July 7th , 2014
by Giulia Ricco
After being in Brazil for almost six weeks now, the traffic is something you get used to. In the car, me and my host brother usually listen to the radio station that informs drivers about traffic situation on the various marginais (highways), hoping that there won’t be any major jam on our way to the metro Barra Funda.
A couple of days ago, going from Osasco to São Paulo, the usual flow of information about traffic was interrupted by the voice of Reinaldo Azevedo, journalist of the conservative newspaper Veja, commenting on how many “terrorists” were also forgiven by the Amnesty Law of 1979. Indeed, this law did grant absolution to the political prisoners and the possibility of repatriation to the exiles. But it also granted forgiveness to the torturers.
One of the main scopes of the Comissão da Verdade has been precisely to investigate the crimes that the Amnesty law so conveniently covered. When Azevedo used the term “terrorists” in referring to political prisoners and ex-militants who were fighting a military dictatorship, it was easy to understand what he was suggesting and it was clear on which side of this dispute he stands.
I met a few of those so-called “terrosits” during the public hearing of the Comissão da Verdade do Estado de São Paulo on June 16th. On that day the commission was presenting the publication of the presentation of the book Bagulhão: A voz dos presos politicos contra os torturadores (the voice of political prisoners against torturers) which contains the first public document that report the use of torture by the military dictatorship. The title is taken from a letter that a group of political prisoners wrote to the president of the association of federal lawyers in 1975.
Bagulho literally means trash, jargon used to refer to something dangerous or something that the prisoners were very much afraid of. The augmentative suffix “ão” implies its growing importance along the years; importance not only because it brings to light the horrors that happened in the prisons, but also because it cites the names of the 233 torturers.
Many of those who signed the letter were present at the hearing: Reinaldo Morano Filho, José Carlos Giannini, Manoel Cyrillo de Oliveira Netto, Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi, Chico Vieira, Artur Scavone, Aton Fon Filho, Gilberto Beloque, Cesar Teles, André Ota e Pedro Rocha.
Reinaldo Moran Filho, who transcribed the letter, made a very important remark about the necessity of studying this document which has often been overlooked. The power of this text goes beyond the information it contains; it also shows the power of a collective struggle.
Indeed this was a collaborative gathering of information: the prisoners worked together in remembering names, practices, and places. They felt part of a community therefore they felt that they could trust and confine in each other. This feeling of comradeship was still present at the public hearing, almost forty years later.
Among those in the audience there was also Bernardo Kucinski, the acclaimed journalist and author of the book K. In the novel he narrates the story of his sister, Ana Rosa Kucinski, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by the dictatorship.
Once the ceremony was over, I was able to ask him a couple of questions about the fictionalized story in K. and how it relates to this quest for the truth started by the Comissão da Verdade. He told me that he wanted to be free from the constraints of citing sources, and that he wanted to rely only on his memories of those years searching for his sister. By doing so he knew that some parts of it could only be imagined by him, since the actual witness was not there to testify.
Of course, the product of this imagination was fostered by the extended research he had done in the past and his awareness of what was happening in those years. That helped me understand why his introduction to the novel reads “everything in the book is invented but almost everything happened”.
Such a statement, raises a conceptual question when it comes to thinking about memory, literature and journalism: which is more apt to narrate the past? Should we think about journalism as the frame for fiction? Or vice versa? In this sense I guess that both K. and the Bagulhão work together to create a space in which it is possible to imagine a counter history. They both should be studied with equal importance.
Regarding the necessity for those texts to be studied and, ultimately, to reach the wider public, I would like to mention briefly a recent meeting I had with professor Jaime Ginzburg, a scholar of Brazilian literature and author of the book Crítica em Tempos de Violência. We discussed ideas about violence, human rights, literature with other students and researchers. A common thread in the discussion was precisely the necessity to step outside the boundaries of academia and reach the wider public, who in a sense is both the subject and the object of those narratives.
And it was in the car, on my way to Barra Funda, that I also realized that the wider public was also the audience of the morning traffic radio in São Paulo, to whom the conservative journalist Reinaldo Azevedo was speaking loud and clear when he used the word “terrorists” to describe those political prisoners who were tortured during the military dictatorship. Such a discourse fosters and contributes to the imagery of a history that cannot stand as the one and only anymore; the memories of this history are as vast as they are varied, and it is in literature that those undertones can be seen and valued.