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Forbidden pages

List of books censored by the military regime after the AI-5 act reveals criteria of the confiscation

Nelson ProvaziTwenty-eight boxes stored in the National Archives of Brasilia preserve part of a history whose pages still remain unwritten. The collection contains documents produced by the military regime’s censorship authorities in the aftermath of the enactment of Institutional Act no. 5 in 1968.

The contents of the files were recently analyzed by Sandra Reimão, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities (ECA/USP), who has compiled the most comprehensive list of books submitted to the censorship authorities during the period. The study was published in the book Repressão e resistência – Censura a livros na ditadura militar [Repression and resistance – Book censorship during the military dictatorship ](Edusp/FAPESP, 2011), which provides a detailed analysis of the criteria that the Brazilian government used to ban literary works published at that time, under the pretext of preserving public order and morals. This list includes such books as O mundo do socialismo [The world of socialism], by Caio Prado Junior, and erotic books such as Tessa, a gata [Tessa the cat], by Cassandra Rios.

The list also includes such books as Feliz Ano Novo [Happy New Year], by Rubem Fonseca; Zero, by Ignácio de Loyola Brandão; Dez histórias imorais [Ten immoral stories], by Aguinaldo Silva; and Carniça [Carrion], by Adelaide Carraro. Sandra Reimão also included a secondary list of plays published in books that mention the texts Papa Highirte, by Oduvaldo Vianna, and Abajur lilás [Lilac lampshade], by Plínio Marcos.

These books were all officially banned from 1970 (when Decree Law 1077/70 was enacted, instituting prior censorship of literary publications) to 1988, the year in which the National Constituent Assembly put an end to censorship.

Erotic books were the most common target. “When one reads the laws, one immediately realizes that the censors always referred to books that were contrary to morals and good habits; the censorship of books on political issues, on corruption or torture was never explicit,” says Marcelo Ridenti, author of the book Em busca do povo brasileiro – Artistas da revolução, do CPC à era da TV [In search of the Brazilian people – Artists of the revolution, from CPC to the TV era] (Record, 458 pages).

Such covert censorship was not merely a disguise. “The censors were truly concerned about morals and most of the censored books were erotic. The point is that censorship, based on such morality-related criteria, also banned books considered subversive to the public order,” he adds.

Cassandra Rios, a renowned writer whose essays often focused on female homoeroticism, was among the writers most consistently persecuted by the dictatorship. The author turned the censor’s actions to her benefit when she wrote on the cover of the book Tessa, a gata, “this is the new bestseller by Brazil’s most extensively banned author.”

Sandra’s research work, funded by FAPESP, found that 313 works had been banned out of the 492 books submitted for analysis by the Departamento de Censura de Diversões Públicas (DCDP), the censorship authorities. In other words, of this total amount, 179 books were released after analysis by the DCDP. This piece of information is important for one to understand that the authorities had developed censorship criteria. Censorship was conducted by a team of employees hired by means of a public competition and many of them were university students.

082-085_Censura_199The list compiled by Sandra has not been concluded yet. The full list of books censored by the dictatorship will probably never be concluded, says the researcher, because the censorship methodology had not been standardized before the enactment of decree-law 1077. “Prior to 1970, coercion, seizure of books, invasion of bookstores, and imprisonment of book publishers was conducted in a disorganized manner. At first, the books were censored by government authorities. After the enactment of the AI-5, censorship became the duty of the Ministry of Justice,” she says.

The documents stored in the National Archives’ 28 files might not be complete. “The existing files contain the documents that have been preserved. We don’t know how many files were lost,” the researcher explains. The documents stored in the National Archives only became available from the year 2000 onwards. “There is plenty of new information on this issue. The material had not been analyzed before simply because it had not been organized,” the researcher adds.

However, a similar analysis had been conducted prior to Sandra’s work. This earlier analysis was the starting point for Sandra’s research. Professor Deonísio da Silva, who has a doctorate in literature from the University of São Paulo, wrote the book Nos bastidores da censura [ Censorship behind the curtain]. In this book, he mentions 430 works that were censored during the military regime. Of these, 92 were written by Brazilians. “My work is a continuation of the work begun by Deonísio,” says Sandra. When the censorship authorities focused their headlights on book publishing, they had already been actively involved in censoring other art forms, especially theater, music and cinema. “The number of censored books is lower than other forms of public entertainment.”

