Note from BW of Brazil: Many people who have expressed interest in the Afro-Brazilian struggle for equality have naturally made comparisons to a similar struggle of African-Americans in the United States and wondered why Brazil’s black population hasn’t been able to secure the same advances as their American counterparts. There are many reasons and a number of good books and dissertations (both in English and Portuguese) that have delved into this issue over the years. Below, we present another piece on this topic that has been approached in previous articles on this blog (see here, here, here and here)
How the military dictatorship persecuted black militants
Unpublished document shows how the repression monitored members of the then embryonic black Brazilian movement
By Marsilea Gombata
Afraid that the struggle for racial equality would grow in the light of international movements like the Black Panthers and would turn against the police, the dictatorship began to follow the footsteps of militants and meetings of the embryonic black Brazilian movement.
A document from the 24th of October 1979 shows how the IV Exército (Fourth Army) in Recife, Pernambuco, described an outbreak of “problems”. “In 1978 appeared a new point of interest of the subversion in the country, particularly in the states of Rio de Janeiro and, more emphatically, in Bahia: the exploration of the theme of racism, seeking to demonstrate its existence and putting the black Brazilian as a motive of discrimination,” says the text of seven pages.
The never-before-released report reveals that the “method” used for obtaining the information was given by the “infiltration of organizations devoted to the study of black culture through lectures at meetings and symposias” such as the IV Semana de Debate sobre a Problemática do Negro Brasileiro (Fourth Debate on issue of the black Brazilian), in April 1978 in Bahia. The theme of the talks, according to the military, dealt with themes such as “the so-called racial democracy is nothing but a myth”, “racism in Brazil is worse than abroad, because it’s subtle and veiled”, “the existence of Afonso Arinos Law, racism, is proof that it exists”, “the Abolition of Slavery was imposed by the needs of the capitalist economy and not by a sincere concern for the situation of blacks.”
The document had been solicited on June 11th, through the Lei de Acesso à Informação (Access to Information Act), to the Comando do Exército (Army Command), that eight days responded saying it didn’t have files on the monitoring of black activists. The General Comptroller of the Union (CGU) found, however, the report in the National Archives in Brasília two weeks ago. According to Deputy ombudsman of the CGU, Gilberto Waller, this is the first time that he found a confidential document drawn up exclusively to deal with the issue when what you saw until then were excerpts and citations of other texts. “We see that the state worried about the black movement to the point of having classified the information,” he explains. “In view of the CGU, in terms of access to information it’s a big win to get something of such relevant historical value.”
The report, whose footnote warns: “Any person who takes knowledge of a confidential subject is automatically responsible for the maintenance of their confidentiality. Art. 12 of decree 79.099, of January 6th, 1977,” cites national mobilization around the formation of the movement against racial discrimination. “The Movimento Negro (Black Movement) groups of Salvador are: Ialê, Malê, Zumbi, Ilialê, Cultural Afro-Brasileiro. These groups presented on July 8th, 1978, ‘a motion of solidarity with the members of the São Paulo movement against racial discrimination by the anti-racist public act of Viaduto do Chá.’”
The objectove was to prevent the struggle for civil rights in the United States reaching the country. The act, according to sociologist Flavia Rios, author of thesis Elite Política Negra no Brasil: Relação entre movimento social, partidos políticos e estado (Black Political Elite: Relationship between social movements, political parties and the state) concerns the march that happened that day in Viaduto do Chá to the Municipal Theatre for the creation of the Movimento Unificado contra a Discriminação Racial (Unified Movement against racial discrimination), which would later become the Movimento Negro Unificado Contra a Discriminação Racial (Unified Black Movement Against Racial Discrimination). “It’s made up of activists from various regions of the country and has this national characteristic,” says the co-author of the biography of the black militant Lélia Gonzalez. “There was a concern of the dictatorship that ideas of the Black Panthers armed movement, for example, and the American fight for civil rights could come here. Therefore, the regime vigilantly followed political meetings and demonstrations.”
The report until recently considered non-existent still speaks about an “artificial anti-discrimination campaign in Brazil” and recalls that “because of political constraints”, the Movimento Negro of Salvador began to conduct parallel meetings and adopt cellular organizations, based on “centros de luta” (centers of struggle), composed of three members. The Bahian capital city (Salvador) would have had seven of these centers, whose function it was to “mobilize, organize and educate the black population in the favelas (slums), in invasions (urban land), in wetlands, in housing, schools, neighborhoods and workplaces, aiming to form a consciousness of the values in the race.”
In addition to the Movimento Negro’s national meeting in Salvador, between the 9th and 10th of September, 1978, in Rio de Janeiro, the spies described the Terceira Assembleia Nacional do Movimento Negro Unificado (Third Assembly of the National Unified Black Movement) on November 4, 1978, in Salvador, with militants of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul and Espirito Santo. They cited the Congresso Internacional da Luta contra a Segregação Racial (International Congress of the Struggle Against Racial Segregation) between the 2nd and 3rd of December 1978 in São Paulo. And it reports on the Afro-Brazilian Cultural Center lecture series in the second half of 1978 in Salvador, attended by opponents such as the Bahia Congressman Marcelo Cordeiro and São Paulo’s Abdias do Nascimento, professor emeritus at the University of New York. In addition to the academic, monitored militants such as José Lino Alves de Almeida and Leib Carteado Crescêncio dos Santos, beside Bahian senator Rômulo Almeida and “Angolan agitators in the Movimento Negro, characterized as civil war refugees” are cited.
In relation to the contents of the Movimento Negro at the time, the repressors point out that the agenda was made up of items such as the need to challenge the regime, deepen engagement in the movement for amnesty, to project the image of the “myth of Brazilian racial democracy” outside of the country, choosing the November 20th for the Dia Nacional da Consciência Negra (National Day of Black Consciousness), improve working conditions of the black population, and seeking an end to their marginalization in society and to the majority proportion of blacks in prison.
It is estimated that 42 of the 434 dead and disappeared during the dictatorship were black.
Source: Carta Capital