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Essays compilation analyzes the repression of the written press from colonial Brazil until the military dictatorship

“To destroy man, one needs to deprive him of both food and word.” The phrase by Walter Benjamin turned itself into the symbol of indignation against the great evils of humanity’s history: the imposition of limits of freedom of thought, the restriction of speech, or putting it into one word, censorship. A lot has been said about the theme, but almost always in the form of sporadic and distant studies beyond the reach of the general public. Now this gap has been filled with the publishing of the book Minorias Silenciadas: História da Censura no Brasil [Silenced Minority: History of Censorship in Brazil], organized by professor Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro, with the support of FAPESP, and published by the Editor of the University of São Paulo (Edusp).

The book is a collection of essays presented at the Silenced Minority Symposium, organized by the University of São Paulo (USP) during 1997. On that occasion, Maria Luiza was invited to carry out a debate about censorship in an event dealing with Human Rights. “On attempting to discuss the question of a citizen’s rights, there is nothing more opportune than reflecting on the theme of political liberties under the prism of censorship and the repression of ideas”, argues the researcher on the presentation of her work.

The discussions about the theme were restricted to the book. The research was so productive that it ended up as a thematic project, this time focusing on the Brazilian clandestine press up until the 50s. Entitled Dops Inventory, the new piece of research, organized by Maria Luiza and Boris Kossoyo, of the Arts and Communications School (ECA/USP), based upon approximately 90 newspapers, which were published in four categories. “It will be the first complete list of the political press of this period”, assures the researcher. The books will be divided by themes such as iconography, pamphlets and subversive women. The work, which is expected to take up to two years, has as its objective the donation to the State Archive of a data bank with 150,000 assessed and complete records.

The seed of this new project, Silenced Minority, brings with it an ample panorama about the theme, which covers colonial Brazil until the military dictatorship and investigates the origins of censorship in the country. “The work has a linear proposal of evaluating this repression starting from the first act of censoring until the moments of full repression, as occurred in 1968”, says Maria Luiza. In the articles that make up the book, one gives the dimension of the obtuseness of the censoring organs. In Procura-se Peter Pan [Looking for Peter Pan], Márcia Mascarenhas Camargos and Vladimir Sacchetta talk about the persecution of the writer Monteiro Lobato by the Getúlio Vargas government.

In one of the most impressive passages, the authors cite the prohibition of the reading of Peter Pan, a historical classic of children’s literature, considered by the censor “a dangerous pseudo-communist work, which preached to children that they should disobey their parents and flee from their homes”. The censor based his opinion on the fact that Lobato’s books came into conflict with the projects of the New State, “striving to form a healthy and patriotic youth, united around Christian traditions”.

Nevertheless, the control of free thinking was cemented into the country long before the effect of the New State. The genesis of censorship in Brazil is strictly linked to the time of the Inquisition in Portugal. In her essay, Totalitarian Regimes and Censorship, Anita Novinsky affirms that censorship lasted three centuries in colonial Brazil and was much more rigorous that that of the Spanish America. In the opinion of the author, “fear that heretical ideas would penetrate into the New World was the nightmare of the Portuguese inquisitors. The reading of the Bible by laymen was prohibited and the agents of the Holy Office (…) searched each ship that entered a Brazilian port”.Censorship intensified with the publication in Portugal, of theRoman Index, a list of books prohibited by the Church.

Decades afterwards, there was instituted the Palace Justice – an organ with regal power -, which impeded the publication of books even if they had received a license from the Holy Office and from the Ordinary Tribunal. Or that is to say, triple censoring was established: the Inquisition, the Ordinary and the Palace Justice. With the arrival of the Imperial family to the country, one of the first ruptures in the process of the installation of censorship occurred. “The coming of the Portuguese Court, brought with it the Royal press, which contributed with abolitionist ideas and an increase in the tensions between Monarchists and Republicans”, explains Maria Luiza.

From new Christians to Freemasons, passing through students influenced by the French revolution, Jesuits, anarchists and communists, the enemies of the censor altered during the passing of the centuries, but few suffered as much as the “enemies” of the military governments. Writers, journalists, musicians and all of those who possessed the minimum of discernment and a sense of criticism were harshly persecuted by the dictatorship. In the essay General Essay of Cultural Socialization: the Tropicalist Epilogue, by Marcelo Ridenti, from the Sociology Department of the São Paulo State University (Unesp), he analyzes the role of the Tropicalism Movement (musical movement in the late 60s) in the troublesome political context of the 60s.

