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Brazzil - History - May 2004

Brazil: Press Revisits the 64 Coup

The coverage by Folha de S. Paulo of the 1964 military coup in
Brazil frustrated itself and produced no results. It couldn't be
any other way. The newspaper is opposed to the idea of having
journalists older than 60 in its newsroom. This way, they don't
have to remember their performance between 1964 and 1975.

Alberto Dines

64 - Tanks in Rio

Picture "Last week, every great journalist in the country stopped to remember what he or she was doing on March 31st, 1964, etc. etc...."—and the story goes on with a succession of gross but hilarious comments signed by the gang at Casseta & Planeta ("A ditadura amolecida", [Dictatorship softened-up], O Globo, 4/4, Segundo Caderno, page 10).

Tragic, funny and true. If every journalist-hero discovered in the last ten days had been out there in the streets to defend João Goulart, the history of the country would have been different.

A whole crowd of younger-than-60 historians and political scientists added to the paranoia of the previous week in delirium episodes, insignificances and most of all, their own interpreting of history. No one can be blamed for being young, but it is unforgivable for a researcher not to research and for a historian not to document history and search for witnesses instead of surrendering to the comforts of politically correct common-places.

Some of the "scientific" evaluations about what happened in late March and early April 1964 disclosed by the media put into question the ability of our historiographers to do historiography.

Jango was always presented as a charismatic leader and a student of British labor relations, "a generous character who prevented a fratricide struggle" etc. It never occurred to anyone to see him as he really was—a millionaire colonel, a womanizer, a man unprepared to exercise power and, therefore, unable to use the opportunity of presiding at the first (and hopefully definitive) parliamentary experience in Brazil.

Nobody cared to take an attentive look at Darcy Ribeiro, Jango's closest advisor. The diligent anthropologist who directed the SPI (Serviço de Proteção ao Índio) [Indian Protection Services] during the 1950s later became Minister of Education, in charge of magnificent projects inspired by Anísio Teixeira, which would revolutionize our education.

However, when brought in to be the Chief of Staff, Ribeiro entered a world of derangement and "manda brasa" [let `em have it]. (On this subject, please see the testimony of Marco Antônio Tavares Coelho, Herança de um sonho—as memórias de um comunista, [Legacy of a dream—memories of a communist], pages 268-269).

At Ease

The only person who remembered Carlos Lacerda was Celso Furtado in an interview to Estado de S. Paulo (4/4, page A-9). His portrait, obviously, could not have been favorable or unbiased, but the emeritus professor of Economics was not asked a single question about the way in which Jango passed over his Programa Trienal de Desenvolvimento [Triennial Development Program] in favor of his so-called reformas de base (basic reforms).

No newspaper and no magazine asked (or wrote) about two extremely important civilians in those days: lawyer Jorge Serpa and banker José Luís Magalhães Lins (both from Rio). Also missing was an evaluation on the role of the Trotskyites. By the way, there has never been much research on Trotskyism in Brazil.

The glowing editorials of Correio da Manhã asking for the removal of Jango were written by Trotskyite Edmundo Moniz. And there was another Trotskyite editorialist at Jornal do Brasil called Luiz Alberto Bahia, who wrote along the same lines, albeit much more prudently.

The coverage by Folha de S. Paulo following the calendar of events beginning on March 13th frustrated itself and produced no results. It couldn't be any other way. The newspaper is opposed to the idea of having journalists older than 60 in its newsroom. They prefer the "young" style of reporting; this way, they don't have to remember their performance between 1964 and 1975.

Among all protagonist journalists, Carlos Heitor Cony was the most daring and most truthful. One of the first to position himself openly against the quartelada [military mutiny] (while his paper, the Correio da Manhã, still supported it), Cony felt perfectly at ease to issue "politically incorrect" opinions concerning Jango and the movement that deposed him.

Photo Captions

The evaluation of press performance made by the press itself bordered the ridicule. Those institutional ads in Jornal do Brasil about the past, made by a newspaper whose coverage deserved the Esso Journalism Award in the following year, are a mockery.

Even with all those vice-presidents in their team, they still forgot to ask the only one who was an eye-witness to the events, vice-president Wilson Figueiredo (at the time an editorial writer and political columnist) for what could have been a great record of that moment in history.

O Globo expertly avoided the subject in its interview with a researcher and communications professor (4/4, page 10). The paper abdicated from giving any opinion, even such a later date. And there are people in their team—in the Marinho family or even among their retired collaborators (such as editorialist Pedro Gomes)—who would have been able to offer valuable testimonies, written or verbal.

The researcher has the right to pretend to replace Pierre Bourdieu or Serge Halimi (this one the author of Os novos cães de guarda [The new guard dogs]), but she does not have the right to complain that no big Brazilian newspaper used the expression "under censorship" in its pages. She simply forgot some crucial editions of Jornal do Brasil, as well as the recipes in Jornal da Tarde, the poetry lines of Camões in Estadão and the Abril tree in Veja.

On the other hand, O Globo provided a real show with their survey about the use of futebol by the dictatorship—a proof of competence and a kind of courage they should use more frequently.

As far as dignity, though, no newspaper or journalist can compare with Estado de S. Paulo and their director, Ruy Mesquita. With its section "Março de 1964—40 anos esta noite" (March 1964—40 years tonight) (20 pages, 3/31), it gave readers the most solemn and substantial journalistic contribution in the country about the beginning of the tragedy. With precious testimonies, lucid analysis and a sober appearance—proper for a historical document—the great newspaper hit gold.

Ruy Mesquita's interview "Os derrotados escreveram a História" (The defeated wrote history) (page 9) may be discussed and contested in some of its aspects, but it was an exhibition of loftiness of purpose and moral courage rarely seen in the Brazilian media scenario, especially in the high spheres of the press.

By fully accepting the participation of the Mesquita family in the articulations to remove Goulart, the director of Estadão rejected pharisaism, falsities and falsifications. He portrayed what happened with no fear of facing the truth or incurring in clichés.

The testimony by José Serra, then president of bellicose UNE (União Nacional dos Estudantes—National Students Union), is an exemplary piece and its historical significance will certainly stimulate new research. (I again want to call attention to the neglecting of photo captions by today's journalists. The person standing beside Serra in the meeting with Jango—pages H10-11—is Marcelo Cerqueira, then a student leader and later a lawyer who defended political prisoners; in the cocktail party where general Golbery appears—page H7—it would be nice to have his companions identified).

It was a minimalist remembrance. Estadão maximized it.

Alberto Dines, the author, is a journalist, founder and researcher at LABJOR—Laboratório de Estudos Avançados em Jornalismo (Laboratory for Advanced Studies in Journalism) at UNICAMP (University of Campinas) and editor of the Observatório da Imprensa. He also writes a column on cultural issues for the Rio daily Jornal do Brasil. You can reach him by email at obsimp@ig.com.br.
Translated by Tereza Braga. Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of the American Translators Association. Contact: terezab@sbcglobal.net.

This article was originally published in Observatório da Imprensa www.observatoriodaimprensa.com.br.

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