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Years of lead online

The project Revealed Memories will post documents about repression in the military dictatorship onto the Internet

National ArchiveA revolution has been under way since last May in public archives all over the country. State and federal archives, universities, ministries and human rights organizations are engaged in an effort to make the project Memórias Reveladas [Revealed Memories] materialize as soon as possible. The project will post onto the Internet millions of documents produced by military dictatorship authorities in all Brazilian states on political prisoners and the armed activists that rebelled during the military dictatorship (1964-1985). For the first time ever, state archives have joined an effort of this magnitude. Broadly speaking, this interaction will make it possible to cross data stored under the protection of each state capital city’s regional archives.

In a narrower sense, this will re-assess the historical research on this period in several ways. For example, it will increase the volume of documents available for consultation and allow relatives of dead or missing anti-dictatorship activists or survivors to know what kind of information about them went on record and how the military authorities monitored their lives. In addition, research work will become less expensive, as the interested parties from all over the country will no longer have to travel to São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro or Brasília – where most of the documents are stored. In short, it will be possible to consult names filed in archives anywhere in Brazil without leaving home and use the information without being overwhelmed by paper and copies.

The Office of the Chief of Staff of the Presidency of the Republic is at the forefront of this initiative. The project is coordinated by the Rio de Janeiro National Archives. Since May, when the Brazilian Political Struggles Reference Center (1964-1985) – Revealed Memories was launched, an average of five new partners from several places in Brazil and even from abroad have joined the initiative. At the last count, at the end of September, there were more than 40 parties taking part in the effort. The list includes state archives, documentation centers, research centers and entities linked to universities, to the Amnesty Commission, to the Commission of the Dead and Missing Persons, and to Brown University in the United States. In September, FAPESP entered into a partnership with the National Archives and with the São Paulo State Public Archives to co-fund the work and to buy the equipment to convert the documents into digital format.

As a result, work on the project is expected to start again soon – work had stopped in July, when the first phase was concluded. The first phase – sponsored by Petrobras – began last November and took eight months. “The request for a partnership with FAPESP stemmed from our perception that one third of the people working on the documents from those times are from São Paulo, since São Paulo was the stronghold of the most active resistance against the military regime,” says professor Carlos de Almeida Prado Bacellar, coordinator of the Revealed Memories project on the part of the São Paulo State Archives. Details on how this agreement will be put into practice, he believes, will be defined in the upcoming weeks.

Bacellar states that, “given FAPESP’s reputation as an active participant in research projects in Brazil,” a contact was made between the directors of the archives and Celso Lafer, the chairman of the Foundation’s Board. “We drew up a cooperation agreement which pleased us very much and we are sure that we will soon resume work on the project.” FAPESP qualifies as a funding agency in this case because the project provides for the organization and handling of files of a number of documents in the archives and documentation centers at universities in the State of São Paulo.

National ArchiveThe São Paulo Public Archive has the biggest collection of documents of this kind in the country, comprising 150 thousand personal files, 1.1 million forms of the Deops police, 9 thousand files with dossiers, 1,500 files of the Political Order authorities and 2,500 files of the Social Order authorities. All first started being collected in the 30’s, when the first political repression and surveillance entities were created, during the Getúlio Vargas (1883-1954) administration. During the initial phase of the Memories project, 2 thousand files with dossiers were microfilmed and 340 thousand theme forms of the Deops General Archives were converted into digital format. This work was done by a team of 25 people. The scanning of more than 660 thousand forms has already been scheduled. “The ideal thing would be to double the staff to cut time by half,” says Bacellar. He points out that another urgent need is to buy equipment to transform microfilms into digital files, as there are over 1.5 million images on microfilm. This equipment costs about – 55 thousand euros or R$ 150 thousand reais.

Vicente Arruda, the national coordinator of the Revealed Memories project, defines this initiative as the project of a generation of Brazilians involved in the struggle against an oppressive regime. “This is not something that can be sized up because it is an initiative that will lead to ongoing findings, every day, every moment, and includes donations from private archives.” He says that thanks to the Rouanet tax rebate law, it was possible to raise R$ 7 million in 2005 from such state-owned companies as Petrobras, Eletrobrás, Banco do Brasil, Caixa Econômica Federal and BNDES. Although several other entities, including FAPESP, have joined the project in the last few months, it is still impossible to quantify how much money all of these organizations have raised together, but the amount is probably higher than that provided by the state-owned companies.

The coordinator believes that the fact that FAPESP has joined the effort will help attract new collaborators that will act as drivers of the research project. In other words, other state foundations, such as Faperj (Rio de Janeiro), Facepe (Pernambuco) and Fapemig (Minas Gerais) have already been contacted by the National Archives. If they agree to join in the project, they will provide funds for the archives (especially for those storing the records of political prisoners detained by the Deops, the police authorities) in their home states, given that their scope of action is geographically limited. A number of classified documents will not be made available for consulting the so-called “top secret” documents, whose non-disclosure terms run for 10, 15 or even 30 years, which periods may be extended for equal periods of time. However, the documents whose non-disclosure terms have already expired and the unclassified ones will be available for consulting.

