Leonel Brizola

Image: Kat Smith


Tribute to the centenary of the former governor of Rio Grande do Sul and Rio de Janeiro

I met Brizola when I was a child. He was governor of my state and passed through my region on political activities. And the whole “peasant population” went to see him. Already in those days, he was a very popular character, a true icon, who was admired by many and hated by the oligarchies.

At the time, he was studying in a small school that his government had built in all rural communities in the state and that the right started to call “Brizoletas”, because they were all the same. The nickname stuck affectionately. But the most important thing is that he managed to universalize fundamental education in all corners of the state.

He suffered poverty and the lack of schooling firsthand. Orphaned since he was a child, his mother asked friends for help so he could study in the city, and then attend agricultural high school as a boarding school in Viamão. The agricultural college is famous even today for having Brizola as its student. Studious, he managed to enter the elitist civil engineering course at UFGRS. He must have been the first poor man to graduate as an engineer in Rio Grande do Sul. And from the student movement it quickly migrated to party-political activities.

It was by discovering that only knowledge and education truly free people and can face poverty (which he experienced) that he began to apply it as a public policy in Rio Grande do Sul and Rio de Janeiro. And thanks to that vision, I was one of the beneficiaries.

Young, wise and daring, he was elected in 1956, the youngest mayor of Porto Alegre, by the labor movement, and two years later, he was elected the youngest governor of Rio Grande do Sul.

Later, when I became friends with him, already mature, living in Rio de Janeiro, one day he told us about his life as governor and that he liked to use holidays to take a truck, and without security, with his wife and children. , camping on a farm or near rivers, to rest and fish. What governor would do that now?

In government, he implemented revolutionary public policies for the time and for the present day, which leads me to conclude that until today it was the only truly left-wing government we have had in the entire history of the country. Brizola universalized elementary education for all the people of Rio Grande do Sul! This allowed for a leap in quality and culture and opened the doors for young people from the working class to later go on to secondary and higher education, as he dreamed.

He created Siderúrgica Rio Grande, a state-owned company concerned with basic industry. He expropriated the ITT Telephone Company, and once state-owned, he spread telephony throughout the state. He created a state milk company, CORLAC, to guarantee a market for all milk producing peasants in the state.

Before we had a national agrarian reform law or land policies, he created the Instituto Gaúcho de Reforma Agrária (IGRA), to organize the expropriation of unproductive land for landless farmers. And he knew that agrarian reform was not just a question of political will, but depended on the organizational capacity of rural workers. That's why he gave full support to the nascent MASTER (Movement of Landless Farmers), which was driven by the PTB and which organized camps on the edge of unproductive farms.

The largest of them became an icon of the struggle for agrarian reform throughout the country: the Sarandi farm. It had 24 hectares of very fertile land in the municipality that lends it its name and was owned by Uruguayan landowners, the Mailios, who were only interested in exploiting the pine forests. Brizola had no doubts and, with a state law, expropriated the Sarandi farm, distributing the land to hundreds of landless families in the region.

This practice was repeated in other lands in Viamão, Encruzilhada do Sul, etc. Brizola became nationally known as the implanter of the first agrarian reform in the country.

In August 1961, the Kennedy government, concerned about the influence of the Cuban Revolution, the backward economic status of the continent and the possibility of other revolutions breaking out, organized a continental meeting in Punta de Leste, calling on all governments to send their main ministers to discuss agrarian reform. From Cuba was none other than Ernesto Che Guevara. Jânio Quadros, astute, realizing the move of the Americans, then asked that they represent his government, Celso Furtado and the governed from Rio Grande do Sul, which he promptly accepted. At this meeting, Brizola met Che and they talked a lot about the future of their peoples.

But Brizola was also concerned with family farming in the state. To this end, he organized another institute, the IRGA, to encourage and support the development of rice. He created a gaucho program to disseminate wheat production, in which we almost became nationally self-sufficient, and encouraged modern mechanization techniques and the use of limestone in the poor soils of the campaign. He created several experimental stations and state agricultural colleges, spread across the state, where modern techniques and mechanization were learned. Having studied at an agricultural college, he knew its importance to the poor youth of the countryside.

The bases were created for us to have a powerful food-producing agriculture in the form of family farming, which Brizola called the “settler gang”.

In other words, he had a vision of economic and social development to generate wealth that benefited all people.

In schools, he guaranteed shoes, uniforms, notebooks and pencils for each student. I never forgot that on the cover of the notebook was the figure and story of the legendary Guarani leader Sepé Tiaraju, murdered by the Spanish and Portuguese armies in the war of 1756. And there was Sepé’s phrase: “This land has an owner!” Later, in the history of life, I learned that it was mistranslated from Guarani, which does not have the word owner or property. In fact, Sepé meant that that territory belonged to the Guarani people. Brizola knew about the democratic experience of the Guarani and encouraged the children to get to know it.


politics in vein

In politics, he was nationally acclaimed for his courage. In August 1961, with the resignation of Jânio Quadros, he took on the right and the militiamen, and defended the constitution to guarantee the inauguration of the deputy, João Goulart. The right did not. It was the foreshadowing of the coup.

