João Paulo, the Speaker of the House, cried because he is irretrievably
immersed in one of the
most dramatic episodes in the history of Brazil’s
redemocratization. We are faced with a new
the devilish "sledge hammer" kind of politics that pushed us into the
well of bitterness
and from which, 39 years later, we begin to emerge.
Men are also allowed to cry. So are members of the House of Representatives, including the Speaker of the House.
The tears shed by João Paulo Cunha on Thursday, however, are something else altogether. Not only will they be part of his
biography but they may also become the symbol of a very serious political crisis.
Worse than the permission given to the Military Police shock battalion to enter the enclosed chambers of the
Legislative Branch, and more serious than the accusation that the press was distorting reality, is the realization that the country is
preparing to break the pacto social, as well as the
pacto político and, for that matter, the rule of law.
The paulista congressman is not only the president of the People’s Housethe most authentic and representative
chamber of the Legislative Branch. He is also the second in the order of presidential succession. The Vice-Presidency is not a
position, but a mere hypothesis of vacancy. To preside at the House, however, even in the presidentialist system, is to hold a
legitimate power, one that sustains the Republic. The tears of its president have both political weight and institutional ballast.
What is at stake here is not the person of the young legislatora man of honor, idealism, courage, competency and,
on top of everything, an occasional poetor the public demonstration of sensitivity and sincerity. which can only boost his
merit in a scenario where rudeness, aggressiveness and cynicism reign supreme.
João Paulo cried because he is irretrievably immersed in one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of
the redemocratization of Brazil. What we are faced with now is a new totalitarian temptation, the devilish "sledge hammer"
kind of politics that pushed us into the well of bitterness and from which only now, 39 years later, we begin to emerge. In
1964, João Paulo Cunha was only six years old, but during his years of political activism he also paid the price of the
irresponsibility of those who put their bets on confrontation and the tactics of "everything goes".
João Paulo cried because the administration is confused between its marketing attempts and its need for good
strategies, while he is left alone to disarm a crisis the speed and size of which he cannot control. The right always grabbed on to
law and order to deceive the rule of law, but the left has the historical commitment to bring change and preserve democracy.
Fascism of the left is as dangerous as fascism from the rightboth promise miracles they are never able to bring about. Hunger
and poverty cannot serve as pretexts for surprise attacks. Disorder only feeds injustice. Putsch sounds like the name of a
soup, but it only fills the stomachs of those organizing it.
João Paulo cried because he was the protagonist of a tragic predicament: his choices were to either attempt against
democracy by allowing angry conflict to take place in the very chamber where congressmen and women were voting on the
reforma da Previdência (welfare reform), or to compromise the inviolability of the Legislative Branch by allowing the military
police to come in.
This is exactly what tragedy meansa situation with no way out, and no alternativespast mending. The catharsis
took place on the following day, when his tears held up his voice and clouded his reason. To blame the press is part of the
generalized disturbances. It’s easier to hunt for witches than to put a stop to the escalation of tumult.
João Paulo cried because, in spite of being a plant worker and not a degree-holder, he knows what it would mean for
the country to have a national strike of its judges. Even in the form of a threat, it represents an unthinkable intimidation, an
irreparable blemish in a process based on balance, harmony and respect among powers and institutions.
This ultimatum cloaked in justices’ robes is no different from the demands cloaked in the military uniforms of a not
very distant past. Before, the generals frowned and ordered the tanks to rev up their engines at
Vila Militar. Now, the magistrates pout and say they will withdraw the scales of Justice. In the end, it’s all the same; it’s the
tacape (*) again, this time in its real and virtual version.
João Paulo cried because he understands the extension of the chaos, the huge no-man’s-land where crime lives
alongside exclusion and a thief who stole 62 reais
from a gas station knows that he can take refuge in a campground of the
landless movement, murder the first person that confronts him and escape unpunished. If the victim were not a photographic
reporter from an important magazine, all we would be left with is a B.O. (police report) to fill up statistics. We journalists cry for
La Costa, who was assigned to do a portrait of the crisis in Brazil, but ended up as a portrait of Brazil.
The PSDB (Partido da Social Democracia BrasileiraBrazilian Social Democracy Party) should have cried with
João Paulo. A party that resulted from an ethical rupture and stayed in power for eight years cannot surrender to
ostentatious opportunism, exciting all soreheads and adding wood to a fire that it has, like everyone else, the obligation to stifle. The
real truth is that João Paulo Cunha should not be crying alone.
July 26, 2003
(*) Translator’s Note: tacape = native Brazilian attack weapon
Alberto Dines, the author, is a journalist, founder and researcher at LABJORLaboratório 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
This article was originally published in Observatório da Imprensa
Tereza Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of
the American Translators Association. Contact: