Mercedes Benz in Argentina, Volkswagen in Brazil. Economic players, including multinational automobile companies, were beneficiaries of the military dictatorships in Latin America. A number of cases also point to complicity in the arrest and torture of trade unionists.
In Brazil, the public prosecutor’s office has been investigating Volkswagen (VW) since 2015. Trade unionist and torture survivor Lúcio Bellentani, who passed away in June 2019, was in discussions with ECCHR about possible legal steps against VW in Germany. The goal was reparations as well as a judicial determination of VW’s share of responsibility for the torture.
During the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-1985), Lúcio Bellentani worked for Volkswagen do Brasil, a VW subsidiary, and was active as a trade unionist. In July 1972, secret police arrested him at his workplace – in full view of the VW factory security guards. According to Bellentani, the head of factory security held a weapon to his back. After his arrest, Bellentani spent eight months in detention, where he was tortured, followed by a further approximately 16 months in prison.
In September 2015, Bellentani and other trade unionists filed a complaint against VW do Brasil in São Paolo. The company was accused of spying on its workforce and handing over opposition members to be tortured. The competent authority in São Paolo then investigated the matter, and out-of-court negotiations involving the affected workers were conducted in parallel. In September 2020, an agreement was reached: VW do Brasil would pay approximately 5.6 million euros to support those affected, for a memorial and for an academic study about the military dictatorship.
Since its establishment, ECCHR has investigated corporate collaboration with Latin American military dictatorships, particularly in Argentina, Colombia and Brazil. Through this work, we aim to advance criminal proceedings against companies and their managers for aiding and abetting torture, kidnapping and repression.