Brazil gives amnesty for dictatorship-era uprising
* Brazil amnesties peasants persecuted during dictatorship
* One of few efforts to address crimes of military rule
* Critics say more should be done to investigate
By Fernando Exman
SAO DOMINGOS DO ARAGUAIA, June 18 (Reuters) - Seeking to redress one of the darkest chapters of its dictatorship era, Brazil on Thursday amnestied dozens of peasants who were jailed or tortured on charges they were linked to a 1970s Communist uprising.
The move is among Brazil's few efforts to address the crimes of the 1964-1985 military rule that even President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva -- himself jailed by the junta for union organizing efforts -- has cautiously avoided.
The justice ministry led an emotional ceremony in this isolated Amazon region that gave amnesty to 44 people who had been persecuted in the brutal suppression of a rebel movement known as Araguaia Guerrillas.
"Today we are making a formal request for forgiveness of the Brazilian state," said Justice Minister Tarso Genro. "This is the affirmation of the dignity and respect with which the state must treat its citizens."
The amnesty recipients will receive up to $72,000 along with monthly payments equal to twice the minimum wage for the rest of their lives.
In some cases the government provided posthumous amnesty to peasants who were victims of persecution and paid reparations to family members.
"For us it is a moment of justice," said 69-year-old Pedro Matos, who was jailed in 1973 and later tortured. "It shows that the country really can't allow things like that to happen."
Brazil has never prosecuted anyone for participating in that era's murder and widespread torture that included use of chemicals and electrical shocks.
SUPPORT FOR REVOLUTION
Lula's government in 2007 released a report resulting from an 11-year investigation to determine the fate of the dictatorship's opponents, but it has done little to push for prosecutions demanded by victims' groups.
The Araguaia Guerrilla movement began with the 1966 arrival of communist party activists to this isolated Amazon region. The communists were intent on building up the support of the local population for a revolution against the regime.
They were discovered and targeted by military operations between 1972 and 1975, according to the justice ministry.
Residents suspected of participating or even tacitly helping the guerrillas were subjected to sexual abuse, torture, slave labor or had their homes stolen.
Around 70 were "disappeared," a tactic that characterized Argentine military rule but was relatively infrequent during Brazil's dictatorship.
Authorities reviewed 84 cases of individuals seeking amnesty following a two-year investigation that included hundreds of interviews, but dismissed 40 of the requests.
Brazil's 1979 Amnesty Law pardoned the crimes committed both by the military junta and the leftist resistance forces in efforts to usher in an era of forgiveness and ease the transition to democracy.
Critics including some human rights groups have questioned the reluctance to fully probe the era, such as those investigations carried out in Argentina and Chile in the wake of their brutal dictatorships around the same time. (Writing by Brian Ellsworth, editing by Philip Barbara)
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