Dandara dos Palmares

Image: Zeynep Sude Emek


The heroine and symbol of resistance, which já is presented as the first and only woman from Zumbi, she was certainly born in the early 1980s

On May 21, in the newspaper In the afternoon, Luiz Mott spilled bile and gall when commenting on the use, in Bahia, of Dandara dos Palmares as a paradigmatic example of black heroine. In fact, in 2019, she was enshrined as such by having her name inscribed in the so-called “Book of Heroes and Heroines of the Homeland”, by sovereign decision of the Senate, which does not excel in the careful choice of honorees. Three years earlier, February 6 had been defined, in Rio de Janeiro's calendar, by state law, as the Day of Dandara and Black Women's Awareness.

The reason for Luiz Mott's crankiness is simple and beyond justified. Dandara dos Palmares and the three children she would have had with Zumbi never existed. It is an invention, like Wonder Woman or Ana Terra, from the novel The time and the wind, by Érico Verissimo. And, when they invented Dandara, they exaggerated the tale. Mott recalls that two of the three alleged sons of Dandara and Zumbi would go by the names of “Harmodius and Aristogiton”, “two Athenian heroes who would have killed the tyrant Hipparchus” in the fifth century of our era. Only one of them, Matumbo, would not have a Greek name! Really, it's dose!

a simple repair

Knowing the current bitter times, Luiz Mott predicted that the simple repair in defense of historical truth would be received with stones in hand, being explained as the attempt of a white Eurocentric male, an exponent of whiteness, to silence one of the greatest black heroines of the past. Dandara is presented as a diplomat, an excellent capoeirista, lady of the military arts, leader of men and women. About her origin, it is proposed that she was perhaps African from the Jeje Mahin nation, born in Benin [apud CAETANO & CASTRO, 2020]. She would have committed suicide, on February 6, 1694, so as not to be enslaved, when the Portuguese-Brazilian slaveholders occupied Cerca Real do Macaco, the last stronghold of Palmares. [FREITAS, 1973; GOMES, 2005.]

The academic historiography of identity bias itself had already proposed that Dandara, like other “black protagonists”, would have been excluded from the “official history of Brazil told in our schools”, due, “among several other factors”, in addition to racism, to “machismo” ” and the “sexism still existing in our society.” In this silencing, the authors do not list classism, which strikes and suffocates the memory of the history of fighters and oppressed classes. [CAETANO & CASTRO, 2020.]

No sooner said than done. The following day, May 22, in the same newspaper, Ângela Guimarães responded indignantly to the recognized scholar of Brazilian slavery. In the article “Dandara dos Palmares, Heroína do Brasil”, she proposes that the “history” of black people in Brazil “was purposely erased, and with no chance of recovery”. Misguided statement. More than three centuries of captivity in Brazil produced millions of documents about enslaved workers. In part, they have been studied by countless social scientists who have often produced excellent work. And this documentation reveals multitudes of enslaved women, flesh and blood heroines, who resisted slavery in various ways. There is no need to revere imaginary protagonists.

It is true that this rich historiography was slow to focus the spotlight on women, children and enslaved old people. However, in recent times, progress has been made in recovering from this delay. The number of articles, essays, etc. is already large. specifically addressing these half-forgotten historical protagonists. One of the first works on enslaved women in Brazil is by Maria Lucia, Luiz Mott's sister – submissiveãoe resistênce: women in the fight against slaveryo. [MOTT, ML 1988.] Certainly the Secretary for the Promotion of Racial Equality and the Promotion of Traditional Peoples and Communities of Bahia is aware of at least part of this immense and rich bibliographic production directly related to her duties.

There was no notary

Ângela Guimarães ironizes Luiz Mott's statement, who would be demanding registration of Dandara's marriage and the children, since there are no “notary offices” in Palmares for this. Luiz Mott is a recognized scholar of the colonial and imperial period. [MOTT, 1988, 1985, 1987.] His delightful biography of Rosa Maria Egipciçaa da Vera Cruz and Rosa Courana (Costa de Ajudá, 1719-Lisbon, 1778), an African woman enslaved in Brazil and Portugal, perhaps the oldest black female writer of our country, has just been launched, in its second expanded edition, by Companhia das Letras. [MOTT, 1993.] This book, with more than 700 pages in the first edition, was written supported by a very vast primary archival documentation.

Luiz Mott merely stated what has long been known. That is, there is no “documentary evidence” about the existence of Dandara and her little ones. Not a little one. The existing Palmarine documentation in Brazil and Portugal has been scrutinized by numerous researchers. The same remains to be done with regard to the one kept in the Dutch archives. Even I looked at the Overseas Archive, about Palmares, when I went there, looking for records about Fernão de Oliveira [1507-1581], the first grammarian of the Portuguese language and a pioneer of anti-slavery in Portugal. [MAESTRI, 2022.] And we have exhaustive compilations of Palmarina archival documentation. [ENNES, 1938.] In short. As proposed, to date, no one has found reference to Dandara or any other wife – or wives – of the last military commander of Palmares.

 In those days, not only in Central Africa, a prominent military chief practiced polygamy, for prestige and the requirement of political alliances. Even direct references to the military leader of Palmares are extremely rare. Zumbi, in fact, N'Zumbi, as well as N'Ganga N'Zumba, were Angolan political titles. There are indications in the written and oral documentation that Zumbi's first name was something close to Sweca. I myself heard this reference, in the mouth of an old peasant, at the foot of Serra da Barriga, in the early 1980s.

Dandara is from Porto Alegre!

I believe, however, to know where Dandara was born. In Porto Alegre! Possibly in the early 1980s. And I'm not kidding. I will take a moment to present this hypothesis of mine. Let's go. In 1971, when the dictatorship raged in Brazil, the historian, lawyer and journalist Décio Freitas published, in Montevideo, where he had taken refuge from the 1964 coup, the book Achievements: the black guerrilla, published by Nuestra America. Décio told me and told me that commanders of the Uruguayan Tupamara guerrilla had asked for the originals to be read, and he spent some time fearing that they were lost.

In 1973, discreetly, the small left-wing publisher Movimento, from Porto Alegre, released the book in Portuguese, the language in which it was written. But, there was no need to abuse it. That year and the following year, the dictatorship repressed the guerrillas in Araguaia, organized by the PCdoB. And, at that time, unlike today, our ruling classes swore that there was no black issue in Brazil. As a precaution, the title of the book has been changed to Palmares: the slave war.

Palmares: the slave war, by Décio Freitas, is a milestone in the historiography of slavery in Brazil. Until then, the main book we told about Palmares was Quilombo dos Palmares, written by Édison Carneiro, a communist, published in 1947, by Editora Brasiliense, by his comrade Caio Prado Júnior. Also due to problems with the Getulist dictatorship, the book had previously been published in Spanish, in Mexico. However, Édison Carneiro, following the Stalinist booklet, denied the resistance of enslaved workers as a class struggle. The bastardized Pecebist reading of the past in Brazil defended, as the dominant contradiction, the struggle between landowners and peasants in the pre-1888 years. The captives would suffer history and not make it.

A French Trotskyist in Brazil

In 1956, based mainly on Édison Carneiro's book, Benjamin Péret, a French Trotskyist intellectual and founder of surrealism, on a second stay in Brazil, a country with which he had family and political ties, published in two numbers of the magazine Anhembi the synthetic assay What was the Palmares Quilombo? [PÉRET, 1956.]

Benjamin Péret reversed what Édison Carneiro proposed by defending the resistance of captives as a class struggle. He also proposed that the Palmares victory, which he historically saw as impossible, would have advanced the development of the old Brazilian social formation. What was an epistemological revolution. The article was literally canceled and forgotten. Benjamin Péret's work was presented, in a book, just half a century later, by the UFRGS publishing house, in an edition prepared and presented by Robert Ponge and me. [PERET, 2002.]

