Prologue from Marighella: A Biography

Prologue: Shooting at the movies

Carlos Marighella saw the lady super from his building heading toward him and thought he was about to outwit the cops yet again. Valdelice was carrying a pink bundle. Finally he would solve the clothing dilemma that had been pestering him for a little over a month. On the night of April 1st, Marighella had fled the one-bedroom flat he rented in the neighborhood of Catete, bounding down the stairs with long legs from the seventh to the ground floor. He feared a surprise visit from the political police of Guanabara state, assuming they were already planning an ambush.

He was right. While President João Goulart lingered inside the Palácio do Planalto, balking at what to do in the face of the military coup that had exploded the night before, in Rio de Janeiro, the Department of Political and Social Order, known colloquially as the “Dops,” was mounting a seasoned task force to track down one of their favorite regular collars. Dops chief Cecil Borer, a former shot putter, warned his people before they hit the streets,

“Careful. Marighella’s tough.”

Half an hour later, police broke into the Catete apartment, but found no one inside. They’d just missed him. Had they tried the stairs rather than taking the elevator up, they would have found their man. Marighella left in such a rush that he’d only had time to grab one change of clothing, stuffed into the suitcase shared with his partner of 15 years, Clara Charf. They hurried down to the street and vanished in a taxi. In the early morning hours, a twin-engine Avro operated by the Brazilian Air Force took flight from Brasília to Porto Alegre where Goulart threw in the towel. At the same time, Marighella was going back into hiding in the suburbs of Méier.

It was nothing new for him. Over the past three decades, he’d lived more of his life underground than out in the open. And it had been the same story in the weeks leading up to that fateful Saturday when he went to retrieve his shirts, pants, and briefs. Socks weren’t an issue. He’d hated them ever since his youth in Bahia. When Marighella was a congressman in Rio de Janeiro back when the city was the nation’s capital, his friends saw his bare ankles as yet another facet of the vow-of-poverty lifestyle adopted by a man who owned just three suits, all of them donated. He got so many socks as presents that he was forced to change his habits. But in Méier, Marighella wanted other garments. He improvised, buying one thing or another, but with the weather cooling off as Rio de Janeiro headed into May he needer warmer clothes. That Friday, for instance, the mercury barely made it up to a mild 80° F.

But things did heat up when Marighella spotted a man watching Valdelice at a distance that was safe enough to remain inconspicuous, but close enough to keep her in his sights. With the same speed that he made it down the staircase in Catete, Marighella bought two tickets at the Eskye-Tijuca, the movie theater where he’d arranged to meet the super. He signaled her and they went in before the tail could get close.

Marighella had taken precautions for the encounter. There was no room for error. He went unarmed, as always. He ignored the fact that there was more than one cop. Even if they had him surrounded, he imagined he’d manage to get away. All he had to do was get into the projection room and slip out some unguarded exit with the bundle of washed and ironed clothes under his arm. A cinematic escape, just like on the big screen. He took the package and found a seat in the middle of a row toward the back. Even in the darkness, he could tell the matinee was full of kids.


Before sunrise, a municipal street sweeper was seen approaching building 131 on Rua Corrêa Dutra in Catete, some 200 yards from the spot where President Getúlio Vargas had shot himself in the chest ten years earlier. This street sweeper hadn’t come for the garbage. Cleaning up trash wasn’t his line of work. João Barreto de Macedo was a pharmaceutical salesman who padded his pockets with a side hustle: hunting subversives. And he wasn’t actually a government employee either. He was a confidential informant for the police who compensated him for his efforts as a spy and a snitch. That Saturday he arrived at 5 AM, disguised in a street sweeper’s uniform.

The trap had been set for Marighella since the day of his narrow escape. It came to nothing. João Macedo had never come across his target, but he knew who he was looking for. At the Dops archives inside the building on Rua da Relação, he studied Marighella’s front and profile photos, poring over the collection that had originated in the 1930s and grown steadily over the years. Since his childhood in Salvador, he’d heard stories of his illustrious fellow Bahian and his troubles with the law. He never had any sympathy for communists, least of all for a man who he saw as the most harmful of evildoers. The only left João Macedo had ever been fond of was the left side of the field at Botafogo, where he’d had a short stint warming the bench for the team proud to have Mané Garrincha as their right winger. He also had someone to stoke his aversions to communism: Dops chief Cecil de Macedo Borer. Related by the shared Macedo in their names, they both preferred no one know of their family ties, or to at least keep it quiet if they did know. But there were plenty of insinuations of how Borer, the overzealous uncle, looked out for his nephew.

So staunchly anticommunist was Bahia native Cecil Borer that, during the years of Hitler’s rise to power, he had been said to be of German heritage. Not true: his father had immigrated from England. When organizing the Special Police, the Getúlio Vargas administration had recruited musclebound athletes from gyms and sports clubs. The beefy Borer was a shot putter and discus thrower for Fluminense, rival to Botafogo, the club where his brother Charles would later serve as president. Cecil was recruited and soon became a “tomato head,” as the neighborhood folks nicknamed the members of the Special Police, after the red kepis in their uniform.

Borer came up with the squad that swept through Rio in 1936 until finally catching the communists Luiz Carlos Prestes and Olga Benario in the outskirts of Méier, the same place where Marighella went to hide. The first arrest of a young leftist named Carlos Lacerda came at the hands of Borer, cracking down on a demonstration by the gates of the Lloyd Brasileiro shipping company in 1933. Decades later, Lacerda was elected governor of Guanabara. Having changed sides, now the archenemy of those who had once been comrades, Lacerda summoned his former tormentor.

