Historical Reparation: Honoring the Legacy of Honestino Guimarães

Honestino Guimarães, a student leader who was assassinated by the military dictatorship in 1973, was posthumously awarded his geology degree by the University of Brasília (UnB) last week. This historic decision was made during a meeting of the University Council (Consuni) on Friday, which aimed to overturn the actions of the civil-military dictatorship that expelled Honestino from UnB in 1968, just before he was set to graduate.

According to Sinpro-DF, the granting of the diploma is not only a humanitarian gesture of historical reparation but also serves as a reminder of the importance of continuously fighting for democracy and the sovereignty of Brazil. The union supports the views expressed by legal scholar and UnB professor José Geraldo de Sousa Junior in his article published in March this year, titled “UnB diplomas Honestino: an act of reparation for a shattered life project.”

The diploma awarded to Honestino at UnB is part of a series of reparations made by other institutions. In December 2023, the University of São Paulo (USP) posthumously awarded diplomas to 31 students who were killed by the civil-military dictatorship. This initiative, known as the “Diplomação da Resistência” (Diploma of Resistance), was led by the Pro-Rectorate for Inclusion and Belonging (PRIP) and city councilor Luna Zarattini (PT), in partnership with the Institute of Geosciences (IGc/USP). The university also honored Alexandre Vannucchi and Ronaldo Queiroz, who, like Honestino, were brutally murdered by the military.

Despite these efforts, the process of seeking justice for the crimes of the dictatorship, which ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, has been slow and drawn out. Many individuals who disappeared during the dictatorship have not been officially recognized as victims, nor have their families received proper reparations. Honestino’s case is a poignant example of this delay, as his death was only acknowledged by the national government in 1995. In September 2013, he was officially granted political amnesty, and this year, he received his geology degree. In 2022, the Costa e Silva Bridge (named after one of the generals of the dictatorship who presided over Brazil) was renamed in honor of the student leader and is now known as the “Honestino Guimarães Bridge.”

Throughout his life, Honestino lived under constant tension and oppression due to political persecution. He was systematically monitored, daily harassed, and closely followed by government spies during the 1960s, as detailed in documents obtained by the Correio Braziliense newspaper in April 2012.

The lack of punishment for the criminals of the civil-military dictatorship continues to have lasting effects in Brazil. The election of politicians with ties to the dictatorship to the National Congress in 2022, who belong to the “Bible,” “Bullet,” and “Beef” caucuses, poses a threat to the country’s restored democracy. This impunity has led to violent acts, such as the 2016 coup against the government led by Michel Temer (MDB) and the 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro (PL), a former military officer linked to the dictatorship, as President of Brazil. It also resulted in another failed coup attempt by Bolsonaro supporters on January 8, 2023.

The board of directors of Sinpro emphasizes the importance of the public education sector in the Federal District paying attention not only to local elections but also to those in neighboring municipalities, as they can impact the capital. They also warn against misinformation and urge everyone to follow the guidelines of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE). The article “Municipal elections in the surrounding areas are crucial for the future of the Federal District and Brazil” provides further insight into this issue.

In May of this year, families of those who were killed or disappeared during the military dictatorship gathered in Brasília to demand justice and advocate for a week of activism. They pressured the federal government to reinstate the Special Commission on Dead and Missing Persons, which was disbanded in December 2022 by former President Jair Bolsonaro. The mobilization sought concrete actions from the government to comply with international and domestic judicial decisions, ensuring the right to memory, truth, justice, and reparations for victims of human rights violations.

In the view of Sinpro’s board of directors, the decision of UnB to award Honestino Guimarães a graduation title is a form of resistance against the establishment of authoritarian power in the country. They highlight that education has been one of the primary targets of the far-right in Brazil, with UnB being one of the most harassed and invaded universities during the military dictatorship. In 1965, 223 professors, nearly 80% of the university’s faculty, resigned in solidarity with 15 persecuted and dismissed professors during that time.