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Reviewed by:
  • We Cannot Remain Silent: Opposition to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship in the United States
  • Alison Brysk (bio)
James N. Green, We Cannot Remain Silent: Opposition to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship in the United States (Duke University Press, 2010) 450 pages, ISBN 978-0-8223-4735-4.

We Cannot Remain Silent is a valuable chronicle of the roots of one of the pillars of the international human rights regime: global civil society. From the nineteenth century transatlantic antislavery campaign to the current wave of Facebook revolutions in the Middle East, transnational mobilization has exercised a pervasive and growing influence on the struggle for the protection and empowerment of the individual. This book’s value is to document a relatively unknown chapter in that history, the movement that arose in response to the harbinger authoritarian regime in Brazil during the 1960s and 1970s. Since that period was also a key moment in the construction of the international regime, coinciding with the foundation of Amnesty International and the Carter presidency, inter alia, this history “from below” is especially relevant in understanding the emergence of contemporary patterns. This study also has implications for the comparative study of human rights, especially social movement theory, Latin American politics, globalization, and inter-American relations.

In 1964, the Brazilian military took power and instituted a systematic program of state terror: assassination, torture, imprisonment, disappearance, and the destruction of civil liberties. This work ably documents the construction of a transnational network to reveal and contest human rights abuses in Brazil. The network included a roster of transnational actors who operated in a similar constellation in subsequent Latin American dictatorships (and even some beyond the region): the Ford Foundation, the Catholic Church, students, and overseas volunteers (such as the Peace Corps). In an era of much more restricted global travel and information, these groups reached beyond borders to defend their beleaguered peers in a distant tropical land. Green shows that by the waning days of the dictatorship, even the historically parochial US labor movement sponsored tours by emerging Brazilian labor unions. The book also demonstrates the consequential role of US-Brazil academic ties in founding the network, and then later in laying the foundation for transition. It was a web of academic and activist exiles that lobbied for the 1979 Amnesty Law that culminated with the authoritarian regime’s slow liberalization. Another typical pattern of this first wave of transnational mobilization was the importance of nodal US-based media like The New York Times and Time magazine for capturing the “hearts and minds” of world public opinion. In a subsequent era, the mode of global “information politics” continues as a terrain of political struggle, but the forms, sponsorship, and access points of the media have changed. Green cites but does not fully explore the landmark work of Keck and Sikkink [End Page 1182] that outlines the typical patterns of such transnational issue-networks.1

Green shows that the ultimate impact of this early transnational human rights movement was limited but significant. For more than a decade, the movement brought attention to the plight of hundreds of political prisoners, put the systematic use of torture on the international agenda, and challenged US military and financial support for a dictatorship abhorrent to fundamental US democratic values. Perhaps most importantly, dozens of survivors who went on to testify to the abuses and rebuild their battered country and the international human rights regime owe their lives in large part to international pressure. It is a strength of this work that accounts of movement activities are matched by tracing the dictatorship’s reaction, which is instructive even when the regime ultimately succeeded in evading accountability. Moreover, several episodes of network development Green relates suggest that transnationalization increased the influence of previously marginalized sectors of the opposition, such as women and Afro-Brazilians—democratizing the democracy movement. Although Green argues that the Brazilian movement laid the broad foundation for the waves that followed, his material suggests a more narrow yet still important effect in training and staffing regional advocacy organizations such as the Washington Office on Latin America, as well as establishing some of the mechanisms for US foreign aid conditionality.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1085-794X
Print ISSN
0275-0392
Pages
pp. 1182-1185
Launched on MUSE
2011-11-02
Open Access
No
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