Brazil's generals have never permitted this before

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Brazil's military isn't known for acknowledging its misdeeds, but yesterday, its armed forces turned a corner. The generals agreed to participate in a truth commission looking at the military's role in murders and disappearances committed after a coup in 1964.

Peter Kornbluh: Brazil is the last of the modern Latin American countries to confront its dark repressive past.

Werman: That's Peter Kornbluh, he's just returned from São Paulo, Brazil. He directs the Brazil Documentation Project at the non-governmental National Security Archive in Washington, DC. Kornbluh says the military's turnaround is in part due to the perseverance of Brazil's leader, Dilma Rousseff, who this week reached out to the victims of repression.

Kornbluh: The president of Brazil herself was a torture victim, has stepped forward and apologized for the crimes of the military and stated that it is important for the process of accountability and memory to have a successful truth commission. She has validated the victims who, for many years, have been left in isolation in Brazil.

Werman: It was 50 years ago today that the country's democratically-elected president, Joao Goulart, fled the country and Brazil's military took control. The US role in that coup and the support of the dictatorship that followed are still fresh in the minds of many Brazilians. Kornbluh says Brazilians are now calling on the US to release records detailing Washington's role in those dark days.

Kornbluh: It would be almost a poetic, historic atonement for the United States now to turn over to the Brazilian truth commission documents that it compiled over the years on the repressive apparatus in Brazil. These are significant things for the Brazilian public, they are filling the media at the moment, and hopefully will lead to a vetting of Brazil's dark past.

Werman: Because of a 1979 amnesty law, no one has ever been tried for the human rights abuses committed during Brazil's dictatorship. The truth commission's final report is due out at the end of the year.