Leonel Brizola lost
an election, lost another, and then modestly
became the vice presidential running mate of Lula. He set aside
all vanity because that was the moment for the young metal
worker to replace the old engineer in leading Brazil. With the
same coherence he joined the opposition to Lula in recent months.
Brazil has many politicians, but few are those among us who go down in history
as leaders. Brizola was one of them. We have some leaders but few among them
can point to a history of 50 years of struggle. Brizola was one of them.
Of these, few among them
took up arms and headed for the streets to combat the forces of the military
coup. Brizola was one of them. Of these, few lived their entire lives with
austerity and honesty. Brizola was one of them. Among these, very few were
coherent over 50 years in their commitment to the nation and its workers,
in their commitment to the side of the people. Brizola was one of them. Among
these few, which must number no more than ten in our 500-year history, only
one carried the banner of education for our children as a life-long crusade.
This one was Brizola.
For this reason Brizola
is one of a kind: a valiant leader for 50 years, always patriotic and worker-oriented,
and always carrying the banner of education. He will leave an enormous gap
in the national scene.
It is said that we never
forget our first vote but we are not always proud of it. I have the honor
of saying that I am proud that in 1962 I cast my first vote after coming of
age for Miguel Arraes Alencar as Governor of Pernambuco State and that the
first vote I cast for President of the Republic was for Leonel Brizola in
At that time I had no
political affiliation myself, and I campaigned alongside Fernando Lyra and
Darcy Ribeiro for Brizola’s election. I had great respect for another presidential
candidate in that race, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who came to my house
with Luiz Carlos Sigmaringa to request my support.
I made it clear that I
saw the Workers Party (PT) as the only political party that one day could
lead the destiny of Brazil and complete the revolution that had been stagnant
since the Abolition of Slavery in 1888 and the Proclamation of the Republic
But, I told them, the
PT at that moment was not yet ready, and its program of government was concentrated
upon the economy, upon salary, while that of Brizola was concentrated upon
education, and he was in a better position to lead the destiny of the country.
Fifteen years later, I
am convinced that I was correct. Brizola’s election in 1989 would have permitted
the responsible turn to the Left that Brazil and Latin America needed on the
eve of the neoliberal adventure initiated by the winner of those elections.
Brizola would have signified
a strong position in the international scene, the reorientation of priorities
towards education, responsibility in public management, the example of an
austere, honest life.
This observation was not
merely the fruit of a hope for the future; it also came from observing the
public life that he had led for almost 40 years. Brizola set an example for
everyone with his valiancy, coherence and austerity, and his dedication to
His terms as mayor of
Porto Alegre and as governor of Rio Grande do Sul have left these marks. Today
Rio Grande do Sul still shows the best educational indices of all Brazil.
There are other reasons
for that, but the actions of its mayor and governor were without a doubt fundamental.
Fifty years ago he gave priority to the schools and invested in the future
through education of his city and state’s children.
It was also he who, at
that time, gave value to a word not always liked in Brazilian politics: He
said "No" to the powerful. He did not yield to the temptation of
going with the wave.
He was against the wave
of the military coup. And he did not surf on it. He confronted it, defied
it and built a myth of the Resistance. Brizola’s speech broadcast on the radio
Rede de Legalidade (Network of Legality) woke up my generation.
In exile, he conducted
himself with dignity and combativeness. He did not rest or slacken, two common
tendencies among those condemned to life in exile.
I remember when, expelled
from Montevideo, Uruguay, he arrived in New York and went to live in a small
hotel, where I located him and invited him to a gathering.
Only a few days had passed
since his surprising expulsion; even so, he accepted the invitation and traveled
for a conversation with Brazilians without political weight. He came merely
because we were Brazilians and he wanted to talk, listen, organize the struggle
Without making any concessions,
he returned to Brazil and in a short time was once again governor, this time
of Rio de Janeiro State. As he had done twenty-five years earlier, he gave
the same priority to education.
He brought with him the
obvious goal that no national leader had seen, one that even today is still
ignored: the right of every child to have all-day schooling.
With Darcy Ribeiro he
defended and established the CIEPs, the Integrated Centers of Popular Education,
which, had they been expanded to the entire country, would have made Brazil
a different place.
Not because of their architecture
but because of their commitment to giving every child a school with classes
held all day long.
As a presidential candidate,
Brizola centered his campaign upon rescuing nationhood and upon the defense
of scholarship. And he would have done this. He knew that the Nation is made
by the school, by the professors.
It was a field marshal
who proclaimed the Republic, but only an army of well-prepared, well-motivated,
well-paid teachers is capable of building it. He knew and denounced the fact
that inequality in school causes inequality in society. He felt that the origin
of inequality is the way that the school is unequal from its origin.
He lost an election, lost
another, and then accepted something difficult for a leader of his stature.
He modestly became the vice presidential running mate of Lula, a politician
almost 30 years his junior, someone who had run against him and defeated him
That modest gesture demonstrated
his personal character. But, above all, the political gesture showed his love
for his country and his disposition to serve his people.
He set aside all vanity
because that was the moment for the young metal worker to replace the old
engineer in leading national and workers’ interests.
With the same coherence
he joined the opposition to the Lula Government when he felt that, in his
opinion, the government was not giving priority to education or defending
the nationhood with the vigor that he wanted.
And he died criticizing,
guided by his conscience. He called me two or three times, months ago, to
confess his frustration with the present but within minutes he was speaking
of his optimism about the struggle for the future.
He was an untiring combatant,
coherent with the good causes of the Nation and of the people. He was, principally,
a combatant for the children, in whom he saw the future being constructed
in the schools.
Rest, Brizola. You deserve
it. Brazil will not forget you.
Cristovam Buarque – email@example.com
-,6 0, has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PT senator for the Federal District
and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education
by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.