Marcelo Ridenti confirms that literature was less affected than other forms of art. “Audiovisual production was more powerful in terms of reaching out to the masses. Obviously, the censors focus more on film and television,” the researcher explains. He adds that the Brazilian publishing companies were not obliged to submit their book launches to prior censorship, as was the case for film and TV producers. To make their surveillance system focus on the domestic literary production, the censors often counted on some basic assistance in the form of accusations, often made by ordinary citizens.

Because literature was not focused on as strongly as the other arts, writers had more freedom. “Literature was an escape valve,” says Ridenti. “Calabar, written by Chico Buarque, was banned from the theater, but it was published as a book,” the researcher exemplifies. “Literature afforded more breathing space.”

According to a survey by Zuenir Ventura, published in the book 1968 – O ano que não terminou [1968 – The year that did not end], approximately 500 films, 450 theater plays, 200 books, countless radio shows, 100 magazines, more than 500 song lyrics and several soap opera scripts were censored while the AI-5 law was in effect (1968-1978).

Many of the accusations documented in the expert opinions prepared by the censorship authorities requested the censorship of contents seen as erotic or pornographic. Examples of these documents are found in the last pages of Sandra’s book and are easily understood, thanks to the graphic design prepared by Carla Fernanda Fontana. “The book Quiet Days in Clichy, by Henry Miller, is truly a case of indecent exposure. Nonetheless, it is available to any teenager who goes to the Municipal Library in this city,” wrote Usana Minette, from the town of Lençóis Paulista. The letter was written in September 1974 and was addressed to Armando Ribeiro Falcão, then Minister of Justice. The accusatory letter continues: “The availability of the book ….was fostered by the mayor and by the president of the library. The book was only taken off the shelf after much insistence.”

Nelson Provazi
This letter was typed at the time when the censors were at the peak of their censorship activity; 1975 was the year in which the censors banned the largest number of Brazilian books. According to Sandra Reimão, 109 of the 132 books analyzed by the Ministry of Justice were banned in 1975.

Sixty-one books were banned in 1976, including Feliz Ano Novo, by Rubem Fonseca, which has been extensively studied by researchers investigating book censorship during the dictatorship. It tells the story of three characters who break into and enter a mansion during a New Year’s Eve party. They kill three people, rape one woman and, at the end, raise a toast to the New Year.

In the expert opinion prepared by censor Raymundo F. de Mesquita, who wrote the phrase “Banned” in bold type when filling out the blank “Age Rating,” the ban on this book was explained as follows: “This book […] portrays characters that have complexes, vices and sexual anomalies. The book focuses on the obscure aspects of society that concern crime, bribery, murder and homicide, without any reference to sanctions…” The document then points out that “pages 31, 139 and 141 of the book contain “derogatory comments on government authorities and censorship.”

From 1976 onwards, the number of censored books started to drop gradually (see chart on page 84). One of the theories for this reduction in the number of censored books and of other art forms is the death of journalist Vladimir Herzog, who died as a result of being tortured by the military authorities in 1975.

Thereafter, society began to clamor for a return to democracy and for the end of censorship. “That was one of the factors,” says Flamarion Maués Pelúcio Silva, a PhD candidate in social history who has a master’s degree in economics from the University of São Paulo. His field of studies is the history of the publishing companies that opposed the dictatorship in Brazil. The early 1970s witnessed a high number of missing persons and deaths of politicians who opposed the regime, whether these opponents were “members of the guerilla groups or not.” Flamarion points out that Herzog’s death in this context led the country to “become more aware” of the political situation, exacerbated by the military repression, which provoked an immediate reaction.

In the historian’s opinion, Sandra’s research work, limited to the books that were banned by government censorship authorities, as extensively documented, “coherently” shows the criteria the persecutions were based on. “The books were censored on the basis of a formal point of view, with expert opinions. The documents contain justifications and this material is valuable,” he says.

At the end of her book, Sandra mentions the resistance of publishers and writers to the requirements of government censorship. Érico Verissimo and Jorge Amado, who publicly manifested their opposition to the military regime, stood out in this movement, which included “a legion of anonymous voices,” says the researcher.