Tribune. On November 19, the President of the Republic of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, appointed as head of the Brazilian National Archives a complete stranger in the profession. Mr. Ricardo Braga only has the title of Undersecretary for Crime Prevention to a Governor allied to Bolsonaro, after having been… owner of a private security company.
Following the National Forum of Archival Associations of Brazil and some sixty academic institutions, Brazilian historians living in the United States have just sent him an open letter contesting his appointment. It is almost astonishing that Bolsonaro, head of state since January 1, 2019, did not place one of his men at the head of the archives sooner!
In 2012, he opposed the “National Truth Commission” created by ex-president Dilma Rousseff, who was herself a victim of the dictatorship during which she was tortured and imprisoned for three years. A former soldier, Bolsonaro has never shied away from making fun of the historians and citizens who work in the archives on the dictatorship (1964-1985). For those nostalgic for the period, there is only “Dogs to look for bones”…
Never immune to arbitrary and indefensible restrictions
There is no doubt today that access to these archives, which contain all the files of the intelligence services of the military dictatorship, will be restricted, even closed. Something to worry historians, who see the danger of rewriting history in accordance with the ideology of the president. Their task is all the more complicated given that, in general, research and education suffered significant budget cuts under the Bolsonaro administration.
This is characteristic of dictatorships, but not only: access to archives of the contemporary period, that of which there are still actors and witnesses (and their immediate descendants), is never immune to arbitrary restrictions and legally indefensible. Lawyers are also often the first to spot irregularities and inconsistencies in the laws that enact access to archives, but it is professional historians, independent researchers and journalists who pay the price.
It is enough that the honor of the nation, the image of the country are at stake, or, worse, that the actions of still influential politicians can be revealed, for whole sections of archives to be closed or reclassified. To hell with the disturbing past! In France, with the battle against the Interministerial General Instruction (IGI) 1300, promulgated in 2011 concerning “the protection of national defense secrets”, which was reinforced by the 2019 decree, we have just witnessed a similar process.
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“The archives of the Brazilian dictatorship are in danger! ”