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Torture Survivor to Lead Brazil?

October 6, 2010

Torture Survivor is Likely
to be Brazil’s Next President

If Brazil’s October 31 runoff election for President goes as expected, the booming country of more than 200 million people will soon be headed by a woman who fought her country’s military dictators as an urban guerilla and survived three years of imprisonment and torture by the secret police in São Paulo’s Tiradentes Prison.
            Dilma Rousseff, 63, formerly served as chief of staff to Brazil’s hugely popular President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. She received almost 47% of the national vote on Sunday, but not the required 50+% needed for outright victory in the three-candidate race. However, she is widely predicted to win the runoff against José Serra, former Governor of São Paulo.
            According to Alexei Barrionuevo in the New York Times, Rousseff “was active in armed militant organizations fighting the dictatorship in the 1960s.” She has denied having been personally involved in taking up arms against the dictatorship, but was imprisoned in 1970 for crimes of “opinion and organization.”  Over almost three years in Tiradentes, she was tortured repeatedly with electro-shocks as well as subjected to procedures similar to waterboarding. (The photo at left is her 1970 “mug shot.”)
            According to a pre-election profile by Hugh O’Shaughnessy in The Independent, Dilma Rousseff is a survivor in another sense, having recently been treated – apparently successfully – for lymphatic cancer.
            If Rousseff indeed succeeds Lula, she will not be the first torture survivor to serve as a Latin American head of state. Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s President from 2006 to 2010, was imprisoned and tortured in 1975 in the notorious Villa Grimaldi detention center in Santiago, during the (U.S. supported) dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Bachelet’s mother was seized at the same time, and was also tortured. Her father, who had served in the administration of Salvador Allende prior to Pinochet’s 1973 coup, died the previous year of cardiac arrest while under daily torture in the dictator’s prisons.

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