted by the tru commission. Yet, in a development that may be the first of its kind in Brazil, Volkswagen would initiate its own probe.
“Without knowledge of the concrete documents we aren’t able to give you answers to all y questions,” spokesman Renato Acciarto said via email. “But Volkswagen will investigate a indications to get more information about the company and the state institutions during t period of military (rule).”
“Volkswagen will throw light on this matter to get full knowledge” of what happened, he
Cheryl Falk, a spokeswoman for Luxembourg-based Dematic Group, which now owns Ra said the company has “no documentation or records” with regard to employees at its Braz in the 1980s.
She added: “We value our employees and respect their privacy, and would not condone th conduct alleged” by the truth commission.
A spokesman for Mercedes-Benz in Brazil said that the company “does not confirm” giving information to DOPS, and that it “has among its values … the protection of the personal information of its employees.”
Ford declined to comment. Toyota and Fiat, which now
owns Chrysler, said they had no records of potential
abuses during that era. “We would like to remind you
INVESTIGATOR: Rosa Cardoso, a member
that we’re talking about a period more than 30 years ago,” said Erick Boccia, a Toyota spokesman.
pushing harder for better wages. The sign re
LATHE OPERATOR ON THE LIST
Reuters interviewed 10 people whose names
appeared on the “black list.” Most reported having
been fired by the companies in the early 1980s,
around the time the document appeared. Some
said they were arrested at least once, sometimes at
Rosa Cardoso, investigator for the
National Truth Commission.
None of the workers said they met with torture or extended imprisonment in the years after the list appeared. That tracks with historians’ fi that the military’s harshest tactics had largely ceased by the mid-1970s, as armed guerrill diminished in number and more moderate generals gained influence.
Manoel Boni, 59, said he was fired by Mercedes-Benz after participating in a strike in 198 ensuing years, he repeatedly applied for positions as a lathe operator at other automakers São Paulo, including some factories that had posted openings for such jobs.
The companies didn’t hire him. Boni said he depended for extended periods on churches from friends. He eventually found work at a small factory near downtown Sao Paulo, som miles (20 km) away.
Upon being shown the list for the first time by Reuters, Boni said: “My God, my God.”
“Sector 381,” he said, reading aloud the handwritten annotation next to his name. “Yes, th quality inspection, where I worked.”
He paused for a long moment, reading the other names. “Many things make sense now,” he
Oliveira, the former Rapistan employee, had to leave town to find a new job. He didn’t giv trying to recruit workers to his old union, though.
“We met at night, under trees, wherever was necessary,” he said. He now works at an asso for retired metalworkers.
Keiji Kanashiro, 70, was an economic adviser for Mercedes before he lost his job in 1980. following years, he said he often sent out 20 resumes a week, to no avail.
Kanashiro said he once met with a human resources representative from another large fo automaker in Greater São Paulo. “He told me, ‘You’re on a list, and you’ll never work in th sector again,’” Kanashiro said.
Not everyone on the list had such bad experiences. Geovaldo Gomes dos Santos, who wor accident prevention for Volkswagen, said he felt like his bosses were trying to push him o early 1980s. He stuck with the job anyway, and finally retired from the company in 2003.
Still, he has vivid memories from the tough years. “If you supported the union, they treate like a bug,” he said. “I’d like to see some justice for what happened to others.”
AMNESTY LAW The big question looming over the commission’s work is what kind of justice is possible.
Unlike some other South American countries that experienced Cold War-era dictatorship had never seen a concerted effort to investigate serious abuses.
That’s partly because Brazil’s military killed far fewer people than its regional peers. Arge 1976-1983 regime killed as many as 30,000 – about 100 times Brazil’s toll, in a country wi roughly one-fifth the population. Prior to handing power back to civilians in 1985, Brazil’s also negotiated a sweeping amnesty law that has to date prevented courts from prosecuti “political crimes” from the dictatorship era.
As a result, some jurists are guarded about the chances of successful prosecutions.
