Chile – September 1973

Image: Fredson Silva


Hearing Salvador Allende saying goodbye to the people, on the morning of September 11, 1973, was chilling. His words gave us the certainty that the coup would be successful

On September 11th, we woke up early, as the specter of the coup had already been growing for several weeks, when the Tanquetazo and tanks surrounded the palace from La Moneda to initiate the military coup, in the expectation that other units would join this initiative. But General Carlos Prats, head of the Army loyal to the president, quickly organized the legalist counteroffensive and in turn surrounded the tanks, whose leaders ended up surrendering. This was on June 29th, 11 weeks before 11/XNUMX.

On August 21, General Carlos Prats resigned from his position, possibly because he had not obtained permission from Salvador Allende to arrest some of the senior officers who were openly preparing the coup. Unfortunately, the president understood that it would be a risky action, which would precipitate a civil war, with inevitable conflicts between military units, which would undoubtedly happen. Allende didn't want to fire the first shot. Salvador Allende analyzed the correlation of forces in the Armed Forces with the parameters of a civilian politician, as he critically diagnosed a loyal Air Force general. He appointed Pinochet, the coup plotter in the shadow, as Carlos Prats' replacement. With military personnel, the initiative is decisive.

The feeling of impotence that morning, in which the left-wing radio signals were going out one by one, the silence and lack of guidance from government forces and left-wing parties, in contrast to the determination of the coup plotters, was painful and read this in people's faces.

Hearing Salvador Allende saying goodbye to the people, on the morning of September 11, 1973, was chilling. His words gave us the certainty that the coup would be successful. Allende said goodbye to his people, certain that he would not emerge alive from the ongoing attack on the government headquarters, one way or another.

We didn't get to hear the President's entire farewell speech and decided to leave our house in Maipú, a very modest suburb of Santiago. We went to João Lopes Salgado, towards Gran Avenida. We intended to evaluate the possibility of leaving Chile with fake tourist visas. We were very close at the time of João Lopes Salgado, with whom we discussed the MR-8 proposals and documents. He was one of the leaders of this organization who lived very discreetly in Chile.

To get there, we had to go from Maipú to the center and pass very close to the La Moneda Palace to change buses. When we arrived there, at 10 or 11 in the morning, aviation had already started bombing the palace. The atmosphere was one of panic and running in the street. The noise of the bombs was frightening. Heliana, originally skinny, had a big belly from more than 7 months of pregnancy. I had to kick some people so she could get on the bus without being crushed. We stayed at João Lopes Salgado's house for 3 days, until the new government allowed people to take to the streets.

My mother, visiting, and Paulo Teixeira Vinhosa, a dear companion who lived with us, stayed at our house in Maipú. When we returned to our house, some friends had gone there to ask for “asylum within an asylum”, Osmar Mendonça, years later one of the leaders of the ABC strikes, Maria Emília, his companion and Haroldo Abreu, years later a History professor at the University Federal Fluminense, who died in February 2023. It was already a small band, which some neighbors viewed with some suspicion. Of these, several were supporters of the opposition to the UP government. Despite being ostensibly known as supporters of Popular Unity, we had a good relationship with everyone and there were no complaints.

A few weeks before the coup I had met, led by Freddy Cárquez and his Venezuelan friends, with a member of the central committee of the Chilean PC. He acknowledged that it took them a while to realize that the situation required the preparation of armed resistance to the inevitable military coup attempt supported by right-wing and extreme-right forces, allied with the North American government. The meeting's agenda was to incorporate militants experienced in armed struggle to help organize and train armed groups of Chilean militants. Freddy Cárquez was one of the commanders of the FALN guerrilla organization, commanded by Douglas Bravo.

The Venezuelans had experience of rural and urban guerrilla warfare and I blindly trusted Freddy Cárquez, who greatly influenced my self-criticism of what was conventionally called “armed struggle” in Latin American countries. I had zero experience with weapons and armed struggle, but I recognized Freddy Cárquez as a trustworthy commander. Heliana and Freddy's wife were in an advanced stage of pregnancy and were advised to seek asylum. Contact with the Chilean PC did not progress, armed resistance to the coup was almost nil, the army did not divide and the coup triumphed, killing and arresting thousands in a few days.

The Venezuelans ended up taking refuge in the embassy itself, as they had already been amnestied in their country. There they joined the MAS, Movement to Socialism, a new party that emerged for the institutional struggle. Freddy Carquez became a doctor and professor of academic prestige in Venezuela and never supported the Chavista regime.

