1980: João Cunha Denounces Dictatorship

On April 28, 1980, Dep. João Cunha gave a speech in Congress denouncing the military dictatorship’s violent treatment of striking metalworkers in his home state of São Paulo. And until the Arquivo Sonoro, that is all we knew. His speech was so harsh that the congressional leadership feared that it could provoke yet another crisis between the military and Congress. And so the speech was censored. The minutes say only that the speech was “withheld for revisions,” and the newspapers did not publish its contents either.

The speech was not a rhetorical masterpiece. Spoken quickly, in a tone of voice that betrayed little emotion, one wonders how a speech like this might have caused a crisis. Yet the criticism is incisive and the words powerful, even shocking, as Cunha calls the military “dominated by privileges, yoked to corruption, cudgeled by hidden commitments, controlled by the powerful,” and mocks them for the “clownish spectacle” of marching and handing out medals of merit, as though pomp and ceremony could keep the regime in power.

English translation of the entire speech:

Mr. Speaker and fellow deputies: Nothing, Mr. President, can justify the attack carried out by the government that has spread police terrorism, occupying and violating the autonomy of São Bernardo, invading the offices of the mayor and employing the obedience and savagery of the police dogs of [Governor Paulo] Maluf to tauntingly disrespect legislators, employees, and journalists who were there carrying out their duties. The profoundly serious events Saturday in São Bernardo do Campo, be they the illegal, absurd, and violent arrests or the disrespect shown Congress through the total respect shown deputies and senators, have unmasked one more time, tiresomely yet one more time, the cynicism toward democracy harbored by [President] João Figueiredo, even though it is sung in prose and song by the shameless and corrupt strategy of the regime. The impressive thing about this regime, Mr. Speaker, is its capacity to be so irresponsible and cynical that they think they can make the Nation believe at the same time that the strike is causing serious harm, but that the strike itself is unimportant, a mere result of a game carried out by sectors of the left with the support of the Church of and well-paid but dissatisfied workers, just as the puppy of [the state of] exception, Paulo Salim Maluf, believes. [They are] irresponsible and cynical because in reality they know that the issues at stake go far deeper that mere movement of [labor] demands, expressing at the same time the consciousness adopted by the working class, and through it the repudiation of whole years lived in fear, without will or law. [They are] irresponsible and cynical because they are conscious of the ills they have caused the Nation in this decade and a half as they have repressed, offended, marginalized, alienated and compromised the rights of our people. And of how much they have to answer for before the conscience of the people, whose justice is implacable, principally against traitors. [They are] irresponsible and cynical because dominated by their privileges, yoked to corruption, cudgeled by hidden commitments, controlled by the powerful, the only recourse they have is to lies, violence, explosions of authoritarianism, and the clownish spectacle of the half-dozen generals who sustain them as they parade about handing out medals of merit and first Communion, as though their cries of fury could change the course of history past and present, thereby guaranteeing the permanence of a regime that sacks the treasury and the unhappiness of the Nation. I think that is unfortunate, Mr. Speaker, that the legislators [there], myself among them, did not opt for impasse, using the physical force available to us to [try to] impede the arrest of [the labor leader] Alemão, [but instead let him be] handed over to the police on the simple basis of an absolutely illegitimate formal request, as any such arrest warrant must be when it is issued by the henchmen of the state political police. However, I think it is fortunate, Mr. Speaker, that we are moving quickly toward the decisive moments in which the future of this country will be decided, whether it will be a colony in the hands of this people who still rule it, or whether it will grow into its destiny of a great Nation, with the people retaking power. Furthermore, I don’t think that Figueiredo will remain in his role as manager of the regime if he does not issue drill commands to half a dozen of his generals, who like tired heroes seek out a field of battle upon which to practice their old lessons and military tactics, without caring that the territory is our Fatherland and the enemies the Brazilian population. The regime balances on a razor’s edge, Mr. Speaker, with such tension and pressure that it makes us think that the only way out is through the insanity of violence. Amidst this crackling of crises, people like [secretary of labor] Murilo Macedo and [secretary of justice] Ibrahim Abi-Ackel] are insignificant players; with their personal irresponsibility and cynicism, they reconcile themselves to the big picture of irresponsibility and cynicism. Today, the majority [of the military], as I close, Mr. Speaker, are in uniform and uneasy. However, this uneasiness only rarely explodes into the indignation of [General Antonio de Carlos Andrada] Serpa. Most of the time, this military unease of a few generals associates itself with the security of the oligarchy and national and foreign privileges, turning their bayonets toward the bellies of our own people, and the cannons, instead of looking toward the horizon abroad, are pointed at our homes in the defense of the friends from without against the enemies from within.