An interview with two former students about one of the most famous events in Brazil during the dictatorship period. The student street battles at Maria Antônia street and its impact. As well as a discussion on the legacy of the battle and the dictatorship particularly on contemporary Brazilian politics.
In October 1968, students from two neighbouring universities in the centre of São Paulo clashed in a battle which left one dead and many injured. We hear how the so-called 'Battle of Maria Antônia' drove Brazil deeper into a military dictatorship which is still controversial to this day.
held out the possibility of a candidate Jair Bolsonaro being voted in as President,
even though or perhaps because he has professed himself an admirer of the
military Dictatorship, which ran from 1964 to 1985. There are five candidates
in total and a second run off vote between the two who come out on top on
Sunday is likely to be required.
days of that dictatorship. So, we’re looking at one of the key events from that
period in October 1968, a violent street battle erupted between students from
the left and the right in the centre of São Paulo. It
became a symbol of political and social tension in Brazil, Thomas Pappon has
been talking to two former students who were there.
In 1968 Paulo de Tarso Venceslau was a student at
the university of São Paulo
cocktails and even guns.
institution founded in the 19th Century took up a whole block side
of Rue Antonia in the centre of São Paulo. On the other side of the street was
the Philosophy faculty of the University of São Paulo or USP, it was the
biggest and most important public higher education institution in Brazil.
street was like a magnet for all these students, because of the lively bars
where they drank and played music. The Brazilian singer and composer Sergio
Barque, who studied at the architecture faculty around the corner, used to play
for us there.
struggle against a military dictatorship, Maria Antonia was a hub of political
activity. Culture and politics always walk together in Brazil.
protests in Brazil. The killing of a student in March by the police in Rio had
triggered demonstrations in various cities, all violently repressed by security
in a march against the government, after four years of military rule Brazilians
unhappy with the economic situation, with the decrease in wages, and the students
were promoting new values, changes in social customs, mini-skirts, drugs,
music. All those influences came from outside, from Paris, the Latin Quarter.
younger high school students, who liked to hang around and take part in
political activities, like collecting money to organise a National Student
Congress scheduled for October. And it was the beginning of October that
hostilities with students from Mackenzie University started. Lots of students
at Mackenzie sympathised with the military regime. Marcel Mendez was an
engineering student there.
asking for money from people in cars at traffic lights. Students from Mackenzie
watched them, and at some point, eggs started flying towards the students asking
for money. Slaps and blows were
exchanged, there was some physical aggression but nothing vey serious but it
school, what I saw looked like a fight between hooligans, groups fighting each
other, throwing stones, beating each other with sticks. Students from Mackenzie
were trying to invade the philosophy building and vice versa.
afternoon of October 2nd, but things got much worse the next day, a Thursday.
sticks and stones, but also Molotov cocktails and rockets. They were making
them in Mackenzie’s chemistry laboratories. Things like gunpowder rockets with gasoline
when you fire them they explode, and bombs, they made them during the night.
used as a concrete mould to the other site of the street without looking. If that
had hit someone it would have killed him. They were throwing whatever came to
hand, those desks, pieces of wood, some of them climbed to the top of a building
which was under construction and belonged to Mackenzie, and they started
throwing building materials. Even sinks and toilets they just threw them onto
the crowd on the street below.
decided to invade the building under construction. That’s when one of the
Mackenzie students shot at and killed one of the students.
the head and died on the way to hospital. At the time his death was not
investigated. In 2015 a Truth Commission which examined crimes committed by the
military dictatorship concluded that he was killed by Osni Ricardo, a police
informer and member of an anti-Communist paramilitary group called CCC [Comando
de Caça aos Comunistas] “Communist Hunting Commando”.
but it is clear that the university
was infiltrated by members of the paramilitary group and by the police.
dark cloak, he always had a gun with him, we knew he was an agent, but there
could have been other members of the CCC amongst the students and maybe the
the news about José Guimarães’s death had spread among the students changing
the dynamics of the conflict. Marcel Mendez tells what happened next.
through the centre of São Paulo. Thousands of students took part in the
protest, they claimed that Guimarães was killed by the Mackenzie students and
clashed with police. They overturned cars, set them on fire.
centre the police had already taken up position around Mackenzie University. The
state forces were mobilised to defend a private institution instead of defending
a public institution, the Philosophy faculty.
was empty, the next day the road had been closed by the police. That’s when the
invasion happened, a group with many armed people who I believe were with the
CCC invaded the Philosophy faculty and basically destroyed everything. They burned documents, archives, vandalised
the whole building.
for in a clandestine National Congress and two months later the military
government brought in a new law. It was called Institutional Act 5, and it
would become infamous. It gave the military power to intervene in all levels of
government, to censor whatever they wanted and to suspend individual rights. The
law effectively institutionalised torture and censorship and for many students
identified with left wing movements -like Paulo de Tarso Venceslau- these
events drove them to extreme measures in the fight against the military regime.
They joined armed Guerrilla groups, many went to jail, were tortured, exiled or
Marcel Mendez. So, what exactly was the battle of Maria Antonia? Joining me now
is Dr Fiona Macauley an expert on the history of
Brazil at the University of Bradford. Now we heard there how the battle led to
a more hardline phase of the Brazilian Dictatorship but first what was that
dictatorship like, and how did it differ from others in the region?
because at the moment that very word is being questioned and has been ever since
1964. Those who conducted the military coup did so with a significant parcel of
support from the civilian population. So many of the supporters of what that
military coup represented and represents, will say well actually it was a civilian-military
government. They don’t call it a coup, they don’t call it a military regime,
they call it a counter-revolution.
region, in Argentina, in Uruguay, in Chile, because they saw this as a counter-revolution
against communism, against subversion. So, they saw themselves as holding the
line of Western, Christian, anti-communist values. So that they have in common.
But perhaps what’s slightly different in the Brazilian case is that they very clearly
had civilian support and this was demonstrated because for twenty years they
actually maintained a two-party electoral system, underneath these dictatorial
conditions. So they had the façade of democracy, even within a very oppressive and
it comes to something like that episode, the street battle in 1968. The military
in effect provoked what happened in order to justify a further crackdown on
the bogeyman of Communism always has to be invoked in order to justify the
draconian response. Actually, there weren’t many active Communists in Brazil,
in fact there weren’t very many active Communists across Latin America, what
you had was fairly nationalist mildly socialist movements who were then mischaracterised
as Cuban proxies and Communists. And at the moment the bogeyman is Venezuela,
so the current political climate is one of fear that somehow Brazil will turn
into Venezuela and a kind of Communist chaos.
heighten fear and anxiety and puts violence in the streets because of course
ordinary people are frightened of violence and chaos. So, they will tend to
support politically forces that will promise to eliminate that and bring about
almost champions that dictatorship? Why is this, is there nostalgia for those
times, which you know were quite harsh in many respects?
Its not really an economic nostalgia because the military regime had its ups
and downs economically. It did very well for the first half and then it began
anxiety, you’ve got unemployment, dropping wages, you’ve got a public security
crisis a law and order crisis. In Brazil something like 63,000 people a year
are murdered, and all of those anxieties together form this kind of climate of
fear and a desire for easy solutions and for a strongman politics.
because to be perfectly honest if you ask people what happened during that 20
year period they’ll be very vague. What they have in their minds is an idea
that there was order and that somebody was in charge and on that they build
their nostalgia and their hopes that somehow Mr Bolsonaro will resolve all of
would you characterise the way in which Brazil has dealt with the legacy of dictatorship?
other countries in the region is that they brought in an amnesty law which
other countries did, but it’s a very different amnesty law because it was asked
for by the people on the left who had lost their political rights under the
fine, you can have your political rights back but we want exemption from
prosecution as a counterpart”. That law has never been overturned, there was
finally a truth commission that investigated who had been killed and disappeared
and who was responsible, but it never got to the point of prosecution, and so
effectively the military and police forces who were involved from the 1960’s onwards
in this kind of repression they’ve never been brought to account, nobodies been
prosecuted, and nobodies lost their jobs, there was no kind of purge within
killings has simply continued from the 1960s and 70s onwards to the current day.