Anyone who walks through Tutóia and Tomás Carvalhal streets, in the southern area of São Paulo, unless they are a deep connoisseur of history, will never know that the largest institutionalized torture center that existed in Brazil during the dictatorship operated on that block. military (1964-1985). According to the report of the National Truth Commission, 70 people were killed or disappeared between 1969 and 1976 in the Information Operations Detachment – Internal Defense Operations Center, better known as DOI-CODI of the II Army in São Paulo, a instances of the military regime. Hundreds more were tortured with the utmost cruelty by a task force that included military and police officers dedicated to the fight against communism. Women were raped, children were taken to see their parents disfigured after torture sessions.
It is an almost lost memory. Today it houses the 36th São Paulo Police Department and a police fingerprint laboratory, which hides a group of low, ash-colored buildings, now empty. Political prisoners were sent there during the dictatorship. Nicknamed “carnage” among the agents who worked there, the DOI-CODI ceased to exist in 1990. There is not even a plaque or a sign on any wall that informs that this group of buildings – where the 36th Department still operates today – was declared historical heritage since 2014.
At a time when Brazil lives under a government that is dedicated to erasing the rubble that the military regime left in the country, in São Paulo a battle is gaining ground to turn the former management of the torture barracks into a space of dignity for the victims who died there, for the knowledge of the next generations. A public civil action filed by the São Paulo Prosecutor’s Office in June requests that the area occupied by four buildings that were part of the DOI-CODI (with the exception of the police station) be transferred from the Secretary of Public Security to the Secretary of State for Culture .
The plan is to create a memory center in the former headquarters of the repression. The petition for a memorial is 11 years old. In 2010, Iván Seixas, who was tortured together with his father when he was 16 years old, asked that the old DOI-CODI be declared a monument and that a memorial be created when he held the presidency of Condepe (State Council for the Defense of the Rights of the Human person). In November 2013, former detainees reiterated their request that the former torture center be listed and transformed into a memorial.
It was precisely in the DOI-CODI of the II Army that one of the heroes, unlike President Jair Bolsonaro, used to dispatch and lived with his family: Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, who was in command of the “division” between 1970 and 1974, and that he died of cancer in 2015, in a Brasilia hospital, without having been convicted in any of the seven cases that the Federal Prosecutor’s Office tried to open against him.
The House of Horrors tortured young opponents of the military regime to death. Others experienced the perversity of being tortured in front of their children, such as Amelia and César Teles. The arrest and mistreatment of this couple, in their early 20s, dates back to December 1972. Amelinha, as she is known, was even placed naked on a chair to receive electric shocks. When the discharges stopped, he was visited by his two sons, who were then 5 and 4 years old. All under the supervision of Commander Ustra.
Brazil throws under the rug the evidence of the crimes of the time. The only first-degree criminal conviction against an agent of the repression of the dictatorship was announced in June of this year: former inspector Carlos Alberto Augusto, known as Carlinhos Metralla, was sentenced to two years and 11 months in prison for the kidnapping of Edgar. of Aquino Duarte in 1971, a process in which Ustra was accused until his death, when he was excluded from the action. The current president Bolsonaro chose precisely the memory of Ustra to pay tribute to him when he voted in favor of the impeachment process of former president Dilma Rousseff (Workers’ Party) in April 2016, in a video that he used ostensibly in his 2018 electoral campaign.
Visitors to the area of the old DOI-CODI, who walk with their dogs or drive to pick up their children in one of the two kindergartens located less than 100 meters from the former headquarters of death, are unaware of this dark last. The day MRT was in the vicinity, two thirds of those interviewed (including neighbors) did not know the past of the block.
The 89-year-old pensioner Josefa Martins da Silva, who lives in a building on the corner of Tumiaru and Tutoia streets, is part of the group that has not forgotten him. “You could hear the screams,” he says. According to her, “no one could stay watching the movement” in the place from the windows of their apartments, since they were warned by the police and the military who were guarding the place. Taxi driver Sergio Naltchadjian, 64, did not frequent the Paraíso neighborhood at the time of the dictatorship, but for years he has had a taxi rank on Tutoia Street and says that older residents have told him that it was possible to listen to the Screams. “And if someone brought their face to the window, they would already ask what they were looking at,” he recalls.
