Gabeira, a Do-gooder Brazilian Politico Among Foxes Devouring Public Chickens

Gabeira's Navegação na Neblina

Brazil’s leading news magazine, Veja, praised Congressman Fernando
Gabeira as “the champion of ethics and lucidity in Brazilian politics”. If
Gabeira is Brazil’s most believable politician, it may be because he speaks his
mind even when it means admitting he has been wrong in the past and may be

The title of his recent collection of essays, Navigating in the Mist (Navegação na Neblina), acknowledges the fragility of political judgments.

Gabeira is best known for a book O Que É Isso, Companheiro? [What is This, Comrade?], about his participation in the kidnapping of an American ambassador in 1969. It was made into a movie called Four Days in September in English.

But in exile in 1974, he broke with the politics of armed revolution and adopted Gandhian nonviolence and the environmental movement. In the 1970s, he became a partisan of the feminist, minority and gay liberation movements.

In the 1990s, when most of the Left was attacking neoliberalism, he concluded that the state had only limited capacity to provide the investment Brazil needed and supported privatization of the telephone system. In 2002, he led his Green Party in an alliance with the Workers Party.

But when he concluded that Lula was not giving environmental issues the priority they deserved, Gabeira severed the alliance. He was one of the most adamant critics of the corruption scandals in the Lula administration at a time when many leaders of other parties were hesitant because their own records were not entirely clean.

The Green Party is small, and Gabeira is a respected maverick in the federal legislature. He is perhaps more influential as a writer than as a politician, consistently advancing ideas that are ahead of their time, such as the legalization of marijuana.

He gets a million hits a week at Navegação na Neblina is licensed under “Creative Commons” rules and can be downloaded free from his site. Here are some excerpts in my own translation:

“Navigating in the Mist does not refer only to the difficulties of seeing ahead. It also recognizes that we sometimes get lost and other times we frankly crash into the rocks and almost sink. One of our biggest mistakes was to suppose that Brazilian society would not accept the deception of having voted for a banner of ethics and receiving in return, on the part of the government, the same behavior that characterized the politics of the past: corruption and incompetence.” (13)

“If the Workers Party was more attentive to its own qualities, it would be embracing and bringing to the public a proposal to legalize properties in the shantytowns and peripheries of the cities. This would bring a great dynamism because, accompanied with microcredits, it could place thousands of families in the economic circuit… Perhaps this idea is not appealing because it means placing millions of people in the capitalist circuit. But why not?” (26)

“Now that the Workers Party has come into the government, I see that the perspective of the leaders is similar to the communist leaders of Eastern Europe, a narrow productivist vision, without understanding of environmental variables.” (37)

“As an intellectual, I realize that I overestimated my ability to understand the totality of historical movement. I need a greater dose of humility. The so called smiling tomorrows, the shining subjects of history, the scientific predictions about the future of the capitalist system, all these were self-deception. Returning to everyday struggles, accepting people as they are, recognizing the complexity of historical movement, which many times makes light of our strategies, these are good first steps.” (49)

“In the present situation, O Que É Isso, Companheiro [What is This, Comrade] is a valid question because we do not know if we are moving forward. I do not feel that Brazil has taken a step forward with Lula’s victory. In many fields, I sense a backward step.” (69)

“The two great parties of the center-left [the Party of the Brazilian Social Democracy and the Workers Party] have not been able to find a common national project, because they are absorbed by their regional confrontation. They are obligated to seek alliances with the worst political forces. They are condemned, as some of them admit, to be the vanguard of backwardness. The faint light at the end of the tunnel consists in creating a legal base to prohibit these backward alliances.” (117)

“History, even in Brazil, is an impious psychodrama which ages its players rapidly if they insist on their toys. Making policies is not drilling oil wells; it is excavating the aridity of social relationships, within the confines of a budget. It is to do good, as ludicrous as this may seem, in an assembly of foxes, clinging to power, devouring the emaciated public chickens.” (118)

“We confronted jail, torture and exile and, in a way, we survived morally intact. The experience of power has broken us more than all the paus-de-arara, holofotes e o cordão de puxa-sacos [instruments of torture], more than the electric shocks. Friends who once endured hours of torture to save each other, today dedicate themselves to writing notes attacking each other,” (121)

“This episode, disguised as the ascension of a worker to the government, is a historical cruelty. It will take many years for me to understand how I was able to believe in this at the end of the twentieth century, when historical experience and practice should have led to doubts. Ignorant of the tragedy of history, we have been condemned to the farce.” (121)

“One can compare the military dictatorship with the Lula government. The first neutralized Congress with fear; the second, with a monthly payoff. The dictatorship and the Lula government share the same disdain for democracy. Both violate democracy by reducing the Parliament to a moral ruin.” (123)

“We all exaggerated a little when we dreamed of changing Brazil by changing a governmental alliance. Those who fought for 25 years to place a new group in the leadership of the country must resign themselves to consider, at the minimum, an updating of their dreams.” (188)

“It is no accident that Brasília has the best index of human development in Brazil, at the level of the great European cities. The upper government bureaucracy, in which we are included, theoretically should be working for the good of the people. But in truth, it takes care of itself better than it takes care of the country. It is easy to deny these arguments. It is enough to label them as neoliberal to throw them with the author into the wastebasket of history. But what to do with the conclusion that the Brazilian State, instead of stimulating growth, has ended up being an obstacle to it?” (206)

“In the past, the term revolution implied a change in the classes in power. But the most revolutionary thing I have seen in my life was the development of the Internet.” (199)

Ted Goertzel, Ph.D. is Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey. He is the author of a biography of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, available in English and in Portuguese. He can be contacted at and his WEB page can be found at


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