November 2002

Bye, Old Warrior

Brazil bought the Minas Gerais aircraft carrier amid dreams of
grandeur and of becoming a military power. At the time of
her acquisition, however, the MG was already
considered scrap metal by military experts.

Rodolfo Espinoza

After 42 years at the service of the Brazilian Navy, the aircraft carrier Vengeance—built by Winston Churchill while London was being bombed during World War II—is being readied to become a floating entertainment space in China. For the Brazilian top military brass the news that the old ship is going to be used for the enjoyment of the Chinese came as a relief.

When the vessel was recently put for sale there was an offer—the most appealing to the armed forces—to convert her into a museum to be anchored on the coast of Great Britain, but from 12 bids received, nine wanted Vengeance just for her body, the 16 tons of steel the ship is made of. The Chinese ended up getting the obsolete ship for a simple reason: nobody could beat their 2-million-dollar bid.

In Brazil, the British warrior had a peaceful albeit controversial career. Vengeance was bought for 9 million dollars in 1956 by President Juscelino Kubitschek and was rechristened as Minas Gerais, Kubitschek’s home state. It’s common knowledge that JK, who wasn’t well liked by the Armed Forces bought the ship as a way of smooth-talking the Navy. “If this is the price for the Navy to submit to the Constitution, so be it,” commented the President at the time. The ship, however, would arrive in Brazil only in December 1960, at the final days of the Kubitschek administration.

This was a time when Brazil thought its hour had arrived to take a seat at the First World table. The country was starting a blooming industry and wished to become a military power. Ironically though, the Minas Gerais, at the time of her acquisition, was already considered scrap metal by military experts. The deal inspired a then fledgling musician and satirist to write a catchy tune, which was played on the radio across the nation and made people but not for long. The government didn’t get the joke and banned the ditty from the airwaves, in a rare case of art censorship during a civilian administration.

The irreverent song, known as “O Brasil Já Vai à Guerra” went like this:

O Brasil já vai à guerra
comprou um porta aviões
um viva pra Inglaterra
de 82 bilhões,
ah, mas que ladrões

Comenta o zé povinho
governo varonil
coitado, coitadinho do Banco do Brasil
ra , ra, quase faliu

A classe proletária
na certa comeria
com a verba gasta diária
em tal quinquilharia
sem serventia

Alguns bons idiotas
aplaudem a medida
e o povo sem comida
escuta as tais lorotas
dos patriotas

Porém há uma peninha
de quem é o porta-avião
é meu diz a marinha
é meu diz a aviação
ah, revolução

Brazil, terra adorada,
comprou um porta-aviões
um viva pra Inglaterra
de 82 bilhões
ah, mas que ladrões

Brazil is ready for war
it bought an aircraft carrier
long live England
82 billion (cruzeiros)
ah, they’re such thieves

The little people comment
what a manly government
poor, oh little poor Bank of Brazil
ha, ha, almost broke

The proletarian class
could certainly eat
with the money spent daily
in such trinket
which has no use

A few good idiots
applaud the measure
and the foodless people
listen to the baloney
of the patriots

There’s, however, a question
whose aircraft carrier is this
it’s mine, says the Navy
it’s mine says the Air Force
ah, revolution

Brazil, adored country
bought an aircraft carrier
long live England
82 billion (cruzeiros)
ah, such thieves are they

You can listen to Juca Chaves interpreting his own modinha “O Brasil Já Vai à Guerra” (1960) in Brazzil online at

The Minas Gerais bid was won by H K Jiexin Shipping, a Hong Kong company created specifically to manage the old aircraft career. The ship will be anchored in Zhoushan, a port close to Shanghai and will be outfitted with shops, bar and a small museum. For Hélio Leôncio Martins, the admiral who was the aircraft carrier’s first commander “the ship deserved a better destiny. This vessel aggrandized the country and left a better reputation than any other ship.”

Apparently, the ship’s only military mission happened in August 1961 when the Minas Gerais was sent to Rio Grande do Sul to intimidate Leonel Brizola and his Campanha da Legalidade—Legality Campaign, a movement to secure that vice-president Jango Goulart be installed in office after the presidency was left vacant by President Jânio Quadro’s resignation. Brizola prevailed against the military this time, but they would come back less than 3 years later to handle the nation for 21 long years.

Since January 2001, having been retired, the Minas Gerais was being kept ailing in Rio’s Baía da Guanabara. In its place the 40-year-old Foch was put into service, just a little younger than the 58-year-old Minas Gerais. The French vessel bought for $12 million and rebaptized as São Paulo is able to carry 30 planes instead of the 12 that could fit into the Minas Gerais. Where are the planes to fill the ship? We don’t have them and if we had we’d never use them, critics are saying, echoing Juca Chaves’s song.

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