“So that you understand what I couldn’t forget”: Flávio Tavares’ dedication gains another depth, another dimension, when you finish reading the visceral “Memories of Oblivion”, winner of the 2000 Jabuti. the disbelief, the folly of a country that had lost its way. When he signed my copy, we were in his apartment, in Morro do Cristal, in Porto Alegre.
A damned cold, biting, windy. And the old journalist, aged 87, standing there, erect, showing me the breathtaking view of the Guaíba. “It hurts my flesh,” he told me, as we turned to the unavoidable subject: Jair Bolsonaro. “From the point of view of governance, the military had a plan, a government project. There was even good stuff. Not now. We are being governed directly from the basement.”
From the basement, Flavio understands. Released three decades after the military coup, “Memories of Oblivion” is a fundamental book, due to its historical record and literary quality. Masterfully, abandoning linearity, the author with a firm hand leads us to the intimacy of prison, to the subterranean feelings of those who are tortured, stripped of the human condition. A work that goes beyond the facts, without, however, losing sight of the context of the armed struggle.
“In June 1964, less than two and a half months after the military coup, I turned 30 and felt like a broken old man, massacred by the weight of being forced to remain silent and by the feeling of starting to live between walls, watched, watched , inspected. And, therefore, warrant”, he wrote, reflecting on the whats and whys of his option – or lack thereof: “From then on, the path to join or participate in the resistance became increasingly shorter and more natural. In fact, I didn’t make a political choice: I had a moral reaction”.
biography of a guerrilla
As we talk, I think about his biography: How did he survive? I already knew him, we had met a few years earlier, in Rio, when I was still working on Samuel Wainer’s book. Like many of his generation, he had been formed by Última Hora, the newspaper that Wainer founded in 1951. For years, he wrote the daily’s most important policy column.
On the morning of August 6, 1969, the house collapsed. From respected journalist to wanted subversive, he ended up arrested, taken to the barracks on Barão de Mesquita street, in the center of Rio. There were 30 days of intense and uninterrupted torture. The last night he spent there, he shared the dark solitary confinement with a corpse.
Freedom would come with the kidnapping of US ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick, in a spectacular action by the MR-8 and ANL organizations. Among the 15 political prisoners exchanged for the ambassador was Flávio, along with well-known names in the armed struggle, such as José Dirceu and Wladimir Palmeira.
His saga, however, did not end when he flew to Mexico aboard that military plane. In 1977, it fell again, this time in the hands of the bloody neighboring dictatorship: “With my eyes blindfolded and my hands handcuffed day and night, I was kidnapped by the Uruguayan Army, in Montevideo, from July 1977 (…). I was once again the prisoner who had to get used to being nothing”.
In the memoirs, a particularly moving passage. Of unshaken dignity, against all expectations. From Rio, towards Mexico, 13 of the 15 prisoners took off. “At night, we arrived in Recife. Nobody tells us, but we all deduce that the scale is to collect Gregório Bezerra”.
Old Gregório Bezerra, at almost 70 years of age, was the oldest prisoner of the dictatorship. In 1964, he was forced to parade through the streets of the capital of Pernambuco, with a rope around his neck, dragged by a jeep. Leader of the peasant revolts of the 1950s and 1960s, the old communist, a former sergeant in the army, had become the martyr of the regime.
“Silently, petrified, we wait for a broken man and almost stop breathing when we see him enter. Straight and wiry, all white as a white angel, he walks toward us: white hair, white shirt, white pants, white leather desert espadrilles. (…) Gregório adjusts himself on the canvas stool, in front of mine, looks at me and smiles”.
In all, Flávio wrote seven books, won many awards, between these two Tortoises. They are personal and memorialistic accounts, which together make up the 20th century puzzle. Before leaving his home, I asked him how it felt to see him occupying the Palácio do Planalto, which he covered as a journalist during the JK and Jango administrations, a president who celebrates the torturer Brilliant Ustra.
“We are in chaos by chaos, praising the absurd. Bolsonaro is not a fascist. Fascists carried an idea of country. He’s a dangerous psychopath.”