The Brazilian government has decided to keep its historical archives on the military dictatorship (1964-1985) closed, according to a report published today by ABRAJI. The move breaks with previous promises and effectively renders a conference I paid $100R to attend– International Seminary on Access to Information and Human rights –irrelevant. A boycott of the seminary (see banner photo) is now underway, with prominent NGOs Artigo 19 , Transparencia Brasil, and ABRAJI (Brazilian Association for Investigative Reporting) refusing to participate. The maneuver also signals that long delayed transparency reforms promised under Lula, such as the access to public information law currently awaiting sanction in the Senate, may be also be resisted under President Dilma Rouseff.
Brazil currently has no regulated means of accessing public information (e.g. documents) held in the trust of government. Access to public information regulation, otherwise known as a freedom of information laws, normally establish this crucial right. While such laws are found in more than 85 countries (more than half of these passed within the last five years), Brazil continues to resist.
A bill was introduced after repeated promises in 2009, grinded slowly through committees in the Lower House in 2009-10, was passed in April of 2010, and has since languished in the Senate. Military opposition to the measure is the clearest sign of resistance. Yet the low legislative priority accorded to the law is clearly indicative of government intransigence. President Lula da Silva has the majority in place to speed enactment. But the Lula administration has not given the bill the “urgency” it needs to gain quick passage.
The decision to uphold opacity over openness is a step backwards for Brazil, and deserves greater attention from citizens, the media, and the international community.