Secret Dialogues

Secret Dialogues

Kenneth P. Serbin
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 336
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    Secret Dialogues
    Book Description:

    Secret Dialoguesuncovers an unexpected development in modern Latin American history: the existence of secret talks between generals and Roman Catholic bishops at the height of Brazil's military dictatorship. During the brutal term of Emílio Garrastazú Médici, the Catholic Church became famous for its progressivism. However, new archival sources demonstrate that the church also sought to retain its privileges and influence by exploring a potential alliance with the military. From 1970 to 1974 the secret Bipartite Commission worked to resolve church-state conflict and to define the boundary between social activism and subversion. As the bishops increasingly made defense of human rights their top pastoral and political goal, the Bipartite became an important forum of protest against torture and social injustice. Based on more than 60 interviews and primary sources from three continents,Secret Dialoguesis a major addition to the historical narrative of the most violent yet, ironically, the least studied period of the Brazilian military regime. Its story is intertwined with the central themes of the era: revolutionary warfare, repression, censorship, the fight for democracy, and the conflict between Catholic notions of social justice and the anticommunist Doctrine of National Security.

    Secret Dialoguesis the first book of its kind on the contemporary Catholic Church in any Latin American country, for most work in this field is devoid of primary documentary research. Serbin questions key assumptions about church-state conflict such as the typical conservative-progressive dichotomy and the notion of church-state rupture during harsh authoritarian periods.Secret Dialoguesis written for undergraduate and graduate students, professional scholars, and the general reader interested in Brazil, Latin America, military dictatorship, human rights, and the relationship between religion and politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7212-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Glossary and Key to Abbreviations (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Timeline of Important Events (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. Chapter 1 Introduction (pp. 1-21)

    The Brazilian Catholic Church’s opposition to military rule (1964–1985) and its defense of the oppressed have distinguished it among the world’s religious organizations. The critical years were the early 1970s, the era of Brazil’s impressive economic “miracle” but also of violent political repression and increased exploitation of people and resources. Brazil’s cold war national security state tightly controlled politics, suspended civil liberties and freedom of the press, and tortured and killed members of the opposition, including Catholic activists. The worst Church-state clash in Brazilian history began. Scores of idealistic priests, nuns, bishops, and lay militants suffered abuses by the...

  7. Chapter 2 The Church and the Army: Modernization and the Dual Revolution (pp. 22-47)

    This chapter explains why and how the cross and the sword clashed after 1964.¹ The first section traces their histories from the start of the First Republic (1889–1930) to the eve of the military government. The second section demonstrates the rapid deterioration in their relations after 1964 because of a dual revolution in which the Church embraced social justice and human rights and the military attacked subversion. The third section reveals new dimensions of the resulting struggle: the regime’s mechanism for controlling the Church and the Catholic opposition’s organization of a peaceful resistance. It also explores the meanings of...

  8. Chapter 3 The Making of a Devout Golpista (pp. 48-63)

    The Brazilian generals’ defense of Western Christian civilization is often attributed to geopolitical concerns with little or no discussion of the religious background of the armed forces. General Muricy’s biography exemplifies Catholicism’s significance for the military, helps explain the genesis of Church-state conflict, and provides a more nuanced view of religious-military strife. A soldier to the bone, Muricy was also a devout man who displayed great loyalty to the Church. He embodied a patriotism that sought material progress and international political prominence for Brazil, but also the preservation of the traditional religious and cultural values embedded in the country’s Catholic...

  9. Chapter 4 Prelude to the Bipartite: Dialogue, Torture, and Diplomacy, 1968–1970 (pp. 64-82)

    General Muricy steadily rose in the military government. Although a Castellista, he also had ties to General Costa e Silva, who became Brazil’s second military president in March 1967. Muricy had served under Costa e Silva in the Fourth Army in 1962, and the two collaborated against Goulart. This connection and Muricy’s wide contacts in the Army were helpful. In April 1969, Costa e Silva elevated Muricy to Army chief of staff, one of the top positions in Brazil’s armed forces. Muricy commanded all other generals, tapped into a broad network of military intelligence, and even over-shadowed General Aurélio de...

