Brazil is currently undergoing a period of serious retrogression. Since 2016, a conservative offensive undermines the fragile conquests of Brazilian democracy, either in the field of political liberties or in the sphere of social and labour rights. This process was accomplished by the ascension of Jair Bolsonaro to the presidence in 2018. A candid admirer of the dictatorship (1964-1988), a racist and a misogynist, the president encompasses the worst of the Brazilian elites‘ beliefs. During the Covid-19 pandemics, his negationist policy led Brazil to the second place in the world ranking of number of victims per country.
In this environment of extreme-right it is of utmost importance to build a memory museum to safeguard the memory of the resistance of the workers and the fact that serious violations of human rights were committed by Volkswagen and other companies in complicity with the Brazilian State.
Brazil lags far behind in the world movement for Transitional Justice. Even though important research work was made by the National Truth Commission, Commissions and Comittees of Truth, the Special Commission for Dead and Missing People an the Amnesty Commission, the recovery of truth was insufficient and the construction of a colletive memory repelling State Terrorism was even more inconspicuous. None of the State agents was punished for persecution, illegal imprisonment, torture and murder of opponents.
The participation of private companies in the coup d’état in 1964 is even less known. The role played by the companies in the conspiracy against the democratic government of João Goulart (1962-1964) is often ignored, be it in the formulation of the economic policy of the dictators, in financing and equipping the political police or in the repression to workers and opponents. The action of the business aimed to undermine the living conditions of the Brazilian people, attacking rights, lowering wages and obstructing their organization to claim what they needed.
This policy of deliberate forgetfulness and absence of punishment, widely supported by businessmen, gave a new breath to the extreme-right, making a president out of a demagogue that defends openly torture and murder of opponents.
The importance of the Volkswagen Case
This is why the Volkswagen Case is of strategical relevance. It was investigated by the Dictatorship and Repression to Workers and Unions Work Group, GT-13, in the National Commission of Truth, by the São Paulo State Commission of Truth and Commissions of Truth of the cities of Santo André, São Bernardo do Campo and São Caetano do Sul. The research concluded that the German company, in close association with dictatorship repression, set a strong militarized apparatus to spy and control employees inside and outside their plant; took part in ilegal prison and torture in its installations; gave information concerning their employees to political police; joined forces with other companies and with the State repression system to repress labor political activities, amongst other actions.
In September 2015, after the end of the activities of the National Truth Commission, the firm was denounced to the State Attorney. This denunciation was signed by the Central of Unions, respectable jurors and human rights supporters.
It is the first political initiative to charge a firm with serious violations of human rights during the civil-military dictatorship. It is a paradigmatic case and if it has a fair solution, it can open a new era in the fight for memory, truth, justice and reparation in Brazil. The evidence found during the investigation imposed a negotiation between the company and the State Attorneys about reparation for the crimes committed.
The needed raparation
Since the beginning of the inquiry a claim aroused for building a monument in memory of the workers‘ fight and to remember the complicity of firms in the violations of human rights during the dictatorship. In September 2015, Volks declared to the Brazilian media that „ it studied, amongst other initiatives, building a monument“. (Volks seeks to compensate support to political repression in dictatorship, Estado de Sao Paulo, November 1st, 2015).
The standard action of the companies is to act in order to efface their crimes. To accomplish that, enterprises all over the world set in motion their financial power and political influence. But we will not accept this type of blackmail. To assure a memorial to stress that the memory of workers fights, as well as the memory of all those who resisted the civil-military dictatorship, is not for sale.
Closure to the Volkswagen Case could be found by an agreement, that has been negotiated since several years and is always postponed by obstacles put by the firm, or by judicial proceedings when the attempts to reach an agreement fail. Whichever is the procedure, the construction of a memorial monument is not negotiable.
In a political moment when obscurantist forces are ascending across the whole world, particularly in Brazil, this demand ranges within the world fight for the human rights, democratic liberties and the rights conquered by workers.
So it will not be forgotten, so it will never happen again!
President of the Truth Commission of the State of de São Paulo – Rubens Paiva (2012-2015)
Director of the Association of the Conscientious Investors of Volkswagen – Germany
José Luiz Del Roio
Former Senator of the Italian Republic and director of Instituto Astrojildo Pereira
José Sérgio Leite Lopes
Antropologist and professor of the National Museum – Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)
Ivan Akselrud de Seixas
Coordinator of the Truth Commission of the State of de São Paulo – Rubens Paiva (2012-2015) and Special Adjoint of the National Truth Commission (2012-2014)
Pedro Henrique Campos
History Professor at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ) and member of the Work Group Business and ditactorship in Brazil
Comissioner to National Truth Comission (2012-2014) and coordinator of the Work Group Dictatorship and Repression to Workers and Union Activities (GT-13)
Executive Secretary of the Work Group Dictatorship and Repression to Workers and Union Activities (GT-13) of National Truth Comission (2013-2014), coordinator of the IIEP
Truth Comission of Workers and Minas Gerais Union Organization (COVET-MG)
Memory and Truth Comission of the UFRJ