State of siege

Regina Silveira, installation.


Commentary on the film Constantin Costa-Gavras.

In a text published on the Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV) website, historian and specialist in international relations Alexandra de Mello e Silva contextualizes that the Cold War had its origins in the differences between the USA and the USSR during World War II and was definitively installed from 1947, when the differences between the two countries, which emerged from the war not only as the big winners, but also as two world superpowers, acquired the character of a permanent conflict.

It was a conflict of a mainly strategic and military nature, but which also involved economic and political-ideological aspects, opposing, on the one hand, a capitalist bloc, whose model of political organization tended to be democracy, and, on the other hand, the other, a socialist bloc, whose socio-political organization reproduced, to a greater or lesser extent, the authoritarian socialism in force in the USSR.

Ricardo Flaitt, press advisor for the Federation of Metallurgists of the State of São Paulo, reiterates that in this chess game on a world board, where the pieces were peoples and nations, the United States led an offensive in the sense of barring the advances of socialism. For this, they used the most varied and unscrupulous resources, ranging from marketing and media control to direct actions, invading and occupying countries by force, in direct war. In order to balance, it is pertinent to note that the Soviet Union also financed the left in the world to expand its system. This way, we avoid falling back on a very crystallized and propagated dichotomy, which determines the US as evil and the Soviet Union as good.

I will not embark on this path of concepts, the reason for decades of discussions, books and an infinity of notes. In Latin America, not all countries were dominated through war. The battle that took place was established in a disguised way, in the field of politics. Thus, the pieces that were not of interest to the United States and the block of countries that were interested in the affirmation of the Capitalist system did not need much military force to carry out the coup d'état.

Flaitt points out that, for example, in Latin America not all countries were dominated through war. The battle that took place was established in a disguised way, in the field of politics. Thus, the pieces that were not of interest to the United States and the block of countries that were interested in the affirmation of the Capitalist system did not need much military force to carry out the coup d'état. After the coup was consolidated, it was necessary to “manage” the dictatorial regime. According to him, in this sense, the United States provided Latin American countries with financial and military resources and made agents available to train the political police, with the aim of repressing demonstrations contrary to the new system in force.

It is in this context that the film takes place. State of siege, by Costa Gavras. Before commenting on the film, we need to understand what the state of siege is so much talked about in recent days throughout the national press. According to the Federal Constitution, State of Siege is the instrument used by the Head of State in which the rights and guarantees of citizens are temporarily suspended and the Legislative and Judiciary Powers are submitted to the Executive, with a view to defending public order. In Brazil, to decree a state of siege, the head of state, after the support of the Council of the Republic and the National Defense Council – which will offer a non-binding opinion – requests authorization from the National Congress to put the decree into effect.

Also, according to the Federal Constitution, the President of the Republic, when requesting authorization to decree the state of siege or its extension, will report the determining reasons for the request, and the National Congress must decide by absolute majority. In our country, it was established on three occasions: in October 1930, immediately after the outbreak of the revolutionary movement led by Getúlio Vargas (1882-1954), in November 1935, during the failed Communist Revolt, and in November 1955, in bulge of the political-institutional crisis that culminated in the deposition of President Carlos Luz (1894-1861) and his replacement by Nereu Ramos (1888-1958) as President of the Republic.

Let's go to the movie.

As the historian José Rodrigo de Araújo Silva points out in the article ''Coup in Slow Motion: State of Siege and the Political Cinema of Costa-Gravas'', the period before the military coup in Uruguay (1973) was marked by an intense authoritarianism promoted by the government of President Jorge Pacheco Areco (1967-1972). The exception measures and political violence by the State served as inspiration for the film State of siege (State of Siege) by the Greek-born French filmmaker Constantin Costa-Gavras.

Costa-Gravas' feature denounces the story of the kidnapping of American agent Dan Mitrione, murdered by the Tupamaros (a group that resisted the dictatorial regime). Historian José Rodrigo de Araújo Silva details that this is the starting point for understanding the succession of events that led to the death of a US state official during the government of Jorge Pacheco Areco. The kidnapping of Anthony Dan Mitrione was marked by the action of one of the largest urban guerrilla groups in South America – The National Liberation Movement – ​​Tupamaros (MLN-T).

For José Rodrigo, the plot would be easily confused with the script of a Hollywood film, in view of the roles played by its characters – “bad guys”, “good guys”, the murder of an American citizen and a bit of action against the backdrop of background to a political plot. However, some publications in the French newspaper Le Monde about the functions performed by Mitrione inspired another type of production.

José Rodrigo recalls that when reading three different references about the identity of this citizen and his work in some South American countries, the Greek filmmaker naturalized in France Constantin Costa-Gavras, questions himself about the real activities developed by Mitrione. After all, something was out of place in the information reported by the press. At first, Le Monde assigned him the function of an officer, then a policeman and finally a diplomat.

What, then, would be the true work of this US official on Latin soil? What were the motivations that led the Tupamaros to commit their murder? And yet, for what reasons did the press reproduce a contradictory and unclear discourse about this man? Having no doubts that he should continue his investigations, Costa-Gavras embarked on the journey that would lead him to produce one of the greatest landmarks in political cinema: the film State of siege.

