The Wise Old Man

The Wise Old Man

Till the end, Barbosa Lima Sobrinho, 103, was never afraid to defend what he thought was right. He fought against the military dictatorhship that started in 1964 and more recently was on the streets with the students who demanded the impeachment of former president Fernando Collor de Mello.

He has been called the country’s father. An intransigent nationalist and defender of democracy and still very lucid and active at age 103, journalist Alexandre José Barbosa Lima Sobrinho died in Rio on July 16 after a short stay at Casa de Saúde São José where he had been taken due to respiratory problems. He never was shy or afraid to defend what he thought was right, so he was very vocal against the military dictatorship that started in 1964 and dragged for 21 years; he also was on the streets with the caras pintadas (painted-faces) when these students demanded the impeachment of former president Fernando Collor de Mello; and he has been fighting against privatization of state companies despite the fact that this is not a popular cause nowadays.

Until his last days, with the help of a magnifying glass, Barbosa Lima Sobrinho loved to read newspapers and books, mainly Brazilian novels. He also kept writing one article a week for Jornal do Brasil. The journalist stopped going to the ABI headquarter (Associação Brasileira de Imprensa—Brazilian Press Association) in 1999 after an accident in which he broke a leg. He did not want to use a wheelchair, telling a friend, “I will never be so old as to drag my feet.” Since 1937 he was a member of the Academia Brasileira de Letters (Brazilian Academy of Letters) whose 40 associates are called immortals. “Don’t bury me in the Academy’s uniform lest the worms won’t eat me.”

He was born in Recife, capital of the state of Pernambuco, on January 22, 1897. His father was Francisco de Cintra Lima, a notary public and his mother was Joana de Jesus Barbosa Lima. From a traditional northeast family he was named after an uncle who was Pernambuco’s governor. At 13 he wrote his first article for the school paper and at 15 was writing for Recife’s A Província.

He graduated in Law from the Recife Faculdade de Direito in 1917 and soon after started working as prosecutor for the state of Pernambuco. By this time he also worked for such dailies as Diário de Pernambuco, Jornal Pequeno and Jornal do Recife, until April 1921 when he moved to Rio going to Jornal do Brasil where he started as a reporter and then became a political commentator. In 1923 he became the paper’s editor in chief and dedicated his next ten years exclusively to journalism.

On the day of his death Jornal do Brasil published his last contribution: “The middle-class exclusion.” In his last article he once again defended nationalism, a theme so dear to him all his life. At the end of the piece he asked: “Wouldn’t it be better, mainly as an obligation from the majority of those who form public opinion, that we start to react and to defend the legitimate national interests?”

In 1937, when Getúlio Vargas established the Estado Novo (New State), a dictatorship that would last eight years, he was in favor of the coup alleging he was backing his friend Agamenon Magalhães, the Labor Minister at the time. That’s a time he did not like to talk about although he justified his position by saying: “Getúlio was the president who fought the most for nationalism.” From 1948 to 1951 he was Pernambuco’s governor through the PSD, a party created by big farm owners. This didn’t prevent him from occasionally fighting the farmers.

The military decision to open three enquiries against him in 1964 to investigate his alleged involvement with the João Goulart administration (the one the 1964 military coup toppled) made Barbosa Lima Sobrinho even more determined to fight against the military dictatorship. This experience was traumatic and caused him a heart attack, the first and only one he had throughout his life.

In 1974, in a gesture filled with symbolism, since the government controlled the electoral machine at the time, Lima Sobrinho presented himself as anti-candidate vice-president together with Ulysses Guimarães who ran as candidate to the presidency.

A defender of freedom of the press he used to say, “The freedom of the press does not exist without the freedom of information, which is not a right of the journalist, but of the public. For the journalist, freedom of the press is a duty.”

He said

“I want for someone to find in any of the articles I wrote even a single word that has not been in defense of Brazil,” he declared in 1997 during the celebration of his 100th birthday.

“The Brazilian people have to wake up. How can they elect people who fight against their future?” December 27, 1996.

“In all truth, I can declare that I never had another boss that wasn’t Brazil.” January 31, 1997.

“I consider the sale of Vale do Rio Doce (a state-owned mining company) something criminal. Vale belongs to everybody and the people were not consulted.” April 30, 1997.

“I don’t appreciate tributes that much, what I really like is to fight.” January 22, 1999, commenting about his life being chosen as theme for a escola de samba parade.

“We must believe in the future and continue working so that in the next century Brazil can be a country more just with its sons and stronger economically.” January 22, 1999.

“If I could give any advice I would recommend that people wouldn’t want to live beyond 100. There is too much suffering for all the things we would like to do but cannot do.” January 22, 2000.

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