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Autopsy on ex-Brazilian president is inconclusive

December 1, 2014

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — An autopsy on the remains of late Brazilian President Joao Goulart was inconclusive, the country’s minister of human rights said Monday, making it impossible to immediately prove or debunk suspicions he may have been murdered on orders of the military regime that once ruled the country.

Ideli Salvatti said at a news conference in the capital, Brasilia, that the autopsy did not turn up evidence Goulart was poisoned, as his family suspects, but also failed to prove he died of a heart attack, which was the official cause of death.

Goulart was toppled by a 1964 coup that installed the military regime that ruled Latin America’s biggest country for 21 years.

He went into exile in Argentina, where he died in the city of Mercedes in December 1976. His body was quickly flown back to Brazil, where he was buried beside family members.

His death was ruled a heart attack, but an autopsy was never performed either in Argentina or in Brazil.

Suspicions he may have been poisoned stem from statements made in 2008 by a former Uruguayan intelligence officer imprisoned in Brazil for drug smuggling. He told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper that Goulart had been poisoned by agents of Operation Condor, under which the military dictatorships that ruled much of South America in the 1970s and 1980s secretly cooperated in the torture and disappearances of each other’s citizens.

The Uruguayan agent told the newspaper that Goulart’s heart medication had been swapped with poisoned pills that caused a heart attack.

Goulart’s exhumation was authorized in 2012 by a federal court, and the body was exhumed on Nov. 13, 2013. The toxicology tests were performed at laboratories in Brazil, Spain and Argentina, Salvatti’s office said in a statement.

Salvatti said the 2013 exhumation of Goulart’s body represented a victory for democracy.

“A dictatorship can order an assassination for political reasons, but only a democracy can investigate the reason for a political assassination,” she said, and pledged to press forward with the investigation.

The statement said Goulart’s son, Joao Vivente Goulart, urged the Brazilian government to question foreign agents who helped out the Brazilian dictatorship.

Goulart’s term was marked by greater investments in education, agrarian reform and higher taxes on the wealthy.