According to José Rodrigo, at the time, while reading about the American ambassador John Peurifoy, who had participated in the military coup in Greece and later in Guatemala, Gavras came across this story and decided to change the direction of his research. He invited his friend, writer and screenwriter Franco Solinas to write the script and decided to travel to Uruguay in order to further investigate the case. José Rodrigo reiterates that it is important to emphasize the participation of Franco Solinas in writing the script, in view of his political position. Solinas at the time was an active member of the Italian Communist Party. Although Gavras declared in 2009 during his participation in the Pernambuco film festival (Cine-PE) that “all cinema is political”, we must be aware that the postures of the director and screenwriter direct the analysis and construction of the narrative.

José Rodrigo found that the information contained in the film is very close to the facts reported by the press at the time. Gavras and Solinas constructed a script that, in addition to being thought-provoking, intends to fulfill the social function of denouncing abuses not only by the Uruguayan government, but by the entire political system that had been installed in South America in the mid-twentieth century, as a result of the interventions of the United States and the current world scenario provoked during the Cold War.

In analysis, José Rodrigo points out that Estado de Sítio brings up a crucial issue when talking about the role of cinema in historical debates and the place that the filmmaker occupies when producing a work that appropriates the discourses of history to build its narrative . In this perspective, the film would be a possibility of reading the story, just like the written text.

Ricardo Flaitt stresses that State of siege gives us parameters close to reality, of how the dictatorships implemented in Latin America acted, at the same time, what was the reaction of groups that fought for the resumption of the Democratic State. For him, although a situation that took place in Uruguay, “Estado de Sítio”, is a perfect synthesis of this period of installation of the dictatorship in several Latin American countries, its developments, consequences and the reactions of opposition to the system that suppressed the rights and tried to control the people.

Bringing it to our reality, videos have been circulating on social networks in recent days in which Bolsonarist truck drivers celebrate a supposed state of siege decreed by President Jair Bolsonaro (without a party). The measure, however, was not signed by the Chief Executive. On the contrary; Bolsonaro asked, in audio, that the protesters stop the stoppages so that the economy is not harmed.

“These blockades hinder our economy. This causes shortages, inflation, harms everyone, especially the poorest. So, give the guys a touch, if possible, to release it, okay?”, said the President of the Republic in leaked audio.

In Brasília, one of the truck drivers celebrated: “We did it, we were part of it. We made it, state of siege. Let's get the bums out of there, we managed to get the 11 out (…) We did our part, we came to Brasilia, we got up off the chair and came to do our part. Let's participate in the history of Brazil. We did it, guys, and I pass this news on to you”, he celebrates.

In another video, a truck driver breaks down in tears as he celebrates what was never more than a rumor. “We now know that the President of the Republic, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, has decided to act. And from now on, Brazil is in a state of siege (…) The fight was worth it”.

The matter came to light after Bolsonaro said, in a speech to supporters on September 7, that he would convene a meeting of the Council of the Republic — the consultation body of the Chief Executive in which the possibility of enacting measures such as a State of siege, federal intervention is consulted. , State of defense and issues relevant to the stability of democratic institutions. The Federal Constitution emphasizes that for the measure to be implemented, it is necessary to have authorization from the other instances of Power (Legislative and Judiciary). The state of siege can be decreed for up to 30 days and then can be extended for the same period.

According to art. 139 of the Constitution, the state of siege provides for the limitation of the following fundamental rights:

– obligation to remain in a specific location;

– detention in a building not intended for those accused or convicted of common crimes;

– restrictions relating to the inviolability of correspondence, the secrecy of communications, the provision of information and freedom of the press, radio broadcasting and television, as provided by law;

– suspension of freedom of assembly;

– home search and seizure;

– intervention in public service companies;

– requisition of goods.

As stated in art. 137 of the Federal Constitution, the President of the Republic may request authorization to declare a state of siege in the following cases:

I – serious commotion of national repercussion or the occurrence of facts that prove the ineffectiveness of a measure taken during the state of defense;

II – declaration of a state of war or response to foreign armed aggression.

Finally, the mechanism is part of the so-called constitutional crisis system, according to Mackenzie's Constitutional Law professor, Sávio Chalita, heard by the State Agency. The objective of this system is “always the defense of the state and democratic institutions”. Here's a piece of advice, in times of political fanaticism, fake news, Bolsonarism and the like, it costs nothing to look for reliable sources and always be in tune with the real world, don't sell yourself to dystopian utopias disguised as dirty scams. There is no state of siege in our country, don't buy into lunatic ideas, keep your eyes open and stay alert.

*Vanderlei Tenorio Bachelor's Degree in Geography at the Federal University of Alagoas (UFAL).


State of siege (State of Siege)
France, 1972, 120 minutes
Directed by: Constantin Costa-Gavras
Screenplay: Franco Solinas and Constantin Costa-Gavras
Cast: Yves-Montand, Renato Salvatori, Jacques Weber
SILVA, JRA Coup in Slow Motion: State of Siege and the Cinema of Costa-Gravas. Agora Magazine, Vitória, n. 28, p. 116-130, 2018.


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