Brazilian Holocaust – bad treatment in psychiatric hospitals

Opinion Piece by Thomas Nilsson

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Up today, Brazil has experienced all kind of governments under different political banners. No matter to whom the formal power is designed, by tradition it´s ruled by discretely hidden financial interests. The common strategy to grant power and money is something like “invest exactly what is necessary and keep the country free from civil war and social convulsions”. The people must eat but don´t let them think. The consequences of this exploration of small companies and producing people, independent if military dictatorship, democracy or leftist socialism, is that public investments are always scarce. The lack of dignity and quality is permanent in the health sector, school and public transports. Kids and retirees are not able to fight, so they receive the smaller part of the thin public cake. However, another group receive even less, the inmates. As criminals and insanes live inside locked institutions, their reclaims don´t pass the walls.

This article about bad treatment in Brazilian psychiatric hospitals is not aimed to make you feel pity for criminals and eventually loneyticks, what they deserve or not is not the actual subject. The thon not censored material from Brazilian jails and hospitals show an extraordinary lack of aptness, management and humanity by the responsibles. In addition, this is constant over the history of this nation. The fact that Slavery, Holocaust Hospitals and Carandiru Jails are history do not mean that the Brazilian people yet have understood how to create a society based on dignity, solidarity and humanity. The behavior continue as always, under different form, hidden under new curtains. The enormous inflated Brazilian law indicate that the Brazilian people not understand to live in harmony without extremely hard control. Or, are the people here grown like this BECAUSE the law and “order” obey them to break laws? Some people deserve a harsh punishment and must be isolated from normal society, but in Brazil a lot of innocent people have always been delivered to imprisonment, as they were enemies or competitor to someone in charge of power. The most probable is; the mayor part of Brazilian inmates are innocent to crime or disease they are accused for.

Hospital Colônia was a psychiatric hospital founded in 1903. The institution was located in the Brazilian city of Barbacena, Minas Gerais. From its foundation to 1980, Colônia was a theatre of genocide. Official reports estimates over 60.000 deaths due to medical malpractice and torture over the years. In 2013, the Brazilian journalist Daniela Arbex released an investigative book called “O Holocausto Brasileiro” (“The Brazilian Holocaust”) telling the stories of survivors and victims in what she identify as a Brazilian Concentration Camp.

Colônia had a capacity to give shelter to 200 patients. Located in the city of Barbacena in the State of Minas Gerais, the place became a national symbol of bad managed psychiatric care in the 20th century. Cargo train sent those who required medical attention to Barbacena. Sometimes it attended victims from all parts of Brazil. Those transports were so common they originated the regional expression “trem de doido” (= “mad man train”)

By 1960, Colônia was operating in extreme overload and had over 5.000 patients, far beyond its capacity of 200 beds. Most of the victims were always partially dressed, some were fully naked and forced to labor, including children, elders and people with disabilities. At least 16 people perished every day due to sickness, malnutrition, heat shock due to exposure to low temperatures and Scottish showers, electroconvulsive therapy or murder.

The staff benefited from remains of the dead patients, as they often were smuggled to Universities across the country. Bones, skulls and anatomic organs were sold, without no legal permission. Whenever the demand was low, corpses were simply dissolved in acid or buried in nearby grounds.

Over 70% of the patients were never diagnosed with any sort of psychological disorder; They were placed under permanent care by political interests and social stigma – These patients were often alcoholics, epileptics, prostitutes, homosexuals, unwanted children, homeless people, women whose virginity was lost before marriage, enemies of the local elite or simply considered “inadequate” according to the social norms of the past century, such as shy men and women with a sense of leadership.

The Brazilian Holocaust continued under the main part of the 20th century and only as late as 1980, due to pressure in the mass media, the institution was shut down.

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