In 1952, the young communist Clóvis Moura, disrespecting party directives, finished writing the book Rebelsõyou are from the slave quarters: quilombos, insurrections, guerrillas. In it, he equally proposed servile resistance as a class struggle and the slavery character of pre-1888 Brazil. Clóvis Moura was discouraged from writing the book by Édison Carneiro and, when ready, had its publication rejected by Brasiliense, by Caio Prado Júnior. Both were PCB comrades of Clóvis Moura, who ended up migrating to the PCdoB. Rebelsõyou are from the slave quarters it was published only in 1957 in the small Editora Zumbi, with a short life and smaller reach. [MAESTRI, 2022.]

Décio Freitas relied on Édison Carneiro, Clóvis Moura, Benjamin Péret and other authors, surpassing them in the presentation of successes and above all in the referential sense of the confederation of the quilombos of Palmares. To this end, it made use of the already important known edited documentation. Thus, he built the first exhaustive reading of the quilombos of Palmares, in a Marxist bias, as part of the class struggle of a slave-owning Luso-Brazilian colonial society.

radical and innovative

The book, written by a scintillating journalist with a profound knowledge of Brazilian history, ended up being an important success with the public, despite restricted dissemination and the silence of the press castrated by the dictatorship. Above all, it is important to understand the timing and purpose of that book. Décio Freitas wrote Palmares: the slave war as part of the struggle against the dictatorship. It related the saga of a ten-year armed resistance of the exploited against the Luso-Brazilian armies, under the direction of a general of the oppressed. It was a book aimed at the general public on the left, without footnotes.

The book certainly had a repercussion far beyond that initially expected by the author, who became a national reference on Palmares and consecrated the figure of Zumbi in Brazil. His work and he were, however, never digested by the Academy, with emphasis on the one from Rio Grande do Sul, which, in general, under the military regime, remained in a strong scientific apoliticism. In 1978, 1981 and 1982, the work was reissued in a second, third and fourth edition by Graal, in Rio de Janeiro, with a fifth and final edition by Mercado Aberto, in Porto Alegre, in 1984.

The consecration of the work led Décio Freitas to travel to Lisbon, where he brought photocopied a very rich original documentation on the successes, which he later published. [FREITAS, 2004.] I was able to read the typewritten transcription of the documents, before publication. It made it possible to specify and enrich what had been said, but did not present anything really new. However, in the third edition, from 1981, in the sixth chapter, dedicated to Zumbi, Décio Freitas presented a novelistic biography of the quilombola military commander, about whom , until then nothing was known. Décio Freitas literally pulled Zumbi out of the shadows in which the documentation kept him. According to him, he had found, in Portugal, archival information, which revealed the detailed and incredible life of Zumbi, before he became Zumbi. Thing not to be believed! But this we will see later, more slowly.

One swallow doesn't make a summer

In 1977, I returned to Porto Alegre, after six years of exile, which began in Chile with the Popular Unit and ended in Belgium, due to the 1973 coup, where I completed my graduation, master's degree and started my doctoral thesis. While still in Brussels, Rogério, my younger brother, had given me Décio's book on Palmares, which had made a strong impression on me for its form and content. About the history of Brazil, I knew little. In my dissertation, I dealt with the history of pre-colonial Black Africa, in the 15th and 16th centuries, especially in the territories of present-day Angola. [MAESTRI, 1978.]

I disembarked in Porto Alegre, in 1977, proposing to defend my doctoral thesis on slavery in Rio Grande do Sul, read from the point of view of the work and resistance of the factory worker. [MAESTRI, 1984.] In the 1970s, slavery was a marginal theme in Brazilian historiography, in general, and in Rio Grande do Sul, in particular, for reasons that went far beyond the pressure and surveillance of the military dictatorship. One could count on one hand the number of social scientists dedicated to this question. Especially when analyzed from the perspective of the enslaved.

I established contact with Décio Freitas, the only historian in the South who dealt with Brazilian slavery. For a few years I was able to argue with him about Black Africa, colonial slavery, national society. About slavery in the South, he studied little and published less. I learned a lot from these conversations. Décio also guided me in the journalistic art of writing to be read, then little practiced in academic circles. We kept in touch when I moved to São Paulo and then, in 1982, I went to teach in Rio de Janeiro, at Santa Úrsula and at UFRJ. As for him, he moved to Alagoas, invited to teach at UFAL and organize the first international symposium on Palmares.

State secret

During that international meeting, in Maceió, I met, among others, Luiz Mott and Clóvis Moura, also invited by Décio Freitas as references on the study of slavery and the resistance of enslaved people. Luiz Mott had written exquisite articles on pastoral slavery in the Northeast, among other important works. Décio returned to Rio Grande do Sul and I went to study Greco-Roman slavery and work as a journalist for a few years in Milan, where he visited us. He had returned from a trip to Libya, at the invitation of Gaddafi, perhaps interested in the valuable and pioneering book that Décio had written about the Malê revolts in Bahia – slave insurrections [FREITAS, 1976]. She would have received good money for the rights to an eventual Arabic edition of the book. At least that's what he told me.

I don't remember in what year, a historian friend, today a national reference on Palmares studies, asked me if I knew anything about the origin of Zumbi's biographical data, presented by Décio Freitas, who refused to explain its origin. The young historian, whom I had met as a student at UFRJ, alerted me to the possible interest of Décio Freitas in spicing up the new edition. What I was not surprised. Since the presentation of the first edition of Palmares, when describing the limits and poverty of the sources, the author referred to “gaps” that “could never” be “filled”. What would oblige, according to him, the historian to “mobilize the imagination”. [FREITAS, 1984: 114.] What is certain, whenever the author registers that it is about his assumptions and hypotheses.

In the 1981 edition, Décio proposed, among other detailed successes, a bibliography of Zumbi, which he entitled “From altar boy to guerrilheiro”. In it, he reports that a Luso-Brazilian expedition captured, in 1654-5, in a quilombo, a baby, who was given to a priest named Antônio Melo, from Porto Calvo, who taught him to read and write, in Portuguese and Latin! The child was baptized with the name of Francisco – said Father Antônio Melo in a letter. The good priest had said that the boy had a unique intelligence, superior to the common, even among whites. At the age of ten, he had become an “altar boy”. At the age of fifteen, the boy fled to Palmares, later becoming its last military leader. But he was not ungrateful, as he visited his preceptor three times to help him financially! [FREITAS, 1984: 116-7] This information, Décio claimed to have obtained in letters from the parish priest, which he never showed to anyone. Following this road, in 1986, in the book unfinished Brazil, proposed the existence of a compilation of Palmares laws, possibly written by Zumbi, which he considered to be the first Constitution of Brazil! [FREITAS, 1986: 13; SILVA, 2016.]

The narrative was, in itself, implausible. A baby was never brought back from an expedition sent against quilombos in Serra da Barriga. It had no value and interfered with the difficult walk in the woods. Palmares was never a centralized state. It was formed by autonomous quilombos, federalized to defend themselves against Dutch and Luso-Brazilian attacks. It is a contradiction to propose a constitution, even more so written in Portuguese, for an illiterate population, which, for the most part, possibly did not master that language, living in distant and autonomous quilombos, practicing an economy mainly of subsistence. And, above all, no primary documentation on these detailed facts has ever been found. [GOMES, 2005, 2011.] Not even Décio said where she was, as we saw.

a figure of romance

Décio Freitas was a brilliant historian and intellectual, with a Marxist background, with rich historical information and a comprehensive view of the Brazilian social formation. Which was rare at the time, and still not common today. As a young man, he had been active in the PCB and then moved to left-wing labor. Back in Brazil, after a quick self-exile in Uruguay, he became a candidate for deputy for the MDB, after the end of the dictatorship, assuming a function related to culture in the government of Pedro Simon [1987-1990]. He was a historian without institutional training who had little contact with his peers at the Academy, which would have been useful for him and for the latter. Once, while we were talking in his office, I saw him, surprised, throw his notes in the trash, having finished the book for which he had prepared them. He was happy when I remembered that they could be used, if kept, in other jobs!

Décio Freitas was a charismatic and brilliant intellectual, a talented writer, resourceful orator. He always had a polished narrative ready about the facts in progress, to be used in conversation, with the aim of impacting and seducing interlocutors and listeners. He was also a man of multiple, shall we say, idiosyncrasies. He gave himself up to temper tantrums, berating friends as he waved his cane in the air – only to break out into apologies afterwards. He was a female colonel on the southern frontier. Invited to write, for a long time, in Folha de São Paulo, time and time again, he made his ideas more flexible, according to the orientation of the winds of the prestigious newspaper. [Folha de S. Paul, 17-1-82].

potoqueiro usually

Décio Freitas was a regular potoqueiro. He had a huge penchant for fictionally reinventing events he had lived and not lived. With other friends from his close circle, we had fun comparing the diverse, always captivating narratives that he would weave about events that would have occurred during his life. He told several versions about the important interview he had actually done with Vargas, in exile in São Borja, with emphasis on what he had talked to him in off; of the adventures he had experienced during Palmares' writing in Uruguay and Brazil, during the dictatorship; how the fall from the balcony of his house occurred that left him rengo forever. The discrepancies were sometimes enormous. All this, however, If it wasn't summer, it was bene trovato.

For long decades, especially in Rio Grande do Sul, the doors of the mainstream media, the Academy, etc. remained closed to Décio Freitas, due to his political and epistemological orientation, as proposed. It was a time when he experienced economic difficulties, isolation and relative cancellation that reinforced his profile as the lone wolf of historiography. His book on Palmares and the publications that followed on slavery became instruments of personal affirmation and economic support, until he was granted amnesty and retired as State Attorney, a position to which he had been appointed by João Goulart, shortly before the coup, as he told me.

The advance of academic and non-academic scientific historiography on slavery aged and relatively surpassed his classic book, from 1971, still today an unavoidable reference on Palmares, despite its stumbles. He would have qualitatively and quantitatively extended his initial proposal to cover, with imagination, here and there, some gaps in the documentation. It would have started to propose historical successes that simply did not exist, to leverage the latest editions.

Like a multitude of left-wing intellectuals, Décio Freitas suffered the usury of the advance of the right and retreat of the left across the world in the 1980s. At the end of that decade, when the historic victory of the world neoliberal tide, marked by the dissolution of the USSR and the capitalist restoration of states with a nationalized and planned economy, Freitas changed trenches, without warning, or almost. Literally overnight. [MAESTRI, 2023.] he Turned his back on Marxism, socialism, the left and the social movement that he had embraced, since his youth, by his decision, for almost half a century. Décio Freitas was about to turn seventy. Definitely, it was decided not to keep the shells, in what was left of his life.

To the winners, the potatoes

Overnight, Décio Freitas became an organic intellectual of the right wing in Rio Grande do Sul, a proponent and sly defender of the most reactionary. He started shooting at everything that moved. Its skilled services have been recognized. He was given, I believe until his death, a prominent Sunday page in the newspaper of the main liberal communication group in southern Brazil, which often invited him to speak on its radio and television. He became a sought-after lecturer. He wrote, with immediate sales success, books that navigated shamelessly between fictional literature and historiography. Works unworthy of his previous intellectual production. Swearing, always, hand in hand, to be historiographic works, supported by documentation that, more commonly, did not indicate precisely where it was located. With the "hot back" he could say whatever he wanted with impunity.

He wrote The man who invented dictatorship in Brazil. A work mocking Júlio de Castilhos, the positivist politician who, when and after 1889, defeated the landowning oligarchy and modernized Rio Grande do Sul in a capitalist sense. In this work, he presented, as if they were one of the historical characters he was referring to, including Castilhos, his successes and feelings, real or imaginary, which he had confided to me, in detail, years before. Some repeatedly. I had to force myself to finish reading this ideological book, quickly forgotten. However, I have already seen the book cited as a historiographical source.

Dandara dos Palmares, who is already presented as the first and only woman from Zumbi, was certainly born in the early 1980s, in Porto Alegre, in Décio Freitas's typewriter, in his apartment on Avenida Independência, in front of Santa House of Mercy. Where she drew inspiration is yet to be decided. The children, Aristogíto, Aristogíton and Motumbo, who would have survived the fall of Palmares and the deaths of their parents, I don’t know if they were only Décio’s inventions or were born and nursed by the custom that, “whoever tells a story, adds a point” . Very soon we will have grandchildren and great-grandchildren, from Zumbi and Dandara, and so on. Today, for this type of reading of the past, imagination is the limit. And, with these violences, another shovel is cast over the history of the glorious resistance of the enslaved women and men of our past.

When writing this comment, I confess that I felt a deep nostalgia for Décio Freitas. Of the first, it is certain. The second, I met from afar and prefer to forget.

* Mario Maestri is a historian. Author, among other books, of Sons of Ham, sons of the dog. The enslaved worker in Brazilian historiography (FCM Editora).


CAETANO, Janaína Oliveira; CASTRO, Helena Carla. Dandara dos Palmares: a proposal to introduce a black heroine in the school environment, REHR | Dourados, MS | v.14 | n. 27| p.153-179 | Jan. / Jun. 2020.

CARNEIRO, Edison. Quilombo dos Palmares. 5. Ed. São Paulo: WMF Martins Fontes, 2011.

ENNES, Ernesto. The Wars in Palmares. Sao Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1938.

FREITAS, Decio. Achievements: the slave war. Porto Alegre: Movement, 1973.

FREITAS, Decio. Achievements: the slave war. 2 ed. Rio de Janeiro: Edições Graal, 1978.

FREITAS, Decio. Achievements: the slave war. 3 ed. Rio de Janeiro: Edições Graal, 1981.

FREITAS, Decio. Achievements: the slave war. 4 ed. Rio de Janeiro: Edições Graal, 1982.

FREITAS, Decio. Palmares: The Slave War. 5 ed. Porto Alegre: Open Market, 1984.

FREITAS, Decio. Slave insurrections. Porto Alegre: Movement, 1976.

FREITAS, Decio. Brazil unfinished. Porto Alegre: Est, 1986.

FREITAS, Decio. The Man Who Invented the Dictatorship in Brazil. Porto Alegre: Sulina, 1999.

FREITAS, Décio. republicblica de Palmares: research and commentaryárivers in historical documentsórich of the séXNUMXth century, EdUFAL, 2004.

GOMES, Flavio dos Santos. Achievements: slavery and freedom in the South Atlantic. São Paulo: Contexto, 2005.

GOMES, Flavio dos Santos. Keeping an eye on Zumbi dos Palmares: stories, symbols and social memory. São Paulo: Claro Enigma, 2011.

MAESTRI, Mario. African agriculture in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries on the Angolan coasto Porto Alegre: EdUFRGS, 1978.

MAESTRI Mario. The slave in Rio Grande do Sul. Charqueada and the genesis of slavery in Rio Grande do SulPorto Alegre: EST; Caxias do Sul, EDUCS, 1984.

MAESTRI, Mario. Sons of Khan, Children of the Khano. The enslaved worker in Brazilian historiography. Porto Alegre: FCM Editora, 2022.

MAESTRI, Mario. World Revolution and Counterrevolution (1917-2023). AComuna Magazine, April 7, 2023, https://acomunarevista.org/2023/04/07/revolucao-e-contrarrevolucao-mundial-1917-2023/

MOTT, Luiz RB “Slave rebellions in Sergipe”. In: Economic Studiesômonkeys, 17 (n.p.): 111-129 pp. São Paulo, 1987.

MOTT, Louis. Slavery, Homosexuality and Demonology. São Paulo: Icons, 1988. [

MOTT, Maria Lucia de Barros. submissiveãoe resistênce: women in the fight against slavery. São Paulo: Context, 1988.

MOURA, Clovis. Senzala Rebellions: Quilombos, insurrections and guerrillas. 4 ed. Porto Alegre: Open Market, 1988.

PERET, Benjamin. “What was the Palmares Quilombo?”. Anhembi Magazine, São Paulo, April and May, 1956.

PERET, Benjamin. Quilombo dos Palmares. Presentation Mario Maestri, Robert Ponge. Porto Alegre: UFRGS Editora, 2002.

SILVA, Adriano Viaro da. Palmares at the heart of history: history and historiography of the Confederation of Quilombos dos Palmares (1644-1984). Master, PPGH UPF, April 2016, supervision by Mário Maestri. http://tede.upf.br/jspui/bitstream/tede/2383/2/2016AdrianoViarodaSilva.pdf

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