The post-11/XNUMX period and the “escape” from Chile

After the coup, many of those who had not sought refuge in embassies moved houses so as not to be reported by neighbors. And they looked for friends to exchange information, see what to do. But going out on the street these days was a dangerous exercise. The climate against “Latin American guerrillas” was violent, with propaganda and threats from the new government, including pamphlets that said “Denounce your foreign neighbor”. There were pamphlets that specified Brazilians and Cubans.

I went to the house of my friend Rafton Nascimento Leão, now deceased, who was then living with friends from Goiás in a building in the center of Santiago. When he arrived at the door of the apartment there was an angry carabineer hitting the said one. I went straight up to the next floors, trembling, and waited, sitting on a step, waiting for “paco” to give up. When I left, about 10 minutes later, I still saw another carabineer at the door of the building. Fortunately, he didn't ask me for documents. My accent would give me away. Ufa! I couldn't contact Rafton, nor other companions, we were on our own.

I took my mother to the house of an old family friend, Antônio Baltar, an old guard asylum seeker from 1964, a senior ECLAC official, who had lived in Chile for several years. When we got there, he sent us away, because there were other Brazilians there who were much more “burned out” than my mother. It would be dangerous for her if this refuge fell. We returned to Maipú. After all, around the 20th, the government opened the borders for tourists to leave Chile. We took Mom back. She always behaved calmly and constantly calmed the most nervous friends who were in our house.

To reduce the number of occupants in our house, Heliana and I went to the house of some Danes, also in Maipú, teachers at INACAP's Centro Danés, where we took professional courses. INACAP was Chile's SENAI. We were friends with some of the Danes who also lived in Maipú. Shortly after we arrived there, former sergeant José Araújo de Nóbrega, Carlos Lamarca's partner in the VPR, appears with a gunshot wound to the foot, carried by a Chilean nurse. He had wildly escaped being shot, after being arrested at the National Stadium, and taken to the mountain range with several other prisoners, a common practice of the military and carabineros jailers at the National Stadium.

Faced with this situation, it was up to me to be a nursing assistant in the minor surgery to extract bullet remains and apply a highly painful bandage, without anesthesia, to the affected area. The brandy was worth it. Nóbrega bit a cloth and snorted between his teeth: “Paco hijo de puta, paco hijo de puta..."(Paco é carabineer, the Chilean military police). It was the second announced death of Nóbrega, who had already been declared dead by his family in the Vale da Ribeira episode in 2, with the right to burial with an empty coffin and everything.

Once again, we left this house so they could take care of the “Nóbrega case”. We returned to ours, which had actually been the residence of our great friend Arne Mortensen, the “gringo loco” as he was nicknamed by the neighbors. Arne and his wife Inger ended up being arrested by the carabineros of Maipú, but the embassy took over and they were expelled from Chile. His left-wing activism was public in Maipú. The Danes managed to place Nóbrega and his family in a Scandinavian embassy. Swedes and Danes saved a lot of people. Jean Marc von der Weid, one of Rio's '68 student leaders, with his Swiss passport, despite being banned, also saved many, taking great risks. Here is my tribute to your courage and bravery. I recently learned that José Serra also helped a lot of people in those days, with his Italian passport. Once again my tribute and to the many anonymous heroes of those dark weeks.

The idea of ​​trying to “jump” to an embassy, ​​with a seven-month pregnant woman, seemed very risky to us. We ended up choosing to try to legally leave Chile, with its own risks. It was necessary to apply for an exit visa, issued by “Foreign”, the police that managed foreigners residing in Chile and took care of the borders. We had a residence permit like any immigrant and I worked as an adjusting mechanic at Via Sur, a passenger transport company between Santiago and southern Chile.

It was one Way of the Cross to get those exit visas, but the spirit of Heliana's great-grandfather rabbi helped, according to family legend, which even includes spiritist sessions and messages from the Afterlife. That's how it would have been, at least for Heliana's father, who rushed to Santiago to accompany us in these moments. Heliana's father was very Catholic, despite being the son of a Jew and the grandson of a rabbi, he believed a little in everything in the afterlife. For my part, “I don't believe in witches, but they are there”. Even atheists need a guardian angel.

After September 11, 1973, I had to go to Vía Sur to register as an employee, a requirement of the tax services for tax regularization. This required the Foreign Police so we can legally leave Chile. When I entered, several colleagues whispered: “Go away, Maestro Mello, you're going to be arrested, this is the law of the dog”. The administrative employee was completely afraid of dismissing me, the atmosphere was really like cutting the knife. The boss had returned and “the bug was catching”. It was almost surreal to have to comply with these bureaucracies in those days of general death, with arrests every minute, with planes and helicopters bombing occupied factories in the industrial cords e red villages.

But there we managed to complete the procedures, with the good will of some bureaucrats, certainly on the left, and we left Chile legally. And to my pride, boldly deceiving the Foreign Police, inside its headquarters, when it was time to get my exit visa, as I had done two years before, when I processed my residence permit.

When I wrote “Letters to Friends” in 2013/2015 and, from these, a book entitled The defeat, about our left-wing generation over 50 years, from 1964 to 2014, I didn't want to tell in detail what happened in that building that many of us, foreigners living in Chile, knew, the central Police building in Santiago, where it was installed at Foreign Police. But now that we are recalling the memories of September 11, 1973, I want to tell the readers of this memoir about this small personal adventure lived in the “mouth of the wolf”, on the eve of our departure by air from Santiago to Buenos Aires, the new asylum from September 30, 1973 until mid-1977.

A few weeks after our arrival by land in Santiago, we went to the Central Police to ask for our legalization as residents in Chile directly from the deputy head of the said Police, the communist Carlos Toro. This deference was possible thanks to the prestige and good relations of a colleague from VAR-Palmares, who already lived in Santiago and achieved this high-level contact. After a dialogue where some lies or omissions were added to our story about leaving Brazil, Carlos Toro called the boss Foreign, a career bureaucrat, who directed us to the normal procedures.

It was mandatory to make a formal statement because, as we did not have a passport, the residence visa was given in a Chilean document reserved for foreigners without an original passport from their country called “Travel Title”. And we had to justify in a statement why we didn't have a passport. We then made a very simple statement, in which I said that I left Brazil for fear of possible persecution due to the arrest of a former school friend; Heliana only accompanied me and we were not members of clandestine organizations. Finally, a faint pink testimony, very faded, whose innocence was important for Chile's exit after the coup. In a few days we obtained our visa/residence permit and went about our lives in the land of freedom and the process of transition to socialism. How wonderful!

This previous story was necessary to tell what happened on September 28, 1973, when I, Heliana and Mr. Heli, my father-in-law, went to ask for the departure visa, normally required of all foreigners legally residing in Chile who wanted to leave the country permanently. My father-in-law had arrived a few days earlier, maybe the 25th, at my request, in a dramatic phone call in which the daughter didn't want him to come. He, a right-wing Catholic, supporter of Carlos Lacerda, offered to go to Santiago, to be with us, finally, with his daughter and unborn grandchild. A family man. I am very grateful to this day for this, an act of courage. If I were arrested, since I was the most likely candidate for this, Heliana and our son would have some support from their father, although this wouldn't count for much in that savagery. Some parents who came to support their children in asylum were also detained, it was learned.

In Chile, there were many foreigners in general, much more than the many Latin American activists or simply admirers of the process of transition to socialism. Chile has always had, at least in the 10,3th century, a large number of foreigners, emigrants especially after the Second World War. There were almost one million in a population of 1973 million in XNUMX.

The atmosphere in the main lobby of the Police it was crazy. People leaving for the thief, a frenzy. Tension of cutting with a knife. After a few attempts, we managed to be seen by a young employee, who I recognized from my contact almost two years earlier to process the residence permit. Very polite and touched by Heliana's condition and her father's presence. When I was about to give the desired visa, upon seeing our titles travel Chileans, where the said authorization was stamped, he said: “If you have this document, then you made a statement here.” I froze, but had to agree. “Ah, then I have to see these testimonies.” I thought, we are… We sat disciplinedly in the small room.

After a good fifteen minutes he came back with the statements and asked: “It says that you had problems in Brazil and now you are going back?” To which I responded by saying that, as stated in my statement, it was a situation with a friend and that we have no problem returning. And that we want to have our son or daughter (we didn't know the sex of the baby) with our family. There was my father-in-law to give credibility to this desire. The employee was in good spirits, but he also had the fear of a small bureaucrat in a situation of high tension. So he said: “Okay, very good but I have to get permission from my boss”, which Chief of Foreign Affairs. He was busy in the central lobby, giving orders and counter-orders.

He had clearly already turned the coattails and served the new power faithfully. The powers change, but the police stay. And the young employee then takes a surprising action. He turns to me, hands over the two statements, or maybe it was just one signed by me and Heliana, I don't remember, and says: “Here, go and talk to him, since you met him two years ago. Your family and I are waiting here.” I leave the small room, still amazed at his apparent trust in me. I go to the lobby and see this guy Boss, I believe he had the title of Prefect. I let some time pass, reflect and make a high-risk decision. I return to the small room and say without hesitation to the young employee: “He said it’s okay, you can issue the visa.” To which he, almost immediately, makes the necessary stamps, signs and wishes them a safe journey and a happy birth. We thanked him and left the building.

I have always handled high tension situations well and have never lacked courage. But I was always amazed by this moment of audacity, where the risk of a violent arrest, at least for me, was palpable. At the time, I felt a certain complicity on the part of the employee, otherwise how would he have entrusted me with an internal document without speaking to his boss? I left the room with this impression. And I was almost sure that a request to that Prefect would have a negative response and possible dire consequences. Anyway, I bluffed and we hit it off. Heliana's father could barely breathe and inhaled his asthmatic inhaler.

From there we went straight to Lufthansa, where we had booked tickets to Rio via Buenos Aires, on September 30th. But to issue the said ones, we had to have the exit visas. The atmosphere in the small Lufthansa agency was also almost hysterical, such was the tension among the customers. With the precious tickets in hand, we went to our father-in-law's hotel, where we stayed until the 30th.

The following day, the 29th, a trusted neighbor to whom we gave the hotel telephone number, called us and said that the Carabineros They were at our house and asked our neighbors about us. It was the neighbor on the left, a driver for the oil company COPEC and owner of a taxi, who reported us. She was working voluntarily for the police, according to our trusted neighbor, whom we called Radical, as she was a voter of the Radical Party, the most centrist of the coalition. Popular Unit. A few hours later she called again and said that this time it was the army that had come to our house, which was practically empty. But let us be calm, as several neighbors, in addition to her, defended us before the authorities and said that we had already left Chile. This was already the night of the 29th, the day before our trip.

On the 27th we had distributed several appliances and furniture among the neighbors. To this day, it hurts me that I didn't give the refrigerator to Félix Leiva, the INACAP colleague who had gotten us our first house to rent, a faithful friend. I sold the refrigerator to a neighbor for almost nothing. I paid the last rent with about 5 dollars. We had already burned dozens of books in the fireplace at home for several days. Thousands of people did the same in these post-11/9 weeks. What a sadness!

Our “guests” abandoned the precarious refuge offered by our house before or together with us on the 27th. Three of them managed to leave legally with exit visas. One took refuge in the Panamanian embassy. Everyone survived these difficult days.

The night of the 29th, at the hotel in the center of Santiago, was difficult, with little sleep, but we managed to get there on the morning of the 30th. The trip was scheduled for mid-afternoon. Heliana's father wanted to go to mass in the morning and at the time of the offering, the lady who passed the bag of offerings to the few faithful was amazed at the value of the notes that my father-in-law deposited. It was good to please the saint… We left for the airport several hours before the flight. To get there you had to go through several checkpoints, sandbags, soldiers with machine guns, in short, a war scene. Inside the airport, dozens of heavily armed soldiers. We went through the procedures, got our boarding passes and were, together with the hundreds of passengers, waiting, fearful and desperate to continue our journey.

The one Foreign Mayor There it was and I was running from it like the devil from a cross. Finally we boarded and as soon as the plane took off, there was a collective sigh of relief. It felt like it was in the air. Maria, our daughter still in her mother's womb, kicked nonstop, replicating her mother's tension. When we arrived in Buenos Aires, we escaped to freedom. The Buenos AiresRio section was lost for both of us. A new stage opened. The dream of a peaceful transition to socialism was defeated with iron and fire. In Argentina, we were going to discover and experience real capitalism as adults for the first time. In the years of militancy in Brazil from 68 to 71, we lived in a parallel reality.

It is now worth remembering briefly what these two Chilean years were for us, times of revolution and intense happiness.

Two years in Allende's Chile, from September 21, 1971 to September 10, 1973

The Chilean anthem, from 1819, has the following refrain: “Dulce Patria, receive your votes | con que Chile en tus aras juró. | That the tomb will be free, | the asylum against oppression.”

Thousands of Brazilians and other Latin Americans fled their countries, were persecuted, or simply wanted to live the unprecedented experience opened by the victory of Popular Unity, a political-electoral front of six parties, victorious in the 1970 elections.

We left Brazil literally at the tail of a rocket. At the end of July, if I'm not mistaken, the repressive forces published a new batch of dozens of posters with “wanted terrorists”, perhaps a hundred or so less. They were spread throughout the country, not only in public places, such as supermarkets, gas stations, etc. Several of those “wanted” had already been killed under different circumstances, others were already outside the country and for those who were still in Brazil, their presence on the posters was almost an unofficial death sentence. Despite my youth, 20 years old in January 1971, there was my stoned face on the posters. The photo was of my identity card, taken two years earlier. At the time, he didn't even have a beard.

At the end of 70 and beginning of 1971, several companions and I were already convinced of the political and human defeat of the so-called “armed struggle or resistance”. We were strongly critical of the “armed organizations” that insisted on violent actions, even though we were active in one of them, VAR-Palmares. The alternative we advocated was to dilute ourselves in society, go to factories and favelas to do ant work among the people. Unfortunately, the dynamics of declines and clandestinity made systematic political work among the popular classes immensely difficult. I had been linked to this type of work in the so-called “worker sector” since the beginning of 1969 and lived for a year and a half in two favelas in Rio.

Faced with the repressive offensive marked by the publication of the posters and my presence in them, I decided to leave the country. Our small dissident group had already abandoned VAR, dominated after the February crashes by its more “militarist” sector. I was not willing to take the extremely high risk of imprisonment, torture and possibly death, which unfortunately happened to other comrades. 1971 was a disastrous year, the year of the murder of Carlos Alberto Soares de Freitas, VAR's Breno. In September, Lamarca and Zequinha were murdered in the backlands of Bahia. Dozens are killed this year, hundreds are arrested and tortured. The defeat of the “armed struggle” was evident, but many activists, inside and outside Brazil, still did not want to believe it and lived in an unreal world.

With a lot of luck and some guidance from a more experienced companion, I managed to successfully cross the border alone in Santiago do Livramento on September 15th. I was only able to travel to Montevideo on the 16th, as I had to ask the Uruguayan police for an entry visa. I spent a dog's night in Rivera, expecting the worst. Three days earlier, unfortunately, Heliana and I were on a sleeper bus from Penha, almost arriving in Porto Alegre. At Canoas, the bus collided head-on with a trailer truck that crossed the road to head in the opposite direction, without calculating the speed of our bus. We were in the front row, separated from the two drivers by a large window that limited their space.

Result: Heliana was faced with this solid separation, injured herself quite seriously and, luckily, did not cut her carotid artery. She had a cut on her neck that allowed the muscle to be seen and her nose was gushing blood. I pressed a pillow to my neck and within minutes we were sitting in a police van heading to a hospital in Canoas. Heliana stayed in the hospital for three days, supported by a relative of mine who was exceptional in terms of solidarity. We are immensely grateful to her, who not only took care of me and Heliana, but also obtained authorization from the juvenile court for Heliana's trip from Porto Alegre to Montevideo.

She was also 20 years old and, we didn't even know, she needed authorization to buy the ticket. My relative was unsurpassable. Family is family! On the 17th or 18th, I'm not sure, Heliana arrives in Montevideo, with her face “made into a figure eight”, lots of stitches, her entire face swollen, her neck with a large bandage protecting the stitches, in short, terrible. In Montevideo I looked for Colonel Dagoberto, dean of asylum seekers from 1964, family friend of Solange Bastos, our lifelong friend. He advised us to travel to Santiago without delay, as there were many infiltrators from Brazilian repressive forces in the city. Uruguay was not a safe territory for Brazilian subversives, although the political-electoral situation of those weeks showed the strength of democracy.

Unfortunately, this was short-lived and dark times began to dominate Uruguay, as early as 1972, with the puppet Bordaberry and the government de facto of the Armed Forces. I believe it was on the 19th that we left for Córdoba and then to Mendoza, where we slept. We arrived in Santiago on the 20th or 21st, in the afternoon. Tom was waiting for us at the minibus terminal that came once a day from Mendoza. I had been going there for a few days now. I found out from my mother, who I visited days before leaving Brazil, that I was leaving. We went to her house and that of our lifelong friend Flávia. Finally, we did it, nine days after leaving Rio de Janeiro.

If the Montevideo of September 1971 seemed to me like another world, a world of freedom, the Chile of Popular Unity was the planet Mars. Refugees from almost all Latin American countries, students and left-wing activists from all over the world, we were tens of thousands of foreigners who admired that original process of peaceful transition to socialism, as stated in all the letters and very concrete measures of the Popular Unity Program. of Salvador Allende and his 6 original parties, left and center-left.

We were immediately amazed. Shortly after arriving, we went to study and live in Maipú, a popular commune in Santiago, quite modest at the time. There, we took courses at INACAP, as I already said. We lived in a very modest house in a población of employees at a cement factory, obtained by a colleague from INACAP, Félix Leiva, who helped us a lot. A year later we moved to another, better house, in Villa COPEC, the housing cooperative for drivers from the private oil company, also in Maipú

Our neighbors, most of whom were fuel truck drivers, earned well and considered themselves to be middle class, actually quite modest. Many of them were against Salvador Allende, so as not to be confused with ordinary workers, for “giving themselves airs” in relation to the left-wing proletarians and having Santiago's middle class as a model. They were in fact a proletarian elite, ashamed of the other workers in Maipú. But they were loving, those on the right and those on the left. When we went to Chile, me, Heliana and Flávia in 2017, we went to visit our neighborhoods, Villa Frei in Macul, Flávia's, Maipú ours. We managed to locate Félix Leiva, who lived in the same modest población. He was aged, maybe a little pre-dementia, but he recognized us and was happy. It was exciting. A población it had improved a little and the metro reached Maipú, a luxury. The center is much more modern. The old neighbors no longer lived in Villa Copec, what a shame. Life goes on.

In Salvador Allende's Chile, no one was apolitical. Everyone supported a football club and supported or participated in a political party. It was the most politicized of the Latin American countries at the time. And they were happy, the Chileans, and even more happy with the process of transformation and empowerment of the most humble, palpable for anyone who wanted to see. Everything was a reason to celebrate: the end of the course, the break for Christmas, the resumption of the course and we went drinking wine with durability ou Strawberry, very cheap, sing and tell stories and jokes.

 “Good weather, it won’t come back. Missing… other similar times!”

We, unlike many Brazilians and other exiles, ensconced in their respective colonies or in political groups, immersed ourselves headlong into the Chilean reality, a true university of politics, a revolutionary process live and in color as we could not even imagine in Brazil, in our little worlds out of touch with reality. We talked, met, attended lectures, debated with lots of people, of different nationalities, we really learned a lot. In particular, Venezuelan Freddy Cárquez, who I have already mentioned and who greatly influenced us on the importance of democratic struggles.

Freddy made us read and discuss The two tactics of Russian social democracy, by Lenin. We learned a lot, because we had all our senses open, eager for that enriching reality. The demonstrations, the daily political effervescence, the press for all tastes, the almost free books from Editorial Quimantú, an extraordinary editorial experience of Salvador Allende's government that published all the great classics at a bargain price, culture for the people. The passion with which those people discussed politics was extraordinary.

At the National Stadium, we saw and heard Fidel Castro giving lectures on history, politics, philosophy, general culture and other subjects for six hours straight. He just didn't talk about football! What a speaker! Fidel spent almost 50 days in Chile on an official visit. The longest official visit by a head of state to another country. He spoke directly to millions of Chileans, from Iquique to Ushuaia. A leader who deeply believed in his ability to convince and mobilize people. What a good time, it won't come back!

We took courses at INACAP for approximately a year. I became president of it Student Center from the Chilean-Danés Center of Maipú. We received a very modest gown and lived spartanly. We were against exchanging dollars on the black market, with stratospheric prices, and we only did so sporadically.

After this year, I managed to get a job at Vía Sur through a colleague at INACAP. I took the practical test for adjusting mechanic and passed. I was proud of my skill with the file. The company, originally private, was intervened by the Ministry of Economy, at the request of workers. It was halfway to nationalization. My professional experience in the maestranza (where they repaired or made replacement parts for the buses) was great. The boss liked me and taught me with pleasure. I was the “teacher Mello” and conquered my space. The political-union experience in a company managed in co-management with internal unions was turbulent.

In Chile, the unions were per company and there were two unions, normally, the workers and that of staff. In the case of Via Sur (and in others, certainly) the workers' union staff was looked down upon by managers workers, the true revolutionaries, generally communists. Assemblies, strikes, service delays, situations of tension and poor company management followed one another. Just like in airline companies, our pilots, in this case the bus drivers, considered themselves more important than everyone else. The truth is that workers' control of production, the co-management of a company between administrators and workers, was not easy at all.

Groupisms, “high heels”, individual struggles, socialism in practice is not easy. I was shocked by the climate of intolerance and sectarianism within the workers of the same company. I tried, even because I'm not Chilean, to talk to everyone and not get into conflict with any party. Once, the workers on strike to occupy the garage, they punctured the tires and scratched my boss's old car, which, in addition to employee and head of workshop, he was not a leftist, he was branded a mummy. It's evil, poor thing, he cried, for the old car that it cost him so much to own.

The two years in Chile were wonderful, from the most different points of view, the best of our lives. There we “committed” Maria and, therefore, the family began to grow in Chile. Luckily for us, with the coup, she was only born in Argentina, just two weeks before we arrived in Buenos Aires, avoiding many legal problems and perhaps worse ones. We live the life of the Chilean people, joyful like few others, at least in those times. We met a lot of people, of different nationalities.

Some friends, the Danes from Maipú, the crazy gringos, as some neighbors called them, lasted for many years. parties and rocks, much joy. In the new year from 72 to 73 we did a New Year's Eve carnival in our house where a Banda do Canecão album played all night, repeatedly. The neighborhood came together and the joy was contagious. For us, we would stay in that Chile as long as Popular Unity was in power. What a good time, that won't come back!

But all this was too good to last. Someone had to destroy that joy. Years and years I dreamed about how good it would be to blow General Pinochet's brains out. I made a thousand fantasies of this, with a wealth of details of this imaginary “action”. Now he is dead and demoralized as a corrupt thief, among many other crimes. It is not even known where he is buried. Because otherwise, his grave would have an unbearable smell of piss, renewed daily.

Armed organizations and “the prospect of return”

In the book Thanks to life in Cid Benjamin there is a chapter called “The exile truly begins”. For him, it “really started” with his second stay in Cuba and shortly afterwards in Sweden, two and a half years after he arrived in Algeria in exchange with the German ambassador, in June 1970. Until then, he was not yet mentally exiled. In fact, many Brazilian activists, exchanged for ambassadors or who escaped the dictatorship, remained in Chile or Cuba in a mental state and social practice that was partially or totally alien to the real country where they were.

The prospect of returning to resume the armed struggle justified this situation of alienation, from a certain point of view, in relation to the host country. Statistically, it is worth noting that only a small minority, among these hundreds of militants from the various armed struggle organizations, actually returned during those years of intense repression in Brazil. This state of mind centered on “the fight in Brazil” made a very negative impression on me and Heliana when we arrived in Chile. We noticed the “secrecy” in which some people we knew lived and cultivated, in some cases with some pride. We knew that there were militants in complete hiding in Chile, only a few comrades knew they were there.

This somewhat schizophrenic climate was fueled by accusations, demands or even formal judgments about behavior in prison, due to the belief of many that they were still deeply involved in the “armed struggle underway in Brazil”. It was, from a certain point of view, the continuation, in a new environment, of the situation of total popular isolation that the armed left groups experienced in Brazil. With the aggravating factor being that many of these activists refused to live at all the fantastic Chilean reality and belittled the “lost people” who abandoned the “perspective of return”. There is even an anecdote about this sacrosanct perspective. They say that someone ironically criticized an eminent former student leader and ex-banished student, of whom I reserve the identity, for his terrible Spanish, after having already visited Cuba and Chile. To which he replied: “But, mate, I never lost the prospect of immediately returning to Brazil!” I don't know if it's true, but I trust whoever told me this little story.

In Chile, the group most dedicated to the “perspective of the return” was VPR. Unfortunately, he was also the most infiltrated by Brazilian repression. It is no coincidence that Corporal Anselmo, member of the VPR leadership and already denounced in 1971 as an infiltrator or “dog” by Diógenes Arruda Câmara, veteran communist leader of the PC do B, and other militants, was in Chile, after several years in Cuba, when he organized the return of many militants, later slaughtered in Paulista, near Recife, on January 8, 1973. Onofre Pinto and other leaders would have put their hand to the fire for him and only after the massacre in Recife was it Anselmo's nefarious action was assumed. A tragic story, but one that the ex-leaders still alive should clarify, if only to give satisfaction to relatives and friends of the murdered militants.

A few months later, some VPR cadres had moved from Chile to Argentina, fearing the possibility of the coup that actually happened in Chile. In Brazil, in July 1974, near the border with Argentina, several militants were ambushed and killed, following the action of infiltrators by repressive forces in the organization. Onofre has been considered missing since then. Several militants from other organizations, especially the ALN, coming from Cuba, also passed through Chile, before entering Brazil. Many were murdered within a few weeks or months of being there. Among them, our colleague from the UFRJ College of Application, Sonia Maria de Moraes Angel Jones, on 30/11/73.

The Chilean reality was so attractive, the people so friendly, the ongoing revolutionary process so real, that this “militancy from the perspective of return” shocked us, with no opening to “drink” that reality so rich in learning for militants who had never experienced truly revolutionary moments. The coup affected everyone equally and most Brazilians took refuge in embassies. They ended up dispersed around the world, in the most diverse situations. Some of those who were in Chile returned clandestinely to Brazil, before or after the coup. And of those who returned, many fell and were killed, due to infiltration and betrayal.

After 1973, a new, harsher stage of exile began, which “began” for many, like Cid and his family. Chile had been a kind of intermission, as happens in La Truce, the masterful short story by Mario Benedetti.

My dear Buenos Aires

Me, Heliana and several other friends managed to legally “jump” to Argentina. The hundreds of Brazilians who sought asylum at the Argentine Embassy were not allowed to stay in that country, as they wished. They were sent little by little to European countries, with a few exceptions such as Flávia, as she was born in Argentina, and Tom, her husband. Other companions also managed to settle in Buenos Aires and we cultivated a small group. For us, the truce was also over. In Argentina, I experienced for the first time what it was like to live as a modest technician in a capitalist country. Until then, in the militancy in Brazil and in the broken dream of the Chilean peaceful revolution, we had lived on the margins of capitalism, despite having worked in companies since we were 18 years old.

