All Latin American countries, with the exception of Costa Rica, have been subject of military rule at some point in their history. The last wave of dictatorship started during the 1960s and lasted until the 1980s when the Third Wave of democratization swept the world transitioning authoritarian regimes into democracies. Three characteristics of these regimes that are of particular interest for our discussion could be mentioned: 1) they were ideologically rightist regimes; 2) they had, to some extend, the support of the US; and, 3) they utilized torture as the main instrument of intelligence in order to find and eventually eliminate individuals operating under Marxist ideology. Interestingly, the same democratic wave that ended the military rule in Latin America also generated another wave of Leftist governments, although more moderate than the movements that preceded this one. Accordingly, several of the actual democratically elected head of states were leftist political activists that were themselves victims of torture of the regimes of exception. Among these presidents are the recent elected Dilma Roussef (Brazil), José Mujica (Uruguay), and the former president of Chile (Michelle Bachelet). Mrs.Roussef has pleaded to adopt an uncompromising standing on Human Rights, specially now that Brazil, differently form other counties of the Southern Cone, fails to bring to justice the state agents of political crimes, who are protected by the Amnesty Law that pardoned political crimes committed by the military and the guerrilla operatives.
In 2003 Mrs. Rousseff gave an interview in which she talks about her experience as a victim of torture. She is convinced that “torture is one of the greatest evils that exist” and believes that “the deepest meaning of democracy necessarily includes putting an end to torture”. Her interview illustrates various aspects of Scarry’s argument as well as other subjects to think about such as the perception of time, the power to inflict pain and to endure it, and the internal and external sources of endurance. I have translated parts of it from Portuguese with the help of Google Translator. My apologies for the quality of the translation.
Carvalho – What memories do you have from the time spent in jail?
Rousseff – The prison is the place where we face our own limits. That is what is sometimes very hard. In depositions, we lied like crazy. I lied a lot, but a lot.
Carvalho – How was this story of lie in the face of torture?
Rousseff – We had to make a frame and only remember the frame, the story that is invented, and never deviate from it. We had to have a story. In the relationship between the tortured and the torturer the only thing that can not happen is for you to say “I will not talk” If you say “I do not talk,” you may be required to talk five minutes later, because they know you have something to say. If you say “I do not talk,” you´re say to them: “I know what you want to know and I will not tell you.” Then you hand him the instrument with which he will torture and interrogate you. Your story can not be “do not talk.” It must be a story and from then on you do not know anything else, you can not know.
Carvalho – It is a difficult game.
Rousseff – It is an art. The difficulty is to convince them that you do not know more that this frame. This is not just a game of physical but also of psychic endurance. Especially because one of the things you discover is that you are alone.
Carvalho – What are the scenes that are coming into your head now?
Rousseff – I remember coming in Operation Bandeirantes, arrested in early 70.
(…). There was a pregnant girl who asked my name. I gave my real name. She said: “Gee, you’re screwed.” It was my first experience with “waiting”. The worst thing in torture is waiting, wait to be beaten. (…) I am also remembering very well off the bathroom floor, the white tile. Because it begins to form a crust of blood, dirt, you get a smell …
Carvalho – Who tortured?
Rousseff – Albernaz and his subordinate, whose name was Thomas. I do not know if
this is his “nom de guerre”. (…) He gave a lot of punch in people. He would start to interrogate you. If he did not like the answers he would give you punches. After the paddle, I went to the parrot’s perch.
Carvalho – With shocks to the genitals, how did it happen?
Rousseff – No. They did not do it. But they did give me a lot of shocks, but a lot of shocks. I remember the first few days, I had a physical exhaustion that I wanted to faint, so I could no longer stand the shocks. I started having
Carvalho – Where were these shocks?
Rousseff – All over the place. In the feet, hands, the inside parth of thighs, ears. In the head, is a horror. The nipple. (…). Then you urinate and defecate all over …
Carvalho – How long did the sessions last?
Rousseff – Initially it was a long time. We lose track. You do not know how long or what time it is. You know why? Because they stop, and when they stop it does not get better, because he says the following: “Now you think a little.” They stopped, removed me and threw me in this place of tile, which was a bathroom on the first floor of the DOI. With blood and everything. You drop. Then you shake a lot, you are very cold. You’re naked, right? It is very cold. Then they came back. That day was long. At one point I was in fetal position.
Carvalho – Can you think of resisting, not talking?
Rousseff – The way to resist was to say to myself, “Soon I’ll tell all I know.” I’d tell myself. Then I little time goes by. And a little more. And then you keep going. You can not imagine that it will last an hour, two. You can only think of the next moment. You can not think about the pain.
Carvalho – Did you endure?
Rousseff – I endured. I did not even tell where I lived. I did not say who Max
was [alias of Carlos Franklin Paixão de Araújo, then her husband]. Nor did I gave up the name of Breno [Carlos Alberto Bueno de Freitas], because I had a lot of pity on them. I’ll say one thing one tupamara, who was in jail with us, told me. The tupamara ended up with brain damage. She said: “Do you know I did not tell anything that day abut whso was who? Because I was the wife of so and so and wanted to prove that the Uruguayan is as good as the Brazilian.”
Carvalho – What is the meaning of the phrase?
Rousseff – That there are various reasons for us not to talk.
Carvalho – Paddling, parrot’s perch, shocks. What else?
Rousseff – Starve you. Make you go cold. The night. They put you in the room and say: “In two hours I come back to interrogate you. To wait to be tortured. There has a level of pain in which you black out, you can not take anymore. The pain has to be inflicted with their control. He has to demonstrate that he has the power to control your pain.
Carvalho – And the tortured?
Rousseff – The deal is never to reveal to him what you think. He can not know
what you think and he can never find that you only speak after being beaten. Ever. You better not let him notice that he gets information from you through torture. You gotta have a story. The bad thing is when your story crumbles by any reason. He thinks you lied. If he thinks you lied you are in trouble. He found out what you game is. (…)
Carvalho – What helps in these times?
Rousseff – If I had been alone in jail, I would have had much more problems.
I owe to my companions the fact that I have largely overcome, absorbed and at times even mocked torture, in order to endure it. I remember the people of Tiradentes [prison], who were with me.