Philip Reeves

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The global advance of populist nationalism will reach another milestone on New Year's Day, when Jair Bolsonaro is sworn in as president of Latin America's largest nation, Brazil.

Officials predict that up to 500,000 people will flood the streets of the capital, Brasília, to celebrate his inauguration, which will take place inside the chamber of the national Congress.

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"Nothing and no one will stop us!"

So says President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, a nation embroiled in the worst economic and humanitarian crisis in the modern history of Latin America.

That message came in a flurry of recent tweets in which the unpopular Maduro seeks to rally support from his long-suffering population for his latest remedy against total collapse: gold.

Half a century ago, Jean Marc von der Weid was strapped to a pole and bludgeoned with clubs by Brazilian security agents seeking information about his fellow leftist student leaders.

His torturers also attached wires to his fingers, toes, ears, tongue and penis, and blasted him with electric shocks. At one point, he recalls, they subjected him to a simulated firing squad.

"They said, 'If you don't talk, we will definitely shoot you,' " says von der Weid. "I remember one guy saying, 'Do you want to smoke your last cigarette?' I replied: 'No thanks, I don't smoke.' "

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