Heroines of this story

Carlos Zilio, ROMPER E TENTAR, 1970, 47x32,5


Preface of the homonymous book, reports of women in search of justice for family members killed by the dictatorship

The dynamics of social life demands that language practices are continually renewed. New inventions, new artistic styles, new social practices demand new appointments. Some are born as slang and are incorporated into the everyday repertoire. Others are born scholars, but the people appropriate them and demand that they leave the pantheon. However, some phenomena existing in the world are unpronounceable. Perhaps because of the horror they evoke, they remain in a state of exception in which they cannot be named.

This is the case of mothers and fathers who lose their children. What's its name? Those who lose their parents are orphans or orphans. Those who lose their spouse are widowed or widowed. But the loss of a child is not called nothing. It's something that shouldn't happen. It evokes a unique pain, impossible to accurately convey to someone who has never felt it. The loss of a son or a daughter challenges the natural order – long before the social order – of life.

What, then, about the mothers of murdered children? “Mães de Maio” is how the group of women whose children were executed in a police action in São Paulo and Santos in 2006 calls themselves. end a grief like this.

This is what happened to Dona Elzita Santa Cruz, mother of the political activist Fernando Santa Cruz, who disappeared in February 1974 at the age of 26. For four decades, Dona Elzita never wore mourning, because she waited for her son to return. She exchanged mourning for struggle: she became politicized. Of the agents of repression, she said that “they were monsters that killed young idealists”. When her daughter, Rosalina, was also arrested, Dona Elzita did not advise her to denounce her companions to assuage the torturers' fury: “Do you want me to tell my daughter to be a snitch?”. Close to death, aged 105, she still insisted on at least knowing the circumstances of Fernando's disappearance. The National Truth Commission was unable to investigate all the circumstances, but recognized that the Brazilian State had committed crimes against humanity, such as torture and the disappearance of bodies. Dona Elzita, however, died without knowing what they had done with her son. Justice needs to be done now.

Fruit of a radically different life experience, the struggle of Carolina Rewaptu, from the Xavante Marãiwatsédé indigenous land, in Mato Grosso, has achieved important results. In the redemocratization of Brazil, her people obtained the demarcation of their lands, although in an area much smaller than the original territory. During the dictatorship period, the Marãiwatsédé Indigenous Land had part of its territory “donated” to supporters of the regime – the Ometto and Da Riva families, for example.

The Xavante, until then isolated, were taken by force in Brazilian Air Force planes away from their lands. “Families were separated”, says Carolina. “They took children to live in boarding schools…”. It is worth noting the hypocrisy of sectors of the elite who marched against the Goulart government “with God and for the family” – and had no qualms about destroying the families of their opponents. Land demarcated at great cost is now under threat from the Bolsonaro government – ​​back to the old practice of offering territory in exchange for political support. Carolina was born in 1960, when the Xavante of Marãiwatsédé were still isolated. Today, she continues to fight, as chief of her village and leader of a network of women seed collectors from the Xingu. Replant to not let it destroy. Replant to reforest.

Far from the village of Carolina, is the neighborhood of Santo Amaro, in the South Zone of São Paulo, where, in 1979, during a strike, the Military Police murdered the worker Santo Dias and tried to make his body disappear. It was the courage of Ana Dias, Santo's widow, that prevented this from happening. Having overcome the trauma, Ana continued the fight: “They thought they were going to kill and put an end to the strike. The struggle only escalated.” “Because of her, our father's body did not disappear,” said the son of Ana and Santo. “I was more stubborn than anything else”, said Ana, who, before getting married a second time, imposed a condition on her fiance: she would never stop fighting.

Women like Ana, Carolina, Dona Elzita and many others belie Freud's conviction that women would be incapable of participating in the “great works of culture”, thus being limited to household chores. Let us forgive Freud – that is how the women he met, daughters of the nineteenth-century morality that lasted until the beginning of the 20th century, seemed to him. feminine. Are we, women, less able to follow the rules imposed by culture than our partners? Now that: the courage of the characters in this book shows that female excesses were fundamental to face the excessive brutality of the illegitimate governments of the military period. Why should they have been more restrained?

If she had behaved within the limits imposed by the dictatorial order, Clarice Herzog would never have been able to unmask the farce of suicide that they tried to forge on her husband, tortured and murdered in a cell at DOI-CODI. She has not backed down from the anonymous threats she received over the phone after Vlado's death. Her house was guarded by police. Decades later, on the recommendation of the National Truth Commission, she managed to rectify Vladimir Herzog's death certificate. No longer suicidal, but a victim of the violence of the Brazilian State, which committed crimes against him and so many other combatants of the dictatorship against humanity.

If she had acted like a submissive woman, Eunice Paiva would have silently swallowed the various lies that the agents tried to tell her about the disappearance of her husband, deputy Rubens Paiva. Fourteen years later, during FHC's government, Eunice finally managed to issue a death certificate. “It's a strange feeling, feeling relieved with a death certificate…”.

If she had the temperament of a “retired and homely woman”, Elizabeth, widow of João Pedro Teixeira (leader of the Liga Camponesa de Sapé, murdered in 1962), would have collapsed. She lost five of her eleven children – the eldest, Marluce, committed suicide at the age of 18, after her father's death. The son Abraham was arrested. Elizabeth turned herself in to the police: four months in prison. Pedro Paulo, 11 years old, was shot by a jagunço when he said that one day he would avenge his father's death. He luckily survived. Elizabeth was steadfast when she attended a Peasant Truth Commission hearing in 2013 in Sapé.

The sad stories lived by mothers, sisters and wives that the reader will find in the pages of this book seem, today, closer to us than during the first decades after the amnesty. Although the approval of the Amnesty Law in Brazil excluded the trial and punishment of torturers and principals – the only country to amnesty torturers and tortured as if the crimes of both were of the same nature, the decades from 1980 to 2010 were still marked initially with hope. And for the engagement of a large part of society in the construction of a democratic path, of social justice and reduction of inequalities. Somehow, post-dictatorship generations honored the memory of those who died fighting it.

But today Brazil takes the opposite path, the denial of crimes against humanity committed by the Brazilian State during the dictatorship. Today, Brazil betrays the struggle and memory of those women who dedicated their lives to fighting for democracy and reducing inequality.

Hence the importance and, unfortunately, the great relevance of the life stories of these heroines of the democratic cause.

Maria Rita Kehl, psychoanalyst, journalist and writer, participated, between 2012 and 2014, in the National Truth Commission. She is the author, among other books, of Displacements of the feminine: the freudian woman in the passage to modernity (Boitempo).


Carla Borges and Tatiana Merlino (eds.). Heroines of this story – Women in search of justice for family members killed by the dictatorship. Belo Horizonte, Authentic, 2020.


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