According to Ridenti, the study does not specifically cover the censored acts of Tropicalism, it deals with the cultural environment during the pre-censor period. “There was the wagering on a change that preceded the military takeover of 1964, and that gained force with the involvement of artists in the radical transformation of Brazilian society. The stage for this would be platforms such as the Oficina theater, festivals and cultural events”, explains the professor. “There was strong linkage between day to day political and cultural lives, which gained a subversive feeling for the standards of the dictatorship. The repressive organs dealt with censoring these ideas.”

In his analysis of the political-cultural context of the decade of the 60s, as a starting point Ridenti took a loan of an expression coined by Walnice Nogueira Galvão in As Falas, os Silêncios: “ensaio geral de socialização da cultura” [The Speeches, the Silences: general test of cultural socialization”]. Tropicalism, stated the author, marks the end of this test. “Many believe that the movement was a radical rupture with the political culture forged during those years. In truth, it’s only one of its differentiated fruits.”

In Mortos sem Sepultura [Dead without a Tomb], Maria Aparecida de Aquino, from the Social History Department of USP, made the point that different censoring practices existed. A good part of the work on the theme builds a stereotyped image of trinomial participation in conflicts during the military regime: the State, the press and the censor. Maria Aparecida made it clear that there was not an “all powerful State, owner of a single will, absent from internal contradictions and of differentiated interests, a conductor of the nation’s destiny”. Or “a unilateral and random censor who acts on knowledge of the circumstances and in a manner like a “censor on duty”. “Nor was there a press, victim of censorial tormentor that acted jointly in the battle to restore freedom of expression”, advised the author.

Anecdote collection
“The first image that one has of the censor is that he is stupid and that his job is to cut out news. This ends up turning itself into part of an anecdote collection”, stated Maria Aparecida. “One thing is to read and to hear the orders emitted in the newspapers during the military regime, another is to submit to the action about that which was written.” In her research, the professor bent towards the performance of the censoring organs in newsrooms of newspapers such as O Estado de S. Paulo and O Movimento, who adopted different editorial profiles, and, for this reason, suffered distinctly different interventions. If in the former the censorial control acted upon political questions, in O Movimento, which focused on social causes, the majority of the cuts had as their target reports dealings with the life conditions of common people.

One of the legacies left by the military regime was auto-censoring, which does not have the direct participation by the State. Its appearance goes back to the most violent period of the dictatorship, when the Institutional Act No 5 was put into place, which created prior censoring, practices by censors sent out to the editing offices. Many newspapers opted to attack the orders and were not submitted to prior censoring. In these cases, the very organ itself performed the role of censor. The need to live with this situation created auto-censoring, practiced by the very owners of the journalistic press themselves, as defined Maria Aparecida. The newspapers began to publish only what interested their owners and directors. “This turned even worse a pre-existent characteristic.”

New censorship
Silenced Minority shows, above all, that censorship is of multiform and like a chameleon. It never dies, only sleeps. A recent example illustrates clearly this affirmation: the prohibition, via judicial means – in place since the 23rd of May – of the publication or the divulging of any news referring to the case involving a TRT judge in São Paulo, accused of involvement in a corruption scheme. The decision, taken by the Appeal Court Judge at São Paulo’s Justice Tribunal, Zélia Marina Antunes Alves, impedes newspapers, radios, TV stations and Internet providers of giving information on this fact. A few months ago, the Presidential candidate Anthony Garotinho also used the justice system to stop a magazine from publishing a report denouncing a corruption scheme in which the politician had been involved.

Yet again, censorship gains new forms and regenerates its previously destroyed body, like certain species of worm. Nevertheless, according to professor Renato Janine Ribeiro, in the text O Direito de Sonhar [The Right to Dream], which appears at the start of the book, censorship will never manage to hold back liberty of thought and imagination. “If we want to combat censorship, it will not be through showing how ridiculous its excesses are, but by contesting its core. It will not be through sneering at its mistakes, but by defending the capacity that we have in thought – and the fantasy – of creating new worlds.”

The project
Silent Minority (nº 99/07903-7); Modality Publication assistance; Organizer Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro – History Department of USP; Investment R$ 7,500.00