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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

Brazil reveals its secrets - time for Ireland to do the same.

Presidential minister of Brazil Dilma Rousseff has announced the declassification of secret state papers which cover the period of military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985. Her announcement follows a lengthy campaign by hundreds of families whose relatives and loved ones were either assassinated or "disappeared” during this period. The secret files, which consist of thousands of documents, come from all sections of the Brazilian military and police in a period when left wing activists and politicians were held under continuing surveillance; a process which often led to the arrest, torture, murder and disappearance of those under suspicion. State agents of the dictatorship were also often acting on the basis of false or maliciously supplied information when targeting their victims.

Minister Roussef , who was herself a former activist and “guerrillera”, and was persecuted under the old regime stressed that the declassification process was an important step for the development of democracy. The minister also admitted to feelings of great emotion and pointed out that the papers were an integral part of the history of Brazil. "They will become an important focus for reflection in our society”, she added.

Of particular interest, are the papers from the archives of the Servicio Nacional de Inteligencia which detail the activities of spies and informers in all sections of Brazilian life during the dictatorship. Documents from the Consejo de Seguridad Nacional, meanwhile, contain investigations into the activities of parliamentary and political activists who subsequently fell into the hands of what amounted to a state apparatus for the abuse of human rights. Another important aspect covered by the papers is the profiteering and self aggrandizement which took place within sectors of Brazilian society where businessmen, politicians and members of the security forces took advantage of the dictatorship to line their own pockets.

There are critics of the government of "Lula" da Silva and his Workers Party (no relation to the tiny Irish party of the same name) who point out that the most sensitive of documents will not be made public and that therefore the declassification process is neither complete nor satisfactory. They also point out that the Brazil has been dragging its heels over declassification of secret state documents in comparison with other South American countries.

This blog correspondent has made the point previously that it is amazing that there is no campaign in Ireland for state papers (North and South) to be declassified and open to perusal by members of the public. In the North, there is every likelihood that state papers would reveal yet more corruption and abuse of power within the ranks of Unionism; whilst in the South, any thorough scrutiny of secret police files would almost certainly reveal an unofficial policy of collusion between the Garda Síochána and the RUC. Judge Henry Barron's recent report into the Dublin and Monaghan bombs of 1974, for example, revealed that senior Special Branch officer Det. Insp. Frank Murray of Portadown RUC was a frequent visitor to Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. The “legendary” Murray and his superior in RUC Special Branch Chief Superintendent Harry Breen have long been accused of collusion with loyalist paramilitaries; not just by this author and other writers, but also by some of their own former police colleagues including Sgnt. John Weir who was himself effectively both a police officer and loyalist paramilitant.


I guess there has to be a balance between the public interest of government being open to scrutiny and criticism and the national security need to keep certain information secret. It would be a very poor form of management that gave all of its strategies, tactics, and gamelans to the competition, wouldn't it?

The Official Secrets Act keeps those with access to restricted information from revealing it. But there are notable exceptions where some have revealed information, citing public interest as their defence: Cathy Massiter, Peter Wright, Clive Ponting, for example. In all three cases, what they revealed was quite startling - and all of them felt the full wrath of the state. I'd like to see the clear arguments for both sides on this issue before I'd be convinced either way of a need to change the status quo.

That aside, I wonder how much of what is illegal is committed to the minutes of meetings? Very little, I should imagine. Perhaps the Supreme Court should have the power to decide what should be revealed if specific requests are made to it?
by: The Dubliner (contact) - 23 Dec '05 - 02:15
Hi there Dubliner and thanks for your comments. I must aplogise for the very long delay in responding to them. I went off to have a baby! Then we decided to reorganise this site which took some time.
As for your comments about national security, I agree that all states/societies have to keep certain things secret but the primary role of any state by any definition of what constitutes a democratic society is that it protects its citizens. What we have seen all over the world is right wing and, allegedly left wing, dictatorships arrange the murder of its own citizens where they refused to accept a particular ideology. These kind of secret murder campaigns on the part of certain states (and I include the United Kingdom here) cannot be viewed as being deserving of immunity from investigation. If you like, they are not legitimate state secrets. I think your suggestion about a Supreme Court that might have the final say about revealing state secrets is interesting but if elected represntatives, and the denizens of the Fourth Estate, do their jobs properly, there would be no need to rely on what is traditionally a conservative body.

best regards

paul larkin
by: Pol (contact) - 27 Nov '06 - 06:57


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Title: Brazil reveals its secrets - time for Ireland to do the same.
Date posted: 22 Dec '05 - 11:28
Filed under: General
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