RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazil's government exhumed the remains of former President João Goulart on Thursday to investigate whether he may have been murdered by the military dictatorship that deposed him in 1964.
Goulart died in exile in Argentina in 1976, supposedly due to a heart attack, and an autopsy was never performed. Family members and some officials in the current government believe he may have been poisoned as part of Operation Condor, the collaborative effort of South American military governments at the time to eliminate leftists from the continent.
The case is part of an ongoing examination of crimes committed by Brazil's military government. The effort includes an official truth commission investigating torture and disappearances of political opponents, a process of redemption similar to those carried out in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.
Goulart, a left-leaning president, was deposed in a U.S.-backed military coup. The military government that ruled Brazil until 1985 never granted him the funeral services usually accorded former presidents.
After being exhumed Thursday morning, Goulart's remains were received in an official ceremony by President Dilma Rousseff -- who also had been imprisoned and tortured under the military dictatorship -- along with former presidents from both sides of the political aisle, dignitaries and family members.
After the honors bestowed in Brasilia, the capital, which included a 21-gun salute, Goulart's widow said Brazil had finally given him the respect he deserved, local media reported.
"It took a while, but it's never too late," she said. "It's a way to rescue my husband's memory."
Goulart's remains will now be analyzed by local authorities, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross and representatives from Uruguay, Argentina and Cuba, according to a statement released by Brazil's National Truth Commission.
"The exhumation is not the end of this process. We've asked the military police for more documents and more hearings," said João Vicente Goulart, son of the former president. "There are American agents that were involved in Operation Condor that haven't been heard yet."
"It's a first big step for the country," he added, "but there's still a long way to go."
Bevins is a special correspondent.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun