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English Report

For the past 15 years, Flávio Molina’s family had to endure unnecessary and unjustifiable anguish of knowing that there was a possibility of his remains being among the bones exhumed from a secret grave in the Dom Bosco de Perus Cemetery. It took only 20 days for a private lab in São Paulo to reach conclusive results over the identification of the remains, something that the public agencies could not accomplish in years.

Identifying Flávio Molina

Suzana Keniger Lisboa*

Who was Flávio?

Flávio de Carvalho Molina was born on November 8, 1947 in the then-state of Guanabara. He was the son of Álvaro Andrade Lopes Molina and Maria Helena Carvalho Molina. He began dabbling in anti-government activities in 1967, while attending Mallet Soares High School in Rio de Janeiro. In 1968, he was accepted to School of Chemistry at UFRJ (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro). During this same year, he was arrested for taking part in a student demonstration on campus, when the police invaded the university. He was released the following day.

In July 1969 he was sought after by the repression agencies, after having been formally indicted in an inquest conducted by the 2nd Military Audit. He then decided to join the underground resistance to the military through an illegal leftist organization, the ALN (Ação Libertadora Nacional, or National Liberation Action).

From November 1969 until the middle of 1971, Flávio lived in Cuba, where he received military training to fight against the dictatorship. He returned to Brazil as a member of another illegal leftist organization, Molipo (Movimento de Libertação Popular, or Popular Liberation Movement).

A formal order for his arrest was issued on two occasions: November 6, 1969 and January 30, 1970. His family received news from him until July 1970. After that, family, friends and comrades had to endure 35 years of not knowing his fate. It wasn’t until July 1979 that they were sure that he was dead.

         It was only 26 years later that the family was finally able to bury his remains. 15 years after the opening of a mass grave in the Dom Bosco cemetery, in Perus, his remains were formally identified and buried in Rio de Janeiro.


The Assassination  

Flávio was arrested on November 6, 1971 in São Paulo by agents of the DOI-CODI/SP (a state repression agency), where he was tortured to death. His arrest and death has never been acknowledged by any of the Brazilian internal security agencies. 

The first information about his death was published in the August 29, 1972 issue of the newspaper O Globo, where an article stated that he had been killed in a gunshot battle with the São Paulo police on a past date. The family contacted the government authorities seeking to find out where he was buried, but the authorities denied that article was factual.

The government continued to conceal Flávio’s death and included his name as a suspect in legal procedures. It was only when the trial pertaining to the indictment took place that his name was removed for being dead. Even then, the family never received any notification from the authorities about his death.


The Discovery and the Intentional Concealment of the Body

In 1979, the families of dead and missing political activists were working on a document called “Dossiê de mortos e desaparecidos” (Dossier of the Dead and Missing), when they got access to the minutes of the 2nd Naval Inquiry, in which Flávio had been indicted.

In a  document which was part of that inquiry, Romeu Tuma, then executive director of the DOPS (the main repression agency of the dictatorship) and presently a Brazilian Senator, petitioned the judge to remove Flávio’s name from the indictment due to his being deceased. As a proof of his death, he attached a death certificate with the name of Álvaro Lopes Peralta, who had died on November 9, 1971 and was buried in plot #14, Row 11, Square 2, Section 1 of Dom Bosco Cemetery in Perus. This was the first document that the family was able to obtain confirming the participation of the director of the DOPS, Romeu Tuma, in the concealment of the body.

Finally all doubt had been removed. Flávio was indeed dead. His joking spirit had led him to choose an  alias that combined using parts of his father’s name – Álvaro  Lopes – followed by what could have been a memory of his childhood: Peralta (that signifies ‘mischievous, naughty” in Portuguese).

The request for an autopsy of the body of Álvaro Lopes Peralta to the IML/SP (case number 43715, dated November 16, 1971), confirms that the authorities already were then aware of Flávio’s true identity.

The neurologist Renato Capellano and José Henrique da Fonseca, however, used only his alias in the final autopsy report.

The death certificate was filed under the number 50,741, 191V – Book C.73, naming as delcarant Miguel Fernandes Zaninello, who was identified in October 1990 as being a retired lieutenant in the military police. This information came to light in a deposition to the CPI (Comissão Parlamentar de Inquérito) of the São Paulo Municipal government that investigated the secret grave in the Perus Cemetery[1].

Documents found in the archives of the DOPS/SP show that the authorities knew who Flávio was. The data in his files contained his various aliases, including that of Álvaro Lopes Peralta; in addition, an official document of the CENIMAR dated in 1970 stated that Flávio was using the name of Álvaro Lopes Peralta.

The burial of Flávio under a false name was premeditated and intentional, which contradicts the current official statements of the former Commander of DOI/CODI, Brilhante Ustra.

In 1981, having obtained the false death certificate and the declaration signed by Romeu Tuma, the Molina Family started planning the burial of Flávio’s remains in Rio de Janeiro. In the middle of the preparation for a ceremony, with invitations already having been issued, the family then learned that the bones were in a secret mass grave in Perus Cemetery, whose existence was known since 1975, but about which very little was known.

When the family was notified about the impossibility of removing Flávio’s remains, his brother Gilberto Molina could not accept it, and made a point of confirming that this was a fact. He convinced the caretaker of the cemetery to open up the secret grave. The opening and the excavation of the grave produced a number of plastic bags containing human bones. Gilberto was shocked to verify the inexistence of any type of identification. The bags were reburied and the hope was lost of any immediate transfer of the remains.

The military regime was still in power and prevented any other initiative. Without public endorsement or any kind of support to proceed with an investigation of the facts, the struggle of the Molina family only became public on September 4, 1990, when secret grave in the Perus Cemetery[2] was officially opened.

The Fight for Identification

Investigations carried out by reporters Caco Barcellos and Maurício Maia confirmed that the remains of 6 activists were among the 1049 bodies in the grave: Frederico Eduardo Mayr, Denis Casemiro, Dimas Antonio Casemiro, Grenaldo Jesus Silva and Francisco José de Oliveira. After three months of work in the cemetery, where each of the skeletons was booked, filmed and photographed, the remains were transferred to the Forensics Department of Unicamp (University of Campinas), where they were put under the care of Fortunato Badan Palhares. At the grave, where the dictatorship had planned burying their crimes forever, a memorial was created by the architect Ricardo Othake, which was inaugurated on August 26, 1993. The remains of Frederico and Denis were identified in 1992. 

In November 1991, 20 years after Flávio’s death, Maria Helena Molina had filed a  legal suit against the Federal Government in 17th District of  Rio de Janeiro (case number 9101180125), having as her counsel Ana Maria Muller.

The indifference of UNICAMP and the authorities over the identification of the remains prolonged the agony of the relatives. The torture put upon them was extended when their search for information continued to be ignored by Badan Palhares and the Unicamp administration. The little amount of information that the relatives were able to obtain resulted from informal contacts with other DML team members. In a 1995 meeting with the group members, Palhares made the absurd demand that the meeting be videotaped.

After much negotiation, many meetings, and commitments made and soon forgotten, it was through the mediation of the State Secretary of Justice Belisário dos Santos Jr. that the Unicamp administration met with family members. This led to the removal of Badan Palhares from the investigation of the Bones of Perus, replaced by José Eduardo Bueno Zappa. But in 1997, without having issued any new information, Zappa declared that the investigation had reached its end without any new identification, which caused deep discontentment among the victims’ family members.

In February 1998, Governor Mário Covas ordered the establishment of a Special Commission to map the necessary steps to finish the identification process. This commission was presided over by a physician, Dr. Antenor Chicarino, and made up by the victims’ family members and representatives of the São Paulo State Secretary of Culture and Justice.

After a careful examination of the DML installations, the commission concluded that the preservation of the skeletons was shockingly precarious. First, the bags were open and without any labels. Secondly, they were left on a very dirty floor surface infested with cockroaches. Finally, heavy materials were routinely stored over the skeleton bags.

Due to this proven criminal negligence, the commission recommended the transfer of the bones to Oscar Freire Institute and the Department of Forensics of USP.

The report with this and other proposal was turned in to the Secretary of Justice and Safety of the State Sao Paulo in April 1998. There was no response from the authorities.

Subsequently, counsel Ana Maria Muller filed for an interlocutory injunction and Maria Helena Molina filed a suit against the Federal Government in the 17th district of Rio de Janeiro (case number 9101180125) under the jurisdiction of Judge Wanderley de Andrade Monteiro.

After the denunciation of the mishandling of the remains to the Attorney General, a Public Enquiry 06/99 was initiated. Under the command of prosecutor Marlon Weichert, various meetings were held to monitor the enforcement of the measures recommended. Gilberto Molina was present at all of them.


The Identification

It would take 15 years and 8 attempts at extracting DNA from the remains both in Brazil and abroad to identify Flávio Molina’s remains.

In 1995, Badan Palhares had sent to UFMG 3 vertebrae and one rib for DNA examination. It is not know why longer bones or teeth were not sent, a normal procedure for DNA exams.  Two years passed before the results of that exam were available. The conclusions were that the three vertebrae and the rib did not belong to Flávio, nor were they a part of the same skeleton. Was this an error in the lab extractions or had Palhares mixed bones?

After so much suffering, the process that begun in September 1990 returned in 2005 to one of its main parties. In 1990, a commission, which monitored the findings of the remains of the Perus cemetery investigation in the São Paulo City government, had been approached by a representative of a certain laboratory, who offered to expand the technology for DNA extraction of the lab in order to participate in identification of the Perus cemetery’s remains. After being informed by the various members of the Molina family about this offer, Badan Palhares announced his decision: if Unicamp was not going to be responsible for the DNA extractions, he would order all the bones to be immediately removed from the university. Since there was no other place where the bones could be kept, the offer was declined. And time continued to pass by.

In 2003, the federal government agreed to be responsible for the costs of the DNA exams, and samples of bones of the remains and blood of the Molina family were sent to Buenos Aires. A new frustration followed: the results were negative.

In 2005, a regrettable mistake was made, when it was announced that the bones belonged to Jane Vanini, a Brazilian guerrilla killed in Concepcion in 1974. The report was never officially retracted, but it was through this episode that the Special Commission on the Missing and Dead received the Chilean report of the exam, which had been carried out in São Paulo and hence learned about the Genomic Lab. The bone and blood samples of the Molina family were then sent to the lab. 20 days later, positive results were returned.

History had finally completed a circle: Manuel de Sá e Benevides, who in 1990 had approached the victims’ relatives to offer his lab for the DNA exams, is presently the Executive Director of Genomic, which opened in 1990.

Manuel Benevides and Dr. Delnice Ritsuko Sumita, who were responsible for the testing of the sample, officially handed the remains of Flávio Carvalho Molina to Gilberto Molina in a special ceremony at the headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Justice in São Paulo.

The Crime Continues

The fight of Flávio Molina’s relatives does not end with the burial of the body. Many other families still live with the suffering of not knowing what happened to their loved ones. The federal government did not do anything in terms of granting access to its archives or help in the recovery history. The support by the Ministry of Justice has been essential, since the crime of concealment continues to be committed.

During the ceremony in which Flávio’s remains were handed to his family, Eugênia Augusta Gonzaga Fávero, current Attorney General and the person responsible for the ICP 06/99, announced that in spite of the positive identification, the inquiry will not be closed. She listed the following reasons.

“(...) First: we verified that during those 15 year period, the family was subjected to unnecessary and unjustified anguish in their expectation of finding the final remains of Flávio Molina among the exhumed remains from  the secret grave in the Dom Bosco de Perus Cemetery. In addition, one specific lab, Genomic, in São Paulo, obtained conclusive results over the identification of the remains in 20 days, something that the public organizations had been unable to do for years. The quickness in producing these results made it unacceptable that the process progresses at its current pace. It is necessary that we concentrate our efforts on streamlining the processes, which the establishment of a DNA database would certainly help.

Secondly, there is one more skeleton awaiting a DNA exam. I am referring to the remains suspected to be those of Luís Cunha. The conclusion of this exam from the work done by the Oscar Feire Institue should be done on October 12, 2005, after which the same process adopted in regard to Flávio Molina will be followed.

Third: The possibility remains that the bones of at least three more missing political activists may be among those bones.

At this point, we find it necessary to explain why we need to continue pursuing this objective, even though some think it is not reasonable to use public agencies with such a difficult job affecting only a small number of people. We believe that, while there is still a possibility of identification, we must keep this process available. We believe that burying a family member is a fundamental human right, which is part of the constitutional right that people have to dignity.

The denial of burial was one of the worst punishments applied in old civilizations. It was reserved only to those who had committed terrible crimes. The idea of being without burial, or rather, without a ceremony that symbolizes the completion of a cycle, is extremely painful.  So much so, that during the inquiry, we heard stories of family members who buried the belongings of the loved one in order to minimize their own pain. We contend that the pain that the families go through, directly originated from intentional injury, is a legal commodity that requires the attention and help from public organizations, especially because that pain was inflicted by public agencies.

Fourth: as we proceed with our report, we have verified that in our population there exists a widely held conscience of injustice having been done in this specific area. Notwithstanding the government’s public acknowledgment of committing torture and murder, and hiding bodies, and even though compensation was paid by the government, the people responsible for these atrocities remain unpunished. Even if this inquiry has mentioned names, produced proof and denunciation was initiated with the purpose of punishing those responsible for atrocities, nothing has happened in this regard

Difficulties met range from not having access to secret documents, allegations that crimes have prescribed and that those responsible for atrocities were pardoned through general amnesty. I will not discuss here the merits of the legal grounds invoked to assert that the crime of torture prescribes or whether those responsible for it responsible can legally be pardoned through an amnesty. What I contend is that, at the very least, a real crime exists in the concealment of bodies, a hateful manner of extending torture to the victims’ relatives. This is a crime that the law and legal doctrines consider to be permanent. This means that it prescribes only if and when the victim's grave is identified, making possible to have access the concealed remains. Therefore, while a single body of the political dead and missing remains concealed, we cannot speak about the crime having prescribed.

Even if the current difficulties in attributing direct responsibility preclude indictments, whoever ignores the breaking of very clear existing legislation is blatantly breaking the law. There may also be a justification for civil actions for collective pain and suffering, as the acts committed by the government did not affect just those missing and dead. Those acts have also inflicted pain and suffering to an entire generation, whose intellectual growth and political discernment were hindered by such acts. These measures, whether they are criminal, civil or administrative, aim to make liable those responsible for the crimes.

In conclusion, it is for these four reasons that the present inquiry, while it remains under our control, will not be archived.  In all areas, particularly in the judiciary, we will adopt all the necessary procedures to achieve the following objectives: to change the procedures for the identification process, including the establishment of a  DNA bank; to identify Luís Cunha’s remains; to continue the attempt of  identification of other missing people in the exhumed graves in the Perus cemetery; to hold the responsible parties accountable.

* Suzana Keniger Lisboa is a member of the Commission of the Relatives of the Dead and Missing.

[1] The CPI report is available at

[2] See 2001 Report: