SAO PAULO – “He started insulting me and kept hitting me until I was unconscious,” recalled Crimeia de Almeida, who was seven months pregnant at the time, about her first encounter in 1972 with Col. Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, torturer of the military dictatorship and praised by Jair Bolsonaro before he became Brazil’s president.
From her home in downtown Sao Paulo, De Almeida relived in an interview with EFE the anguish of those days, particularly because Bolsonaro has reopened Brazil’s wounds by minimizing the crimes committed during the dictatorship and questioning the legitimacy of institutions in charge of investigating the deaths and disappearances of that period.
“Torture should be treated as an unpardonable crime...because the one who is tortured can never, ever pardon it,” De Almeida said.
The 73-year-old retiree spoke calmly about her memories, saying that the tale of atrocities she “continually repeats” is for her a kind of “therapy” that sparks a spirit of “resistance,” so that “history never repeats itself.”
“Any threat by that type (Bolsonaro) always puts me on the alert. It makes me think: Will we really be going through all that again?” De Almeida said.
She also recalled that Ustra (1932-2015), for whom Bolsonaro, when he was still a lawmaker, cast his vote in the political trial that deposed then-President Dilma Rousseff from office, remains a vivid memory for many of his victims.
Before assuming the presidency last Jan. 1, Bolsonaro said the colonel had been had been key to keeping Brazil from falling into the hands of communism.
“It was a coup d’etat when Bolsonaro cast his vote for Ustra. Right then I realized that Brazil’s democracy was worthless,” De Almeida said.
The retiree defined the current moment in Brazil as “a new though different kind of dictatorship,” and noted that while Bolsonaro was “elected democratically,” he does not respect the democracy that elected him with all “those dictatorial attitudes.”
De Almeida began her political activism at age 15 with the student movement in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte.
Her family “was always leftist” and tended to “discuss openly” the policies of then-President Joao Goulart, the last to be elected democratically in Brazil until the end of the dictatorship in 1985.
The former nurse said that when the military seized power on March 31, 1964, things “changed rapidly.”
“That same year my father was arrested. He was badly tortured. He was disappeared for four or five months,” De Almeida said.
Due to harassment by the military, the family moved to Rio de Janeiro where they lived in hiding.
While studying Nursing at a school in Rio, De Almeida got back into student activism, signed up with the Communist Party of Brazil and decided to join the Araguaia guerrilla group, which from the Amazon region attempted to establish socialism in Brazil.
“We camped out in the countryside there and hunted animals,” she said.
During the guerrilla warfare, De Almeida got pregnant and had to return to the city.
“But in December 1972, my sister and my brother-in-law were captured. Army troops broke into their home and I was arrested while almost seven months pregnant, along with my two nephews” ages 4 and 5, De Almeida said.
She said she was forced to undergo all kinds of physical and psychological torture, including beatings, Russian roulette, deprivation of sleep, water and food, along with constant threats that her baby would be killed immediately after birth.
De Almeida gave birth in prison and after her release she dedicated her life to searching for political prisoners who disappeared.