BRASILIA – The Brazilian state received late President João Goulart on Thursday with the honors denied to him at his death in 1976 by the country’s then-military regime.
President Dilma Rousseff led the delegation that met the Brazilian air force plane carrying the coffin of the man popularly known as “Jango.”
Goulart’s remains were exhumed Wednesday from a grave in the southern city of São Borja for medical tests to determine if he was murdered as part of Plan Condor, a collaboration among various South American military regimes to eliminate their respective political foes.
Jango was Brazil’s only leader not to have been laid to rest with “the ritual conceded to all heads of state,” the government said.
The left-leaning president was overthrown in 1964 with the U.S. government’s blessing and died in exile in Argentina.
The military regime allowed Goulart’s body to be repatriated from Argentina, but insisted that he be buried without state honors in his native São Borja.
Joining Rousseff for Thursday’s ceremony were three of her four predecessors since the restoration of democracy in 1985 – Jose Sarney, Fernando Collor and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – as well as legislative leaders and senior judges.
Following the military honors, which included a 21-gun salute, Rousseff and the late president’s widow, Maria Thereza Goulart, laid flowers on the flag-draped coffin.
“I believe that this acknowledgment is an act of courage which he deserved,” Maria Goulart said.
The homage to Goulart was “an affirmation of our democracy,” Rousseff said afterward on Twitter.
Goulart’s remains were taken from the airbase to Federal Police headquarters, where the forensic examinations will take place.
The goal is to determine if Goulart was murdered as part of Plan Condor: the coordinated persecution of political enemies by the military regimes that ruled Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Goulart, who had a history of heart problems, died at a hotel in Mercedes, Argentina.
The official cause of death was a heart attack, but authorities in Argentina and Brazil prevented an autopsy.
Around five years ago, a former Uruguayan spy serving a prison sentence in Brazil for arms smuggling came forward to say that Goulart was poisoned.
Mario Neira Barreiro said Uruguayan intelligence operatives killed Goulart by replacing his normal heart medication “with pills having a contrary effect.”