Brizola had no doubts, he organized a powerful mass movement in defense of the “legality”, of the Constitution. There were weeks of intense political and ideological struggle. He organized the resistance in the basement of the Piratini Palace, where he installed the Farroupilha radio studios and from where he transmitted daily messages guiding the people. I was studying in a Brizoleta and the teacher interrupted the class when the governor's speech came on the air and all the children listened in silence to sepulcher. When we got home, what Brizola had said on the radio was the subject of comments by the whole family.

Porto Alegre people camped in front of the Palace, setting up barricades throughout the city. Faced with the attitude of the people and the governor, the Military Brigade, the state police in Rio Grande do Sul, and the Third Army joined the legality movement. Airplanes from the Canoas air base even threateningly flew over the Palace, until the movement of the sergeants prevented them from any adventure.

Faced with the impasse, Brizola boldly announced that if the right did not retreat and guarantee possession, the troops and people from Rio Grande do Sul would start a march towards Brasília within days, repeating what Getúlio Vargas had done in 1930 towards Rio de Janeiro.

The outcome was yet another accord on top. And the PTB of Goulart and Brizola accepted the formula of inauguration of the vice president respecting the Constitution, but illegally imposing parliamentarism. Promptly, Tancredo Neves was locked in as prime minister!

Brizola accepted, as he knew that despite being partial, it had been a fantastic political victory for the people of Rio Grande do Sul and with that he had stopped the coup. Later, he helped organize the call for a popular plebiscite that revoked parliamentary rule and returned broad powers to President Goulart.

Concerned with the right-wing wave and the influence of US interests in the armed forces and in national politics, Brizola idealized the need to organize the social base of labor, in nuclei of 11 people to act underground and organize political activities, class organization worker and above all in agitation and propaganda. The idea spread like wildfire and thousands of groups of the 11 organized themselves, especially in Rio Grande do Sul and in the southern region.

And the use of radio as an instrument of mass awareness was a discovery that Brizola began to use frequently. His voice-overs were veritable didactic lessons in politics that the masses followed with impressive attention.

After 1962, he migrated to Rio de Janeiro, where he was elected the most voted federal deputy of the Republic. And he organized, in parliament, the fight in defense of the popular government of João Goulart, but now, he was unable to prevent the coup plot that took place on April 1, 1964.

Sadly, he had to go through exile in Uruguay. And the groups of 11 were the most persecuted by the coup. Many of them, known, were arrested, tortured and some fled into exile taking advantage of our dry borders.

From there, he still tried to organize a resistance, even armed, but political hegemony and brute force had been installed throughout the country. He lived exile as a true eternal mourning. Missing your people and the struggle. Goulart failed. And he died in exile.

During the business-military dictatorship of 1964-84, the two leaders most feared and hated by the right-wing militiamen were Luís Carlos Prestes and Leonel Brizola.


back from exile

First, it benefited from changes in American policy during the Carter government, which had attitudes against the military dictatorships they had supported, and thus also represented support for the Amnesty Law and the return of Brizola in 1979.

There was great enthusiasm among the people for the return of Brizola, I remember, walking along the roads in the interior, that the believers of the evangelical churches wrote on the walls and signs of the highways: “Jesus Christ is coming!” and then the Brizolist gang added “Brizola has arrived!”.

Brizola imagined reorganizing his old PTB and party life. Therefore, he settled directly in Rio de Janeiro. But he did not count on the fox cunning of General Golbery do Couto e Silva, who had designed a controlled opening. And he handed over the PTB acronym to right-wing Ivete Vargas, a friend of the militiamen. This broke the mystique of labor and Brizola had to re-found it as the Democratic Labor Party (PDT).

He suffered two more institutional defeats. He lost the acronym he had dreamed of so much and lost part of his companions who preferred to stay in the MDB and not follow him to the PDT.

Even so, he ran for governor of Rio. And won. But the then National Intelligence Service, now ABIN, then under military control, tried in every way to prevent its victory by defrauding the bulletins that were added up by computers. A parallel sum of press prevented the coup of the intelligence services allied with the coup. And the victory was so overwhelming that they couldn't deceive the people. Brizola had to be sworn in.

In Rio, he tried to implement revolutionary public policies in favor of the people again. And he surrounded himself with great scholars such as Oscar Niemeyer, Darcy Ribeiro, Nilo Batista, among others, and began to redesign the state. Once again, the hallmark of his government was education, with the implementation of the CIEPS, which guaranteed full-time primary and secondary education to all students, free of charge, with all possible pedagogical instruments.

In 1989, he contested the presidential elections. He almost made it to the second round, but lost due to the new resurgence of the mass movement that emerged from the struggle against the dictatorship and which had created the PT, the CUT, the MST as a new generation of fighters. In the following elections, he returned to be governor of Rio de Janeiro and even became a candidate for Lula's vice president.

And, who knows, one of his last victories was winning the right of reply in court National Journal, in which Cid Moreira had to read a note written by Brizola, in which he denounced the manipulative role of Globo network, which helped launch the 1964 coup and benefited from it to build a media empire that still exists today.

Great Brizola, he was a figurehead, a statesman, a man committed to his time and to the Brazilian people. Public figures are missing from this tradition.

*João Pedro Stedile is a member of the national leadership of the Landless Workers Movement (MST).


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