Washington Novaes (1934-2020)

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By MARCO ANTONIO SPERB MILK*

Commentary on the life and death of the journalist and documentary filmmaker

Part of us leaves when a friend leaves us. What remains, if that is any consolation, is what has been incorporated into our being by living together without major interests, by friendship. In the mystery of life, the inexorable death is part, but how it hurts. Another friend is gone: Washington Novaes.

Washington moved to Goiânia to produce a newspaper designed to achieve national standards and repercussions, along with a team of world-class journalists. The project even ran on the runway, but did not take off, bombarded by the dictatorship when investigative journalism found corpses in the south of Goiás, proof of executions of political activists. His colleagues left, Washington stayed. That's how I gained a friend, a great accountant.

With his vast experience, he contributed a lot to improve the level of local journalism. A tireless worker, he helped to leverage the International Environmental Film Festival – FICA, which projected Goiás beyond its borders. His connection with TV Cultura in São Paulo, deepened over the years, allowed him to make documentaries about garbage, about the lack of sanitation, about the destruction of the cerrado, the Amazon, the Pantanal. All are part of his wake-up call. The awards received, including international ones, were treated by him as support points for a bigger fight.

Implacable critic, fighter for life, he was clear that we are part of the environment and, to preserve life, we had to preserve all biomes. The riches of the cerrado, its plants worked on by nature for millennia, were divulged by him with diligence, because he knew that we were throwing drugs that had not yet been discovered in the trash, in the imbecile eagerness for immediate profit obtained by planting soy or raising cattle. The cerrado biome was his last passion.

He openly criticized the dismantling of environmental agencies in recent governments, as well as the construction of the Belo Monte dam, President Dilma's lack of sensitivity, in the same way that he did not spare Marina Silva for not fighting against the introduction of transgenic soy in Brazil without obeying the required precaution. In relation to the current government, for its committed crimes, it was even tougher. He warned of the need to denounce the absurdities sponsored by a group of dangerous imbeciles supported by larger interests. He used his quill, without pity or fear, like a warrior's sword.

Many will mourn his departure: his partner of decades, Virginia, his four children. And the indigenous peoples of the Xingu will also cry, who recently mourned the departure of chief Aritana Yawalapiti, a friend of Washington, which Covid took. All those who fight for a more just, fraternal world that respects life – the environment included in it – will cry for the loss of a great fighting companion.

In his articles, hundreds of them, the environment has been the common thread over the last 30 years. A prophet who denounced the destruction of life. Prophet of the obvious, as he himself said, because the degradation we are creating is evident to those who have eyes to see and hearts to feel. Economic interests, when land is currency, he said, generate real estate speculation that destroys cities, which unnecessarily destroys the forests, the cerrado. He considered it his mission to resist these mighty forces.

The bleak future that humanity will face, and in many places already does, was his recurring theme. In Brazil, public policies will turn – in the medium and long term – against capitalism itself insofar as they contribute to the depletion of water resources and the impoverishment of the soil, he warned. The elites and their minions, at least the closest ones, can go to more preserved places and still not feel the lack of air. Will they only wake up when shortness of breath is widespread? The current pandemic has shown that the virus does not distinguish between rich and poor.

Lately, Washington was still active, albeit tired. The water museum was an unrealized project. He was shaken by the death of friends, like Newton Carlos, a friend who baptized one of his children and Aritana, among others. And also by the weakening of the environmentalist movement. By the way, he hated the epithet “environmentalist”, because he knew that his fight was bigger, it was for life. “Environmentalist is the mother”, was the title of an article he wrote for butt, a short-lived magazine, created by my friend Ziraldo.

To close, I mention a small incident. We were, Washington and I, heading to a town in the interior of Goiás to give lectures on the environment, when we stopped in a small town halfway through for coffee. On the way out, a young man hitchhiked. In the backseat, at this moment Washington is driving, he takes a good look at him and asks his name. Upon confirming the suspicion, he said that he had watched the entire series on the Xingu and that he used the videos to show his students the importance of indigenous culture. These are events that show that his work is in the world and, as Pedro Casaldaliga said, their causes transcend his life.

*Marco Antônio Sperb Leite is a retired professor at the Institute of Physics at UFG.

 

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