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Brazilian Police Officer Finds God, Confesses To Military Junta-Era Killings

As a new Truth Commission begins to retrace the crimes of Brazil's military dictatorship, one officer admits to incinerating 10 corpses of people who disappeared from 1964 to 1985. Cláudio Guerra has since become an evangelical pastor.

A young girl gets vaccinated against yellow fever in Brazil
March of Freedom in Brazil, 2011 (André Solnik)

SÃO PAULO In a just-released book, former Brazilan police official Cláudio Guerra says he helped to kill at least 12 members of opposition groups during the country's military dictatorship (1965-1985). He admits having incinerated 10 corpses of people who had disappeared for political reasons.

Guerra, 71, decided to confess his crimes after becoming an evangelical pastor. He also told authors Marcelo Netto and Rogério Medeiros his intentions to appear before the Truth Commission, which has recently been created to investigate human rights abuses, particularly those committed during military rule.

According to the former officer, the 10 corpses were burned in a sugar-cane power plant in Rio de Janeiro. The plant belonged to the family of former governor Heli Ribeiro Gomes. "I was in charge of bringing them there. Everybody had been killed by methods of torture," he writes in the book – "Memórias de uma Guerra Suja" (Memories of a Dirty War), published by Topbooks.

All the victims were members of opposition political groups, mostly from the political left. Their families had never received news on their whereabouts.

Maria Cecília Ribeiro Gomes, 55, daughter of former governor Gomes, was surprised to hear Guerra's confessions. "I'm astonished. This is nonsense, he must be crazy," she said. "There were over 3,000 employees working at the power plant. How could anybody take corpses there, do such a thing, and nobody would know?"

Blood on own hands

Guerra says he personally murdered some of the victims. The book also mentions three clandestine cemeteries in the cities of São Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Petrópolis, all of them in southeastern Brazil.

The former officer admits having joined terrorist attacks to delay the democratization of Brazil, including an infamous, but failed 1981 attack on the Riocentro pavilion when military officers tried in vain to set off bombs at a Labor Day concert.

The book makes a connection between the authors of the terrorist attacks and the 1982 murder of journalist Alexandre Von Baumgarten, who had written about the traffic of uranium from Brazil to the Middle East.

Guerra was a member of Dops (Department of Social and Political Order), which repressed those who were opposed to the military rule. The former officer was kept under arrest for seven years accused of murdering a man involved in illegal gambling, which he denies. He is also suspected of joining so-called "extermination groups' that were hired to kill people in Brazilian slums.

The president of "Tortura Nunca Mais no Rio" (Torture, Never Again in Rio), Vitória Garbois, says she was "perplexed" when she heard of the book. "His name has never been on the lists of those accused of violent repression."

Brazil's Minister of Human Rights Maria do Rosario says the Truth Commission will investigate Guerra's account.

Read more from Folha on their website

Photo – André Solnik

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Inside The Search For Record-Breaking Sapphires In A Remote Indian Valley

A vast stretch of mountains in India's Padder Valley is believed to house sapphire reserves worth $1.2 billion, which could change the fate of one of the poorest districts of Jammu and Kashmir.

Photo of sapphire miners at work in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district

Sapphire mining in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district

Jehangir Ali

GULABGARH — Mohammad Abbas recalls with excitement the old days when he joined the hunt in the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district to search the world’s most precious sapphires.

Kishtwar’s sapphire mines are hidden in the inaccessible mountains towering at an altitude of nearly 16,000 feet, around Sumchan and Bilakoth areas of Padder Valley in Machail – which is one of the most remote regions of Jammu and Kashmir.

“Up there, the weather is harsh and very unpredictable,” Abbas, a farmer, said. “One moment the high altitude sun is peeling off your skin and the next you could get frostbite. Many labourers couldn’t stand those tough conditions and fled.”

Abbas, 56, added with a smile: “But those who stayed earned their reward, too.”

A vast stretch of mountains in Padder Valley nestled along Kishtwar district’s border with Ladakh is believed to house sapphire reserves worth $1.2 billion, according to one estimate. A 19.88-carat Kishtwar sapphire broke records in 2013 when it was sold for nearly $2.4 million.

In India, the price of sapphire with a velvety texture and true-blue peacock colour, which is found only in Kishtwar, can reach $6,000 per carat. The precious stone could change the socio-economic landscape of Kishtwar, which is one of the economically most underdeveloped districts of Jammu and Kashmir.

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