Skip to main content

How did he die? Brazil's former president exhumed

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
updated 2:37 PM EST, Thu November 14, 2013
  • The remains of former Brazilian President Joao Goulart are being studied
  • There are suspicions about how he really died
  • He was given full state honors at a ceremony Thursday
  • Other Latin American leaders have also been exhumed for similar reasons

(CNN) -- Full funerary state honors were bestowed upon former Brazilian President Joao Goulart for the first time Thursday, nearly 37 years after his death.

Goulart, who was president from 1961-1964, was deposed in a coup and died in exile. The ceremony in the Brazilian capital provided the proper official ceremony to which deceased heads of state in Brazil are entitled.

President Dilma Rousseff placed flowers on top of the casket and presented the flag that had been draped over it to Goulart's widow.

But the remains of the former president were exhumed for purposes other than a funeral ceremony.

Goulart died in exile in Argentina of a heart attack in 1976, but there have long been suspicions that he was murdered. Poisoned, to be exact.

The former president's body was exhumed so that investigators in Brazil and abroad can study the remains in hopes of clarifying how he died.

"It is Brazil's duty to clarify the circumstances surrounding the death of President Joao Goulart," said Maria do Rosario, Brazil's secretariat of human rights.

Other South American leaders have recently been exhumed for similar investigations.

In 2011, the remains of former Chilean President Salvador Allende were disinterred over questions about his death. A court studied the results and ruled that Allende indeed had committed suicide.

In Venezuela, investigators studied the remains of revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar, but were unable to determine the cause of his death. They did, however, recreate a 3-D image of his face.

According to the Brazilian government, there are suspicions that Goulart was poisoned on orders of the Brazilian military government with the help of the Uruguayan military through Operation Condor, an alliance between the military dictatorships in the Southern Cone at the time.

Last year, the media reported on intelligence documents that showed that the military government spied on Goulart even after he left the country.

After being ousted from the presidency, Goulart went to Uruguay, and later Argentina.

The first requests to have the former president's remains exhumed came from his family in 2007, the government said in a news release. The request received the backing of the human rights secretariat in 2011, and the exhumation was finally given the green light in 2012.

The intent is to combine the forensic analysis with testimonies and government documents to paint a complete picture surrounding his death.

But on Thursday, it was a moment of honor and ceremony for the president who was popularly known as "Jango."

In addition to Rousseff, three former presidents were also in attendance.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:45 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
updated 9:43 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
updated 7:46 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
updated 9:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
updated 7:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
updated 5:26 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
updated 5:54 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
updated 7:53 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.