From Canudos to Jacarezinho

Dora Longo Bahia, Massacre in Parelheiros, 1995 Oil on canvas 200 x 200 cm


The dirty war of the Brazilian State.

The State is a force of control and coercion over society, being to a great extent a political and institutional organizational instrument of the interests of capital as a class. The use of violence appears as a state monopoly, with internal coercive forces forming part of the logic of state power, such as the police. This form necessary for the maintenance of capitalism is something present on the entire planet, without exception.

But even considering this more rigid form of perception of the State as predominant, one must consider that the existence of complex societies, with large populations and diverse interests, should consider aspects of interaction by other means than pure and simple violence. The Brazilian situation at this juncture is one of total violence against its internal enemies, that is, its own population.

However, it is worth making a historical return to an episode that only did not become a Homeric fate because the Brazilian slave-owning bourgeoisie prevented it, together with its armed dogs, always ready to show its teeth and assume authoritarian control of power.

I mean Canudos!

The social conflict and genocide in Canudos was described in detail by Euclides da Cunha and much later romanticized by Vargas Llosa. The misnamed "War of Canudos" is one of the main episodes of the dirty war that the Brazilian State, materialized in its main force of repression and internal looting that is the Army, establishes in the form of violence and usurpation of basic rights against its own population .

The episode of the Jacarezinho community is just a sequence of countless moments of asymmetrical power actions that the national bourgeoisie, autocratic and aristocratic, using its armed arms counters with bestial blows against our population.

Two important points: asymmetrical forces are part of the practice of State terror and are only carried out against a defenseless opponent or one that is barely capable of acting; second, the military apparatus has always been the most expressive concept of interaction of the Brazilian ruling class, regardless of the location, whether on the Amazon frontier (the “Martyrs of April” say so), in the Rio de Janeiro slums or in the northeastern hinterland.

We are facing what our greatest Weberian Raymundo Faoro called “sword bachelors”. A central observation is that the military serves, to a certain extent, as a “Bonapartist” form, always ready to be used and acted as an instrument of power by a historically weak bourgeoisie.

Antônio Conselheiro and his “Troia de taipa dos jagunços” is inserted as the most indistinct historical fact of the formation of the Brazilian military power and its forceful action on the local population. Euclides da Cunha, this Brazilian positivist Homer, offers us a historical document of peculiar singularity, the author does not describe the facts, he reveres the facts, he describes, for example, the sertanejos as “heroes of chivalry romances”.

“The war at the end of the world”, in the terms of the Peruvian novelist Vargas Llosa, takes place in the dispute between the nascent Brazilian military State and the forces of peasant organization, around a religious ideology of Antônio Conselheiro and the objective guarantee of the right to land and to work. A bloody dispute that took place from November 1896 (first military expedition against Belo Monte) until October 1897 (death of Antônio Conselheiro and more than 25.000 peasants).

Canudos involved approximately 17.000 military personnel, a considerable portion in the fourth expedition, where the majority were military police from several states (Pará, Bahia, Amazonas, São Paulo) against a peasant population of around 30.000 inhabitants, living in the region that was salted with blood from the interior of Bahia, most of them killed in this inaugural act of the Dirty War of the Brazilian Military Republic.

Euclides da Cunha describes this birthplace of the Brazilian military (re)public in the following terms, which for brevity make it worth mentioning: “Canudos did not surrender. Unique example in all history, resisted until complete exhaustion. Exploded inch by inch (…) when its last defenders fell, they all died”.

Euclides, even though he is a military officer and a positivist, observes the origin of this despicable condition of seeing his own people as an enemy to be exterminated. He understood, coming from Rio de Janeiro, which had always been a land of exclusion of blacks and mulattos, that the nascent Brazilian republican state was formed from the beginning as “a reflux into the past” and that the episode he narrated was, before everything, a germinal “crime”.

Jacarezinho and so many other massacres and dirty wars that the Brazilian State wages against its population responds at the limit to the continued strength of interests, as Raimundo Faoro preached to us: “militarism, government of the nation by the sword, ruins military institutions”. In the current Brazilian moment, Jacarezinho is a reflection of the nation's growing institutional destruction, at the limit the establishment of the transition from militarism to militia as the decision-making center of state power.

As a metaphorical example, Canudos was razed and salted by military power. Now the center of combat and death is against the people of the favelas in Rio, even if the roar of machine guns is also heard throughout the country. Stopping this new phase of the Dirty War of the Brazilian military state, which is metamorphosing into a militia state, is part of the fight for Brazilian national sovereignty.

The resistance of Canudos evokes us in supplications!

Jacarezinho's tears summon us in screams!

*Jose Raimundo Trinidad He is a professor at the Graduate Program in Economics at UFPA. Author, among other books, of Criticism of the Political Economy of the Public Debt and the Capitalist Credit System: a Marxist approach (CRV).


Euclides da Cunha. The Sertões.

Mario Vargas Llosa. The End of the World War🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1999.

Raymundo Faoro. The owners of power: formation of Brazilian political patronage. Sao Paulo: Globo, 2001.


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