RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Over the objections of human rights groups but with the support of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, some military bases began commemorations of the March 31, 1964 coup that launched 21 years of military rule in Brazil.
Brazil's Southeast military command, led by Gen. Luiz Baptista Pereira, held a commemoration ceremony in Sao Paulo.
The order of the day read in the base called March 31, 1964 a "symbolic episode" in the armed forces' support for the "legitimate aspirations" of Brazilian people.
"The Brazilian people defended democracy together with their uniformed citizens" that day, it read. "With Brazilian families alarmed and facing great disorder, the escalation toward communism was interrupted."
With rifles on their shoulders, soldiers sang Brazil's national anthem and paraded.
Bolsonaro, a former army captain who waxes nostalgic for the 1964-1985 military regime and a fierce anti-communist, caused a commotion in Brazil when he asked the Defense Ministry to organize "due commemorations" on March 31, a day historians call a coup that began the dictatorship, which supporters call a "military government."
Brazil's federal prosecutor's office strongly criticized Bolsonaro's move, saying that under international criminal law Brazil's dictators "had committed crimes against humanity." Several civic groups announced that they were organizing protests throughout the country.
The decision to commemorate the coup anniversary ended a 2011 move by then-President Dilma Rousseff, who had asked armed forces to suspend such commemorations.
Government spokesman Otavio Rego Barros recently told reporters that "the president does not believe March 31, 1964 was a coup."