NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ex-Brazilian President Kubitschek Was Murdered, Commission Says


A probe into the death of one of Brazil's most celebrated presidents has determined he was murdered. It was thought that the former leader died in a 1976 car crash but an investigation has found he was assassinated by the military junta that once ruled the country. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports that the revelation is renewing calls for Brazil's amnesty law to be revised so that the killers can face justice.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: On August 22nd, 1976, Juscelino Kubitschek was driving from the state of Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo when his car crashed, killing him and his driver. Kubitschek had been president of Brazil from 1956 to 1961. He presided over the founding of Brazil's new capital, Brasilia. A staunch defender of democratic rule, in his post-presidential life he became a vocal opponent of the military junta that took over the country a few years after his term ended. It had long been whispered that Kubitschek had been killed. Today, the Sao Paulo truth commission said that he had.

RICARDO YOUNG: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is no doubt that there was a cowardly assassination of one of the greatest leaders this country has known. That's Ricardo Young, a member of the investigation panel into Kubitschek's death. The team presented the results of their investigation. Ninety pieces of evidence were detailed after what they said was an exhaustive review. At the time, the official explanation for Kubitschek's death was that his car was hit by a bus.

Now, the investigation has uncovered evidence that Kubitschek's driver died before the accident when a projectile hit him in the head. A massive cover-up, they allege, ensued. The bus driver who had been blamed for the accident admitted, according to witnesses, that he was bribed and threatened. The military ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, and some 400 people are believed to have been killed during that time.

Another ex-president, Joao Goulart's body, was just exhumed here in an attempt to prove he was also killed. Today's report will be sent to the National Truth Commission, which is also looking into deaths from the period. Maria Aparecida Aquino is a professor at the University of Sao Paulo who specializes in the history of the dictatorship years.

MARIA APARECIDA AQUINO: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's very important that this is happening, she says. It's shedding light on the participation by Brazil in what was known as Operation Condor, she says, referring to the pact made in 1975 by the intelligence services of many South American countries to cooperate in a campaign of political repression and assassination.

She says the time has come for Brazil's amnesty law to be modified. Put in place in the late 1970's in the waning days of the dictatorship, it was recently upheld by Brazil's Supreme Court. In effect, no one has faced justice for crimes committed during the junta.

AQUINO: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If we admit the military can torture and kill with no punishment, she says, then it makes it easier for common prisoners to be tortured in contemporary Brazil, because what it says is that torture will never be judged, she says. Ivo Herzog is the son of a journalist who was also killed by Brazil's military junta.

IVO HERZOG: (Speaking foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, since 1985, the end of the military regime, more than 10,000 people have been killed or are missing because of crimes committed by state agents. In my opinion, the security services act with impunity now because there was never justice over what happened during the dictatorship then. We can't simply forget the past, he says. The past is the most important heritage we have. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.