“In theory, if a company contributed to or benefited from a violation of human rights, it c held responsible,” said Marlon Weichert, a prosecutor and specialist in international hum law at Brazil’s Public Ministry, a judicial body that could prosecute a case based on the commission’s findings.
Apprised of the truth commission’s work to date, Weichert said via email that the finding “important,” but stressed he would need to see the full evidence before saying whether or how a case against companies would be pursued.
Last year, prosecutors in Argentina filed criminal charges against three former Ford exec who allegedly gave names, home addresses and pictures of workers to Argentine security during that country’s dictatorship. Some of those workers were jailed and tortured. The t deny the charges and have pleaded not guilty. The case is making its way through Argenti courts.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s truth commission may summon or invite the companies that figure most prominently on
the “black list” to give their version of the story in coming weeks, said Sebastião Neto, who is overseeing the research on companies.
“YOU HAVE TO PROVE IT” Others think the commission is overplaying its hand.
Augusto Portugal, a former Rolls-Royce employee who is on the list, is hoping for reparations from the companies. But he worries that, if the commission solicits their testimony based on inconclusive evidence, it could cause the companies to retreat behind a firewall of silence and lawyers.
Portugal has interviewed some 30 people on the list while writing a post-graduate thesis o document, and says it isn’t completely clear where the information came from. “It’s obvio companies collaborated” with the military, he said. “But you have to prove it.”
Also unclear is how actively Rousseff, despite her past, will support any efforts at prosecu Some in her party wanted to include a “revision” of the 1979 amnesty law in her official re platform. That proposal has met resistance from some of her aides, who worry she has he full with a stagnant economy and declining popularity.
Others say the public attention given to the truth commission has been its own reward, by awakening a public debate about dictatorship-era crimes.
O Globo, a newspaper that is part of a media empire that championed military rule, issue editorial last year saying “that support was an error” – prompting speculation that other companies might soon follow suit.
Meanwhile, some on the list take comfort that in the end, they arguably won.
The labor unrest at automakers in Greater São Paulo ended up spreading, weakening the and leading to a managed transition to democracy in 1985. The union movement, embold created a new political party: The Workers’ Party.
One of its founders, labor leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, became Brazil’s president in 2 Rousseff is also a member of the Workers’ Party, and Brazil now has some of the world’s generous labor laws.
“Lula always told us that, to really prevail in our battle, we’d need to found a party and try change society,” said Kanashiro, the former Mercedes worker on the list, who is now a Wo Party official in Brasilia. “We never thought it would happen so fast. But that doesn’t chan fact that we want justice for these abuses.”
Edited by Todd Benson and Michael Williams
An ugly chapter in Brazil’s history
By Brian Winter Labor in the years before, during and after Brazil’s military regime:
1959 Fidel Castro leads a revolution in Cuba, sparking fears all over Latin America that communists will take power.
1960 Brazilians elect a populist president, Janio Quadros, in a landslide.
1961 Quadros quits after 7 months in office in an apparently miscalculated bid to convinc Congress to grant him greater powers. The military at first refuses to allow his vice presid Goulart, to take office. The military ultimately yields.
1963 Under Goulart, unions gain political power. There are 302 strikes in Brazil, double t number in 1962. Wages increase, inflation hits 75 percent, per capita income shrinks for t time since World War Two.
1964 With labor unrest spreading, the military deposes Goulart in a coup. Hundreds of blue-collar workers are detained. The military uses special emergency powers to replace t leaders at about two-thirds of large union federations.
1964-1979 Strikes become rare. By the late 1960s, growth often exceeds 10 percent a yea soar for companies, but wages for the working class fall in real terms.
1979-1980 Strikes in Greater São Paulo spread, especially at automakers. 1981 Gastão Vidigal, a leading businessman, famously admits that he and others gave money directly to state security forces in the 1960s to repress “subversive” groups. 1985 In a carefully negotiated transition, the military returns power to civilian rule.