Brazil: Past Haunts Lula’s Government

Brazil: Past Haunts Lula's Government

John Fitzpatrick


At this time last year, when it was becoming apparent that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the leftist Workers’ Party
(PT) was going to be elected president of Brazil, there was a lot of apprehension abroad that he would start implementing a
socialist revolution. A widely publicized article, written by Constantine C. Menges, a Portuguese-born American academic,
even made the preposterous claim that Lula would set up an "axis of terror" with Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s
Hugo Chavez.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened. As soon as he reached power, President Lula swapped revolutionary
rhetoric for realistic dialogue and negotiation with the other parties in his wide-ranging governing alliance, and even reached
out to the opposition. His Vice-President, José Alencar, is a millionaire businessman from the mainly evangelical Liberal
Party (PL), and Lula has sat down to do business with traditional ideological enemies like former President José Sarney of
the PMDB, and Senator Antonio Carlos Magalhães of the center-right PFL.

Lula even attended the recent wake for Roberto Marinho, the founder and head of the Globo media empire, a man
often seen as more powerful than governments in Brazil. Over the years, Marinho not only supported the military
dictatorship that ran Brazil between 1964 and 1985, but went out of his way to ensure that his television network’s coverage of
Lula’s presidential election bid in 1989 was hostile and unfair. Lula ended up defeated by Fernando Collor de Mello, who
was eventually removed from power because of corruption.

President Lula has just managed to get the Lower House of Congress to pass a bill reforming the country’s pension
system, with support from the main opposition parties. For his pains, the socialist president found himself being castigated by
many of his traditional supporters. Photos of Lula were burned during protests by public servants, and he, of all people, was
called a traitor of the workers’ cause.

1970s Guerrilla Warfare Reignites…

Against this background, it is interesting to note that all of a sudden, a chapter from the past has been re-opened,
which involves one of Lula’s closest companions and the current national president of the PT party, former Congressman
José Genoíno.

On August 12, the Brasília daily newspaper
Correio Braziliense published what were said to be details of the
testimony given by guerrillas captured by the army in the Araguaia region in the 1970s. The Araguaia, situated on the tri-state
border of Tocantins, Pará and Maranhão, was one of the few places in Brazil where Communist guerrillas fought a campaign
against the military.

According to the Chair of the Lower House Committee investigating the events, PT Congressman Luiz
Eduardo Greenhalgh, at least 60 people held by the army "disappeared" between April 1972 and January 1975. Only three of
all the prisoners held by the military are believed to have survived. One of them was Genoíno, who was captured in April
of 1972 in one of the first guerrilla actions in the Araguaia, and taken to Brasília where he was tortured.

In a weekly op-ed column he writes for the daily
O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, Genoíno admitted on August 16
that he gave in under physical and mental torture and supplied information about his comrades. However, he attacked
those who made "insinuations" and "accusations" that this information could have led the military to capture the guerrillas.
Genoíno said he had mixed fact with fantasy, and given the military misleading and irrelevant information.

Reading this, one has the feeling that Genoíno is protesting his "innocence" too much, and one cannot help wonder
why, since no one would blame anyone for caving in under torture. While he does not identify those whom he attacks, he
divides them into those who were "on the other side of the trenches… enemies of the left-wing resistance", and more recently,
"pseudo leftists" defending opposing interests.

"Furious at having their privileges cut by a government which is implementing social justice, they have no other
argument other than slander and defamation," he raged. In this particular passage, Genoíno is clearly referring to various
groups—the judiciary and public servants most notably—who protested strongly against the already mentioned approval in Congress
of the government proposal to reform the pension system.

But who exactly is Genoíno attacking here? The armed forces are against publishing the testimony of the Araguaia
guerrillas, so are they to blame? Did they leak the story of Genoíno testimony to the media? Or is Genoíno saying that opponents
of pension reform program have joined forces with reactionary elements to embarrass him? Does he know who they are? If
he does, why not prosecute them for slander or libel?

After all, Genoíno says he wants the truth to be known so the relatives of those who disappeared can learn what
happened to them. Or could it be that Genoíno did in fact provide more information than he admits, and there is some truth to the
allegations? Is someone threatening or blackmailing him?

Funny Timing…

The timing of this affair is also suspicious. Why are these matters being aired now? Is it to show the Left that, when
it comes to fighting literally for its principles, Lula’s team has nothing to be ashamed of? Or, on the heels of high-powered
Roberto Marinho’s death, could it be a reminder to the middle classes, already nervous over the highly publicized activities of
the MST landless peasant movement, that a former guerrilla is one of the three most powerful men in Brazil? 

At the time of writing, it has just been revealed that a memorial stone honouring the murdered leader of the
Brazilian Communist Party, Carlos Marighella, has disappeared from a street in São Paulo. In 1969, Marighella, a former army
officer, was allegedly tortured to death and shot to give the impression that he had been killed during a shootout. When this
stone was installed in 1999, in the well-heeled Jardins district where Marighella’s body was found, a number of local
residents protested. The surprise is the stone has not been vandalized or tampered with since then. Maybe it is just a coincidence
that it disappeared this week…

Another interesting point is that one of those who will advise the Attorney-General’s office on whether to allow
full publication of the government documents detailing the Araguaia events, is Lula’s Chief of Staff, José Dirceu. He is also
a former guerrilla, and one of a group freed by the military regime in the 1960s in exchange for a kidnapped U.S.
ambassador to Brazil. Dirceu spent years in exile in Cuba before returning to Brazil to live underground until an amnesty law
brought back a flood of political exiles in 1979.

Without trying to make too much of this series of events, it is certainly part of the shadowy world of Brazilian
politics, in which as much is concealed as is revealed. For more examples of this, see my recent article on conspiracy theories
and strange coincidences that have marked Brazil’s recent history*.



John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995.
He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações—, which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at

© John Fitzpatrick 2003

This article appeared originally in
Infobrazil, at






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