In the first week we spent savings in dollars accumulated over two years in Chile, around 800, for us a small fortune. But there was a lot of solidarity and sympathy, in those months, for those who fled the Pinochet terror. And Argentina was experiencing a “democratic spring”, unfortunately it was short-lived. 15 days after we arrived there, Maria was born, eight months premature, already eager to come into the world. It was the decompression of the tension of September in Chile.

In just a few days in Buenos Aires, with the help of my parents, I got a job that ended up defining my professional life of more than 40 years. On the first day of work, I saw the solidarity of Argentines.

A co-worker introduced himself and asked about the coup in Chile. He informed that he was a member of the Communist Party of Argentina and that he could count on it. I immediately asked him for help to guide me and teach me how to work, because in Chile I was a simple adjusting mechanic and there I would have to be a quality inspector, know different materials and equipment, know technical standards and so on. This new colleague, who became a great friend, and who was a true theater artist, hurried to say: “Carlitos, don’t worry. You are with me, you are with Dios!”. During my years in Argentina, the two of us formed a comedic duo to entertain our colleagues. We entered the office exclaiming, with caricatural poses, the following catchphrase: “Pereira and Chacón, quality under inspection!”. I became part of the workers committee of IRAM, ABNT in Argentina (or IPQ in Portugal).

On the day of the military coup that overthrew Isabelita, in March 1976, we had the good sense to suspend a strike over unpaid wages. There were strong emotions in Buenos Aires in those times and the repression was frightening. Argentina meant a big professional leap for me. And Portugal, later, a new level. With other help, from a paternal friend, we managed to rent a modest apartment, but in a beautiful neighborhood, Palermo, in front of the Botanical Garden, on the famous Av. Santa Fé. As in Chile, once we had set up our life, some friends went to live with us temporarily. We have always been aggregators.

Our house became a point. Visits from Brazil, now closer, were constant. Friends and companions from other times, on several occasions, various family members. Buenos Aires was relatively cheap for Brazilians and continues to be a spectacular city. A happy day was when Osmar found himself in full Florida street, by chance, Sérgio Campos. It was a party. O point everyday life was the photocopier of Gaiola and Leo, cousin of Rita, Zé Gradel's Argentine companion. Osmar worked hard there and “inherited” the business for a while when Gaiola went to Oropas. The little bar in front of Copy There were always other “escapees” from Chile and new Argentinian and Brazilian friends, it was a joy.

Argentina was an intense life experience, but very different from Chile. Buenos Aires, a very strong city. The political climate, very radicalized. Peronists against Peronists, sometimes by gunfire, military personnel in increasing “anti-terrorist” intervention, death squads, demonstrations, in short, politics in Argentina demanded “a tough beard”, in a somewhat sexist expression. After the military coup in March 1976, the climate became unbreathable. It was open terror.

At the beginning of 1977 we decided to return to Brazil, before the Amnesty, in a movement that included several asylum seekers without convictions in the Military Court. I had been tried and acquitted in a case in the Air Force in 1973. But my “record” was quite voluminous, as I could literally prove in the DOI-CODI. We were informed that I would be interrogated for 24 hours, upon arrival, at the DOPS. That's what they committed to with a lawyer friend and family. I had a certain protection scheme upon arrival. DOPS did not keep its word. I was kidnapped next to the stairs of the plane, which taxied to a distant location, in Galeão.

The Federal Police put me in a vehicle and handed me over, on Av. Brasil, to soldiers who were waiting for me in an unmistakable olive green van. Technically, I entered the country illegally, as I didn't go through border control. Then, I went to DOI-CODI, Rua Barão de Mesquita, 425, already wearing a hood. This was on a Thursday night. In the early hours of Sunday I was taken to the old DOPS on Rua da Recção, so that they could transcribe the statement I gave at DOI-CODI onto official DOPS paper. The young police officer treated me kindly and let me sleep for a couple of hours, which I hadn't done in a long time. At noon I was handed over to my father.

The family was waiting for a big lunch. I left with the certainty that I was faithful to the meager story that I had created and trained in interrogation simulations with my friend Alcir Henriques da Costa and other companions in Buenos Aires. As they say in the Northeast, whoever talks a lot says good morning to a horse. Generalissimo Francisco Franco said that man is the owner of his silence and a slave to his words. But all that is another story.

*Carlos Henrique Vianna is an engineer. He was director of Casa do Brasil in Lisbon. He is the author, among other books, of A question of justice.

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