  10. Chapter 5 Dialogue in the Shadows: The Creation and Function of the Bipartite (pp. 83-113)

    From 1970 to 1974, the Bipartite met regularly in an attempt to avoid worse Church-state conflict. By most accounts the dialogue produced a no-holds-barred exchange of ideas, accusations, and counteraccusations between the bishops and the officers. By channeling conflict into talk, the Bipartite reduced Church-state tensions. At the same time the discussions highlighted each side’s stubborn adherence to its basic positions. This chapter sets the stage for the next five chapters’ examination of the debates by providing crucial background on the Bipartite’s creation and operation. The chapter discusses the events and trends that shaped the formation of the commission; the...

  11. Chapter 6 Social Justice or Subversion? (pp. 114-134)

    This chapter examines the Bipartite debates concerning ideology and the alleged subversion committed by clergymen. It covers the first four meetings in 1970 and 1971, the period in which the commission established its basic agenda, and helps to explain how the Church and the military viewed each other and attempted to build mutual understanding. At the first meeting on November 3, 1970, Dom Avelar laid out the central question of Brazil’s Church-military conflict: “Where does social justice end and subversion begin?” The Church had become entangled in this question as the armed forces tightened the national security net and took...

  12. Chapter 7 The Cotton Between the Crystals (pp. 135-163)

    In his oral memoir General Muricy aptly summed up the Bipartite as a group that “served as cotton between crystals” (Muricy 1993:424). It helped Brazil’s two most important institutions to coexist during some of the most tense and delicate moments of their historic relationship. This chapter revisits several examples of the commission’s efforts at conflict resolution. First, it studies the dispute over commemoration of Brazil’s independence sesquicentennial in 1972. The second example provides a study of the bishops’ public/private dichotomy in the person of one of the country’s leading progressives. In both instances, conflict revolved around institutional competition between the...

  13. Chapter 8 The Struggle Against Human Rights Abuses and Censorship (pp. 164-185)

    Human rights violations were a prime reason for the Bipartite. Concern about abuses stemmed from the commission’s initial goal of alleviating conflict resulting from the repression of Catholic activists. It grew into the main issue of the Grupo Religioso. This chapter focuses on the struggle for human rights in Rio de Janeiro and the commission’s debates over human rights and censorship. Most analyses of the Brazilian Church correctly point to the archdiocese of São Paulo as a leader in the struggle for human rights, but Rio also made a significant contribution.

    Whereas the bishops took the defensive on subversion, they...

  14. Chapter 9 Death in Barra Mansa: The Admission and Punishment of Torture (pp. 186-199)

    The Bipartite and other channels of secret dialogue played a significant role in denouncing one of the most horrific incidents of the regime and, indeed, in the entire history of the Brazilian armed forces—the death by torture of four soldiers in the barracks at Barra Mansa. Ostensibly probing into illegal drug usage, in January 1972, intelligence officers at the First Armored Infantry Battalion (1st AIB) detained privates Geomar Ribeiro da Silva, Juarez Monlção Virote, Roberto Vicente da Silva, and Wanderley de Oliveira. All four died from a variety of torments. The killers punched their nineteen-year-old victims with gloved hands,...

  15. Chapter 10 Anatomy of a Death: The Case of Alexandre Vannucchi Leme (pp. 200-218)

    In mid-1973 the Church carried out a months-long protest against the killing of Alexandre Vannucchi Leme, a twenty-two-year-old University of São Paulo (USP) student who died in jail hours after his arrest and torture by security agents. One of the most shocking episodes of the Médici years, Leme’s death on March 17, 1973, led students and Roman Catholic clergymen to defy riot troops and gather three thousand people to hear Dom Paulo criticize the government at a memorial service. When public and legal protest failed to force the regime to investigate, the Grupo Religioso pressed the matter at three consecutive...

  16. Chapter 11 Conclusion (pp. 219-234)

    As the regime finished off the urban guerrillas in 1973, a group of Castellistas successfully maneuvered within the armed forces to name Ernesto Geisel as Médici’s successor. Geisel wanted to return Brazil to civilian rule and immediately embarked on a campaign of distensao, or liberalization of the political system. He reined in the torturers and the hard-liners, revoked AI-5, restored civil liberties, and relaxed press censorship. By the time Figueiredo assumed power in 1979, the abertura was well underway. But, as Geisel had determined, it was a gradual, slow, and secure abertura—secure especially for the armed forces. In August...

  17. Notes (pp. 235-274)
  18. References (pp. 275-294)
  19. Index (pp. 295-312)


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