The work of organizing the state archives is being conducted under the Brazilian Archive Description Standards (Nobrad), which will enable nationwide standardization of the documents. “I see the Revealed Memories initiative as similar to analogous initiatives in other countries. Given the intention to extend the network throughout Latin America, we will focus on integrating with countries that were governed by dictatorial regimes in the last few decades.” He points out that the Argentines have recently manifested their interest in this respect. Last August, the Nacional radio station, from Buenos Aires, broadcast a news report on this project.

Arruda explains that, in addition to the initial objective of transforming the personal files into digital format by means of the national archives’ network, recently created because of the project, it will also be possible to develop other projects based on this overall computer network. Another significant change is that many state archives are being computerized to become part of the Memories project. “We are witnessing the consolidation of a public policy for the enhancement of our document-related heritage, which also includes the training of technicians.” He adds that the National Archive is releasing a national campaign to disseminate the project and summon society to deliver documents – this includes former police authorities – with the promise of total non-disclosure.

At first, the Political Struggles Reference Center had more than 13 thousand pages of documents collected by the National Archive. In 2005, the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Presidency of the Republic established that the federal institutions should transfer all the documents on the military dictatorship to the National Archive. Abim, the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, for example, had to hand over all the files of the CSN (the National Security Council), of the CGI (the General Investigations Commission) and of the SNI (National Information Service), which were the authorities responsible for surveillance and political repression from the 60’s to the 80’s. As a result, the number of documents on the military dictatorship stored at the National Archive increased tenfold. The Revealed Memoires database will be fed online by partnering institutes as these documents are transformed into digital format, which will not be done all at once. This database is also to include documents on the military dictatorship stored at the National Archive.

Actually, São Paulo has been at the forefront in terms of making its documents available on the web. Bacellar explains that the idea of creating a virtual reference center on political repression during the military dictatorship was put into practice in 2005. The basis of this collection was the set of documents stored at Deops; the related database has been functioning since 1991 and is the most widely available center of its kind. “We have always conducted our work very carefully; we sign commitment and responsibility agreements concerning the use of personal documents with all the researchers who contact us and we have never been sued.” Now that part of this collection is available on the Internet, users must register personally and get a password to gain access to the documents. “We work with great care, guided by the concept that public access to documents cannot be denied to interested parties. Denying such access would cover up irregular actions committed in the name of the State. And torturers cannot be protected by the State.”

National ArchiveMemory and truth
The retrieval of memories of the repression during the military regime has been conducted on several fronts by official institutions, as exemplified by the Right to Memory and Truth project headed by the Office of the Special Secretary of Human Rights of the Presidency of the Republic, initiated on August 29, 2006. “The difference between our project and Memories Revealed is that the latter is focused on transforming files into digital format so that they can be posted on the Internet, while our project promotes events, exhibitions, the publishing of books. etc.,” explains Vera Rotta, the archives advisor and advisor to the special secretary. “Although the two projects lack any formal, direct link, both have an interface and complement each other, in this effort to retrieve the history of that period,” she adds. The book Direito, memória and verdade [Law, memory and truth] was launched in 2007, in partnership with the Federal University of Minas Gerais/UFMG.

The first edition of the book totaled 3 thousand copies, distributed to commissions of the political activists’ families, research centers, the press, congressmen, and public libraries. Vera says that the book was launched at a ceremony at the Planalto Palace, seat of the federal government, in the presence of the victims’ family members, who had had a private meeting with president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva earlier. The book is the result of 11 years of work by the Special Commission on Dead and Missing Political Activists. Vera was part of the team that systematized the historical documents. The political track records, often very tragic, of 479 political activists who were opposed to the military regime in the period from 1961 to 1988 were retrieved.

One of the aspects that has drawn a lot of attention from researchers in Direito, memória and verdade is the fact that it has an older version of what had allegedly happened to the missing political activists, according to the police authorities, and a new, official version, obtained after the research work conducted by the commission. The survey results show that the death or disappearance of 136 activists had already been officially acknowledged; 221 activists gained the right to indemnification for their families after the work done by the commission; and the requests for official recognition submitted by 118 activists were denied.

The Right to Memory and Truth project is also responsible for building memorials to the victims of repression. One example is the monument in honor of four students from UFMG who were killed by police authorities during the military dictatorship, which stands in front of the building that houses the office of the UFMG president. Other examples are the memorial, in the State of Santa Catarina, in memory of sociologist Paulo Stuart Wright, a former activist and member of the Ação Popular/AP anti-regime movement, and the recently inaugurated memorial in memory of five students from PUC-SP, also killed by the authorities.