Brazil’s New President Honors Cellmates
During her New Year’s-day inauguration as Brazil’s first woman president, Dilma Rousseff, a guerrilla fighter and torture survivor-turned politician, proclaimed: “I am committed to honoring women, to protecting the most vulnerable and to govern for all…From now on I am the president of all Brazilians.”
The new leader of a country which has become one of the world’s ten largest economies was once known as the “subversive Joan of Arc.” Arrested under Brazil’s military dictatorship, she was imprisoned and tortured for almost two years.
During her precedent-setting inauguration, Rousseff addressed an audience which included many other torture survivors, and she specifically honored eleven women who were held with her in the notorious Tiradentes prison. Speaking to her former cellmates in the front row, she was visibly choked up as she said, “I dedicated all my life to the Brazilian cause. I delivered my youth to the dream of a just and democratic nation.”
Interviewed by CNN, historian Carlos Fico said, “While so many suffered terrible forms of torture, women were victimized in more ways than others, given the machismo that pervaded in the military. Many women prefer not to mention the details.”
Although a 1979 amnesty law protects civilian and military personnel from criminal prosecution for crimes committed during the dictatorship, Brazilian prosecutors have filed lawsuits for civil damages against four agents who have been accused of killings and kidnappings – among them former army Captain Mauricio Lopes Lima who, they claim, was responsible for the Dilma’s torture.
For her part, Rousseff has promised to fight for greater gender equity in her country, and has said of her so-called “subversive” activities that she had “no regrets, resentment or rancor.” (Creative Commons photo.)