Those who have survived torture do not forget either. Former member of the Revolutionary Movement of Tiradentes (MRT), the 66-year-old political express Ivan Seixas, detained at the age of 16 in the DOI-CODI with his father, the worker Joaquim Alencar de Seixas (assassinated in April 1971), knows point out exactly where he was tortured during the 50 days he was imprisoned. “It was in that building at the back of the 36th Police Department, on the top floor. There were two small rooms and everyone saw what was happening there. It was state terrorism ”, he affirms. The MRT was a supporter of armed struggle, and his father is said to have been part of the group that killed Albert Hening Boilisen, a Danish businessman living in Brazil, accused of financing the military regime. The documentary Citizen Boilisen, which tells his story, relates that the businessman personally accompanied the torture sessions of political prisoners.
It was also in the DOI-CODI where, in an interval of three months, journalist Vladimir Herzog, in 1975, and worker Manoel Fiel Filho, were murdered under torture in 1976. In both cases, the Army falsely announced that they were suicides. Herzog was the director of TV Cultura, and was summoned to appear before the authorities after a report that spoke of the military regime. It was a time when journalists were in the crosshairs of the dictatorship, as his son, Ivo Herzog, told this newspaper in May 2018. Fiel Filho was a metal worker and was arrested for having pamphlets against the dictatorship in his home.
Former President Dilma Rousseff was tortured by police from Minas Gerais and from the Oban (Operation Bandeirante, which preceded the DOI-CODI) for 22 consecutive days in early 1970. One of her torturers was Captain Benoni de Arruda Albernaz, who worked in the DOI, and he punched out a tooth.
On May 10, 2013, the then São Paulo city councilor Gilberto Natalini told the National Truth Commission (CNV) that he was personally tortured in 1972 by Ustra. Natalini was arrested for having copies of Molipo (Popular Liberation Movement) publications when he was active in the student movement and was studying medicine in São Paulo. “They interrogated me for three days, day and night, night and day, including by Colonel Ustra, who entered the room several times,” said Natalini, who revealed that he had been tortured for 60 days, including by the DOI commander. “I had the experience of having Colonel Ustra always present in the torture chambers, witnessing, participating, guiding (…) He hit me personally, Colonel Ustra hit me (…). He took off my clothes, stood me up in a pool of water, connected cables to my body and called the soldiers to do a declamation session of the poems I had written against the regime, and stood up , himself, with a vine, and beat me for hours, “Natalini told CNV.
On September 9, in a historic and symbolic hearing, the São Paulo court brought together members of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and representatives of the São Paulo Government to decide whether these memories will continue to belong to a few or to all. There was no agreement on the transfer of buildings to the Ministry of Culture, but the conversation is still open. The idea of preserving memory so that horrors are not repeated is an urgent demand. The torture of that time contaminates police practices in the country to this day.
The historian Deborah Neves, who acted in the DOI’s heritage declaration process, is part of the working group created by the Prosecutor’s Office in 2016. Neves advocates that archaeological and stratigraphic investigations be carried out (removing the painting from a wall, for example, to know how many layers there are). There is a project to even search for human remains there. There is no news that the bodies of the political disappeared have been buried in the DOI-CODI, but the idea is to look for traces of blood and teeth at the site, before transforming the area into a memorial.
The agreement to carry out the investigation is already in the hands of the Secretary of Culture, but the lack of assignment of the area delays the project. On May 22 of this year, a collaboration between the Ministry of Culture and the Memorial of the Resistance began to preserve the oral memory of the period. The first statement that was taken was that of Iván Seixas. The idea is to listen to at least 100 people detained and tortured there. Many tortured people have already died and memories go with them, convenient for a government that hides reality.
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