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In Sao Paulo, a path strewn with pitfalls for the Torture Memorial

LETTER FROM SAO PAULO

These are seven small stone steps, worn away by humidity and the passage of time. To get them up, you have to push a prison door with rusty bars at the entrance of a soulless building. Maurice Politi, 72, beard and graying hair, has done it hundreds of times in his lifetime. But never without difficulty. Nor without a certain dread. «  Here was the branch of hell ”, he blurted out.

At the start of the southern summer, it is dark at 2 p.m. and it rains hard on 921 rue Tutoia, in the heart of Sao Paulo. One could not imagine a more gloomy atmosphere. But the places lend themselves to it. Because this nondescript little two-storey building, which Mauritius invites us to visit, has a grim reputation. From 1969 to 1982, it was indeed one of the main centers of torture of the Brazilian dictatorship.

According to associations, at least 7,000 people were tortured here and several dozen murdered. The place is sinister, cursed. Haunted even, they say. «  Some claim to have seen ghosts there ”, explains Maurice, who was only 21 years old, in March 1970, when he too had to climb the stairs to n ° 921 one by one. Militant within the National Liberation Action (ALN), one of the revolutionary groups from the country, he had just been denounced and arrested.

« It was limitless, medieval »

Brazil then saw its years of lead. In power, President and General Emilio Garrastazu Médici suspended freedoms and unleashed a fierce crackdown on left-wing activists. To do this, the army created the Information Operations Detachment-Operational Center for Internal Defense, better known by the acronym “DOI-CODI”. This one sets up interrogation centers in Rio, Recife or even Sao Paulo. Tutoia Street.

“The ‘parrot roost’, you could stay there for hours, even days. The pain in the spine was excruciating. »Maurice Politi, tortured in 1970

At the top of the steps, there are rooms. Some big, some small. All dark, dusty, the ground rutted. Suddenly, Maurice freezes and points to a section of the wall.  » This is where we received the first blows! « , he recounts. Undressed, the prisoners are hanged from a piece of wood, hands and feet tied: «  We call it the parrot perch. You could stay there for hours, even days. The pain in the spine was excruciating. « 

The worst is played out in an adjoining room, equipped with sockets and switches. « There was the electric chair », remembers Maurice. «  The level of barbarism was unimaginable. It was limitless, medieval. These guys were sadists. They tortured while laughing. Some even masturbated in front of their victims. «  During these « sessions », the windows are left wide open. «  The whole neighborhood heard our cries. « 

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