SAO PAULO, Brazil — The remains of former Brazilian President Joao Goulart, more commonly known as Jango, were to be exhumed Wednesday to determine whether or not he was poisoned.
Goulart, who became president in 1961, died while in exile in Argentina in 1976 after he was removed from power by a 1964 coup that led to Brazil's 21-year military dictatorship.
Forensic scientists started work on Wednesday morning, digging a hole in the grave — located in the family pantheon in Sao Borja, a small Brazilian town near the Argentine border — so that gases that had formed inside the tomb could escape.
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The remains will be taken to the capital city of Brasilia, where an official ceremony will take place to make up for the fact that Goulart was the only Brazilian president to be buried without the honors usually given to a former leader of the country.
Toxicology tests will be performed and the remains will be sent abroad for analysis.
Goulart's death was ruled a heart attack, but Brazil's Human Rights Ministry called it suspicious after former Uruguayan intelligence officer Mario Neira said the overthrown president was poisoned by agents working for the region's military governments.
The former president's grandson, Joao Marcelo Goulart, said it was "a historic moment not just for the family but also for the country and all the relatives of those killed, disappeared, tortured and exiled by the military dictatorship."
Up to 500 people were killed or disappeared under Brazil's 1964 to 1985 military dictatorship, and thousands of others were tortured, exiled or deprived of their political rights.