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University of São Paulo: Documents reveal how political and ideological control was carried out at USP during the military dictatorship

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ANDBetween 1972 and 1982, the Special Advisory for Security and Information (Aesi) operated clandestinely within USP. In the midst of the civil-military dictatorship established in Brazil, the agency carried out political and ideological control in line with the interests of state and federal surveillance services together with the Rectory. In order to produce an instrument that would help in other studies on the subject, the researcher Márcia Bassetto Paes, PhD in Social History from the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences (FFLCH) at USP, recovered and cataloged documents issued and received by this advice.

In her doctoral thesis Archive in the next room: catalog of correspondence between the University of São Paulo and security agencies (1967-1989) , supervised by Professor Ana Maria de Almeida Camargo and defended in August 2022, Márcia organized an inventory of documents sent by the advisory body to the bodies responsible for monitoring the activities of USP professors, students and employees.

In an interview with Jornal da USP , the researcher says that she managed to recover around 800 official documents from Aesi that show the functioning of the advisory and that, now, make up the catalog designed to enable new research involving the dictatorial period. “The documents reinforce what was raised during the USP Truth Commission and expose the mechanisms used to carry out the persecution within the institution”, she says.

The file in the next room
Created in 1972 during the administration of former rector Miguel Reale, Aesi operated in the room next to the Rectory’s office. Following the guidelines of the National Information Service (SNI) and the Ministry of Education and Culture, the advisory body was responsible for monitoring meetings held on the premises of the University, controlling publications distributed in the institutes and interfering in the processes of hiring employees and teachers and in the granting of scholarships to students.

In one of the most notable cases recovered by Márcia, there was an impediment to the hiring of the architect Oscar Niemeyer for the position of professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU) at USP. In addition, José Marques de Melo, professor and former director of the School of Communications and Arts (ECA), was framed in Decree-Law No. to participate in political movements against the regime.

“One of the characteristics of authoritarian governments is the recording of everything, so that there is an effective control”, explains the researcher. “So, at a time when there were no computers, a lot of paperwork was produced, and these surveillance bodies kept copies of these documents.” The papers, most of which have already been digitized, were found through the National Archives, which houses the Fund of the Department of Political and Social Order (Dops) since the democratic reopening. Some damaged files could be recovered thanks to the use of image editing software.

Márcia also accessed documents that were at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), but was denied access to the collection of the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA). “Because of a decree signed in 2019 during the Bolsonaro government, I could only have access to the documents if my name was on them,” she says. The research was extended to other universities with the aim of finding materials received by bodies equivalent to Aesi and analyzing correspondence that could involve USP.

After ten years of operation, the original volume of documents that recorded the activities of Aesi was burned in 1982, because, according to statements by the head of office of Dean Antônio Hélio Guerra Vieira, they would have no historical value.

USP Truth Commission
Created by Ordinance GR nº 61721, published in the Official Gazette of the State on May 8, 2013, the USP Truth Commission aimed to investigate human rights violations that affected students, professors and university employees during the civil-military dictatorship. military. It was the first time that documents were gathered that proved the existence of a special advisory within the university.

Composed of seven professors, the commission recorded 41 interviews, transcribed 47 and gathered around 180 documents. The work resulted in the publication of ten volumes (see at the end of the text) that address the functioning of Aesi, the injunctions, cases of dead and missing people, testimonies of former students and documentary sources, in addition to detailing the persecutions that occurred in the spaces of the School of Communications and Arts (ECA), FFLCH, FAU, Faculty of Medicine (FMUSP) and Faculty of Law (FD). Based on the data obtained from the National Truth Commission , it was concluded that 47 people considered dead or missing during the period were linked to USP, 39 of whom were students, six professors and two employees.

Janice Theodoro da Silva, retired full professor at the FFLCH, assumed the chair of the commission on May 28, 2014. She highlights the relevance of file recovery for the confirmation of reports and records of political and ideological persecution. “Information about the arrests and tortures was only available from testimonies or legal proceedings, hence the importance of documentation as proof of what was said, as persecution did not always leave traces”, says the professor to Jornal da USP . The researchers analyzed the DOPS archives and the SNI archives. Through the Transparency Law, enacted on November 18, 2011, the documents became open for public consultation.

Janice expresses the relevance of the report published by the commission due to the clues it provides about the body linked to the SNI for the investigation of cases that occurred within the University. “Different from other Latin American authoritarianisms, the dictatorship in Brazil had a legal concern and used administrative law as a mechanism to censor and persecute”, she explains.

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Márcia Bassetto Paes was a student of the History course at USP between 1976 and 1979, the year in which she closed her enrollment, but maintained her bond with the University. She joined the Workers’ League, a Trotskyist organization founded in 1972, to organize politically and have more theoretical foundations for her militancy. On April 28, 1977, she and two fellow members of the organization, Celso Brambilla and José Maria de Almeida, planned to distribute pamphlets with the slogans “against famine” and “restoration of democratic freedoms” to factory workers in the ABC Paulista, due to the Labor Day holiday, on May 1st. However, at dawn, the three were approached and arrested by military police. “We were truculently handcuffed and placed in the ‘cage’ of the van and thenvolume 9 of the Final Report of the USP Truth Commission .

After passing through the police station, the three were taken to the building of the State Department of Political and Social Order (Deops), in downtown São Paulo, where they were arrested and tortured for several days. In her testimony to the commission, Márcia recounts the occasion when she was removed from the premises of the building by two civil police officers whose codenames were Ronnie Von and Capeta. She was taken to a road away from the urban area and beaten by officers, who were interrupted by a voice on the car’s radio transmitter ordering police officers to return “with the live fish”. Back at Deops, after ten days of incommunicado, Márcia and her companions underwent medical treatments to hide the marks of torture.

On June 16, Márcia was transferred to Carandiru prison, where she remained until her preventive detention was released, on July 21. On November 29, the charges were dismissed and she was acquitted, along with her companions.