Brazil In The Time of Dictatorship

Is there freedom in a time of dictatorship?  Yes, of course, there is.  The assumption is that the censors are omniscient and omnipotent, but the truth is that they are not.  In fact, they are often very dim and slow.  My first introduction to Latin American media was through the book Latin American Journalism by Michael B. Salwen and Bruce Garrison.  This book contains many factoids that were useful with respect to my professonal needs, but the most memorable paragraph for me is this one:

During the height of the Brazilian military dictatorship of Gen. João Baptista Figueiredo (1979-1985), one political satire and humor magazine, Pasquim, developed an ingenious ploy for publishing criticisms of the military that got by the censors.  Whever the magazine meant to criticize the Brazilian dictatorship, it simply substituted the word "Greek" for "Brazilian."  At the time, Greece also had a military government.  Pasquim published numerous articles of gross human rights abuses by the Greek military government.  It took government authorities a year to figure out that the magzine was publishing criticism of the Brazilian government to a select segment of the audience that understood the ploy.

The book did not say what happened to the publisher, editors and writers at Pasquim.

Among the contributors to Pasquim was the singer Chico Buarque.  From Brazzil:

When a student was shot and killed in Rio in 1968, it resulted in a protest march in which Chico participated. Along with his growing popularity among Brazilians, his problems with the government grew. Seeing him as a rebel causing "dangerous" thoughts, the military censors prohibited many of his works—contributing, of course, to their popularity ...

Days after the Institutional Act No 5 on December 13th, which strengthened the military government's grip on the population, he was detained at his house and taken to the military barracks and questioned about his participation in the 100,000 person march as well as the scenes in Roda Viva considered subversive.

Likely because of his family background, he was treated less harshly than other dissidents of the military. Thus, with authorization from a Colonel Átila, whom he had to ask permission to leave town, Chico left Brazil in January and attended a large trade show for the phonographic industry held in Europe. After its conclusion, he went into a self-imposed exile in Italy ...

From time to time he contributed to the political satirical O Pasquim in Brazil with articles. O Pasquim was, at the time, one of the landmark periodicals of Brazilian journalism. In 1970, Chico Buarque had had enough of exile and returned to Brazil amidst a grand scale welcome at the airport with the attendance of a large crowd of people, press, and cameras—a spectacle arranged on the initiation of Vinícius de Moraes, to show the military how much he was missed in Brazil and demonstrate that they were not to "mess with him." ...

It was not long, however, before Chico was in trouble again with the censors. The single Apesar de Você, (In Spite of You), surprisingly passed the sharp eye of the censors and sold over 100,000 copies. That is when it must have dawned on somebody that the lyrics were highly political. The mighty seemed to have missed what everybody else in Brazil knew without a doubt, namely that the você, you, in the song referred to general Emílio Garrastazu Médici, then president of the republic, in whose government were committed the worst atrocities against the opposition to the regime.

Upon being interrogated, Chico was asked who você was. His response was, "It's a very authoritarian woman." After this episode, his songs were always besieged by censors.

Apesar De Você

Hoje você é quem manda
Falou, tá falado
Não tem discussão
A minha gente hoje anda
Falando de lado
E olhando pro chão, viu
Você que inventou de inventar
Toda a escuridão
Você que inventou o pecado
Esqueceu-se de inventar
O perdão
Apesar de você
Amanhã há de ser
Outro dia
Eu pergunto a você
Onde vai se esconder
Da enorme euforia
Como vai proibir
Quando o galo insistir
Em cantar
Água nova brotando
E a gente se amando
Sem parar
Quando chegar o momento
Esse meu sofrimento
Vou cobrar com ljuros, juro
Todo esse amor reprimido
Esse grito contido
Este samba no escuro
Você que inventou a tristeza
Ora, tenha fineza
De desinventar
Você vai pagar e é dobrado
Cada lágrima rolada
Nesse meu penar
Apesar de você
Amanhã há de ser
Outro dia
Inda pago pra ver
O jardim florescer
Qual você não queria
Você vai se amargar
Vendo o dia raiar
Sem lhe pedir licença
E eu vou morrer de rir
Que esse dia há de vir
Antes do que você pensa
Apesar de você
Amanhã há de ser
Outro dia
Você vai ter que ver
A manhã renascer
E esbanjar poesia
Como vai se explicar
Vendo o céu clarear
De repente, impunemente
Como vai abafar
Nosso coro a cantar
Na sua frente
Apesar de você
Amanhã há de ser
Outro dia
Você vai se dar mal
Etc. e tal

In Spite of You

Today you’re the one in charge, 
your word is final, 
there’s no discussion—
My people walk around 
talking on the side 
and looking at the ground, see?
You who invented 
this state and invented 
just to invent this darkness,
You who invented the sin 
forgot to invent the pardon—
In spite of you, 
tomorrow will be 
another day—
I ask you 
where you’re going to hide 
from the enormous euphoria—
How are you going to forbid 
when the rooster insists 
in singing?
New water springing 
and us loving 
When the moment arrives, 
I am going to collect this suffering of mine 
with interest, I swear,
All of my repressed love, 
this withheld scream, 
this samba in the dark—
You who invented the unhappiness, 
hey, have the courtesy 
to uninvent it—
You’re going to pay, 
and twice over, 
each tear shed 
in the pain of mine.
In spite of you, 
tomorrow will be 
another day—
I’ll pay yet to see 
the garden flower 
where you didn’t want it to—
You’re going to be bitter 
seeing the day dawn 
without asking you permission—
And I’m going to die laughing 
‘cause this day will come sooner than you think.
In spite of you, 
tomorrow will be 
another day—
You will have to see the day 
be reborn, 
and dripping in poetry—
How will you explain it, 
seeing the heavens brighten 
suddenly, with impunity?
How will you stifle 
our chorus suing
 in from of you?
In spite of you, 
tomorrow will be 
another day—
You’re going to end up badly, 
so on and so forth, la-dee-da, la-dee-da . . .

Using the Portuguese words for "shut up" (cale-se) and "chalice" (cálice) allowed Chico Buarque to sing about the military's oppression under the guise of a bible story in the song "Cálice."


Pai, afasta de mim esse cálice
Pai, afasta de mim esse cálice
Pai, afasta de mim esse cálice
De vinho tinto de sangue
Como beber dessa bebida amarga
Tragar a dor, engolir a labuta
Mesmo calada a boca, resta o peito
Silêncio na cidade não se escuta
De que me vale ser filho da santa
Melhor seria ser filho da outra
Outra realidade menos morta
Tanta mentira, tanta força bruta
Como é difícil acordar calado
Se na calada da noite eu me dano
Quero lançar um grito desumano
Que é uma maneira de ser escutado
Ese silêncio todo me atordoa
Atordoado eu permaneço atento
Na arquibancada pra a qualquer momento
Ver emergir o monstro da lagoa
De muito gorda a proca já não anda
De muito suada a faca já não corta
Como é difícilo, pai, abrir a porta
Essa palavra presa na garganta
Esse pileque homérico no mundo
De que adianta ter boa vontgade
Mesmo calado o peito, resta a cuca
Dos bêbados do centro da cidade
Talvez o mundo não seja pequeno
Nem seja a vida um fato consumado
Quero inventar o meu próprio pecado
Quero morrer do meu próprio veneno
Quero perder de vez tua cabeça
Minha cabeça perder teu juízo
Quero cheirar fumaça de óleo diesel
Me embriagar até que alguém me esqueça


Father, let this cup pass from me
Father, let this cup pass from me
Father, let this cup pass from me
Of blood red wine (wine tinged with blood)--
How to drink of this bitter beverage, 
sip pain, swallow the toil—
Even with the mouth silenced there remains the heart, 
silence in the city is not heard—
What good is it for me to be a son of the saint?  
It would better to be a son of the other,
Another reality less dead, 
so much lying, so much brute force—
How hard it is to wake up hushed,
if in the still of the night I hurt/damn myself—
I want to let out an inhuman scream, 
which is a way to be heard—
So much silence deafens me, 
deafened I remain attent
In the bleachers so as any moment 
to see emerge the monster form the lake—
So fat the pig can no longer walk, 
so used the knife no longer cuts—
How hard it is, Father, to open the door,
 with this word stuck in my throat—
With this Homeric drunkenness in the world, 
what good is good will?
Even with the heart silenced there remains 
the heads of the drunks downtown—
Perhaps the worl is not too small, 
nor life a consummated fact—
I want to invent my own sin, 
I want to die from my own poison—
I want to loose your head once and for all, 
for my head to lose your judgment—
I want to sniff diesel oil smoke, 
and become intoxicated till someone forgets me.

Is there perhaps a lesson here for China?  I detect the same sense of black humor and bitter irony in this item from InMediaHK (March 22, 2005) on the shutting down of the university bulletin board systems:

[translation]  Over the past two days, the SMTH BBS (now an intranet) has shown a trend in that more and more people have resorted to quoting Chairman Mao's sayings in their posts and comments.  It has come to point where there seems to be a Sayings programming machine, whereby entire articles are based upon certain quotations of Chairman Mao.  Thus, for any subject in any section of the board, people can find paragraphs upon paragraphs of Chairman Mao's sayings.

Some of these are plain silly, but quite funny all the same, as in this 'mis'-statement: "You must let students read novels during class, you must let students nap during class and you must treasure the bodies of the children.  The teachers should talk less, and let the students watch more.  I think that the student that you are talking about may have a future.  He does not attend meetings on Saturdays, and he has the courage not to return on time on Sundays.  When you go back, you can tell this student that it is too early to return to school by eight or nine o'clock.  He can come back at 11 or 12 o'clock.  Who told you people to hold meetings on Sunday nights anyway!?"

And then there are other comments which are dark hints, such as this straight quote: "To rely solely on policy commands, to forbid people to make contact with unusual situations, to bar people from contacting ugly conditions, to ban people from approaching wrong thoughts and to prohibit people from looking at evil people cannot solve the underlying problem."  (1957/3/12 Speech at the Chinese Communist Party National Congress on Propaganda)

Some users oppose and feel negative about this trend because it disrupts the orderliness of the boards.  But there are others who believe that this is a form of protest which uses 'authoritative' texts within the accepted system of language to question and attack the existing reality.  Furthermore, from the viewpoint of cultural researchers such as John Fiske, the so-called masses have the ability to produce and create anew from certain crucial elements within the existing culture in order to escape from or struggle against that hegemonic culture. 

Whereas it was possible to ban all mentions of the Greek colonels in Brazilian media, how might they ban all mentions of Mao Zedong in Chinese media?