“Who would have thought, Officer Borer, the two of us on the same side,” he remarked with irony.

Unsusceptible to humor, Borer snapped back, “It wasn’t me who changed, Governor. I’m still police.”

Lacerda suggested he take a break from political repression and focus his efforts on the delinquents tormenting the people of Rio. Borer applied himself. One by one, outlaws went from the front page of the tabloids to the morgue. That is, when their bodies were actually found. The notorious stickup artist José Miranda Rosa, known as Mineirinho, was the terror of Rio until the day his corpse turned up in a field, riddled with bullets—three in the back, five in the neck, two in the chest, one in an armpit, one in a leg, and one in a bicep. And in his pants pocket, a prayer to Saint Anthony.

There was no saint that could protect from Borer. He proclaimed himself insulted at having been linked to the emerging Death Squad and executions like that of Mineirinho. João Goulart’s inauguration as president of Brazil in September of 1961 prompted Lacerda to transfer Borer back to the department where he’d made his name. It seemed to make no difference to him. There wasn’t a police officer alive with more accusations of wrongdoing leveled at him than Borer. He was the administrative manager of the building on Rua da Relação in downtown Rio, famed less as a gem of eclectic 20th century faux-French architecture than as a den for savageries exacted on political prisoners. He spoke unceremoniously of bringing rats in to terrify the women inmates. The communist weekly Novos Rumos branded him “executioner,” “Nazi,” and “torturer.” Columnist Paulo Francis of the pro-Jango paper Última Hora wrote: “The front of fascism is always popular. Its inner workings are where the likes of Cecil Borer are found.”

Unfortunately for Marighella, Borer was unable to stomach the man’s escape on the day of the coup. They had first met in another May, some 28 autumns earlier. Borer hated Marighella, who in turn had nothing but contempt for his antagonist. The Dops chief sent the man he trusted most to stake out the building in Catete. The resident of apartment 704 never showed up, but João Macedo persevered. He knew that the super was keeping Marighella’s mail and supposed that the recipient would eventually like to verify its contents. He went so far as to start tailing her. On 6 AM that Saturday, as the day broke clear with the sun unhindered by clouds, the woman went out. She ran errands in the neighborhood, bought a book at the street market, and returned home, unaware of the omnipresence of the man disguised as a street sweeper. João Macedo nearly gave up. He took off the uniform. Then, around 4 in the afternoon, Valdelice de Almeida Santana left the building with the package.

She walked to Rua do Catete and made a right. On the same sidewalk, she was tailed by Carlos Gomes, a detective assisting João Macedo as lookout. From the other side of the street, Borer’s boy kept tabs on her. At Largo do Machado, Valdelice got on a bus to Tijuca not noticing that she had company. João Macedo took a seat behind her. His colleague sat in front. The super got off at Praça Saens Peña and the two men continued to tail her separately. Approaching the movie theater, Valdelice obeyed Marighella’s signal to enter. João Macedo ran to a pay phone and called the building on Rua da Relação. Borer ordered his A-team of agents to hurry over. And he only hung up after hammering it home:

“Careful. Marighella’s tough.”


At age 52, Carlos Marighella was seen as a hard man thanks to his intimidating frame, but he had never been one to pick a fight. At age 27, his height was recorded as 5’8”, respectable enough for an adult male in Brazil at the time. As a student at the Escola Politécnica, Marighella became known in Salvador for his regular attendance of demonstrations against the governor as well as for his poems, which he’d been writing since junior high. He joined the city’s capoeira circles, enchanted by Mestre Pastinha. But there were no stories of him ever raising a hand, or a foot as it were, against his fellow man. The only exceptions were his arrests and stories of his bravery recounted in prison. It’s quite possible that his hair, cut with a flair unseen at the time, reinforced his reputation for danger. Marighella used to shave the sides of his head with a razor, leaving a longitudinal strip that stretched to the back of his neck. The upright plume of hair suggested an Indian ready for battle. Upon meeting him in person, journalist Paulo Francis compared him to the Last of the Mohicans.

After the Ides of March, Marighella gave up on that look, which helped him remain incognito. The hectic nature of his new daily grind deprived him of time for even simple tasks. As soon as he and Clara settled in with a family of factory workers in Méier, he phoned the day-boarding school where his 15-year-old son studied from Monday to Friday. Carlinhos spent weekends in Catete, but never went back to their building, knowing it was surrounded by danger. Two weeks later, Marighella showed up unannounced at the Colégio Batista in Tijuca and took his son to a nearby bakery to talk. Wearing a bushy wig, denim shirt and jeans, he looked to his son like the picture of a motorcycle gang member. The only thing missing was the motorcycle. As they ate their sandwiches, he instructed Carlinhos how to get by while his father stayed in hiding. He mentioned the deposed president’s decision not to put up a fight:

“Jango’s soft.”

And it wasn’t just the exiled João Goulart that had him frustrated. The Brazilian Communist Party, for which he had been an activist for 30 years and stood as a senior leader, had disappointed Marighella with what he considered inaction in the face of the coup. The party had put all their chips on Jango, a bet that had effectively made the communists complicit in the overthrow of the rancher from Rio Grande do Sul who had promised land reform. To his comrades, he’d been voicing his grievances against the party’s commanders, as he did on a visit to the apartment of playwright Oduvaldo Vianna, who’d been fired from Rádio Nacional in April. There, by the banks of the canal separating Leblon from Ipanema, he let off steam to his host and the actress Vera Gertel, a member of the recently outlawed Popular Center of Culture.

Early that Friday afternoon, the day before he would go to retrieve his clothes, Marighella showed up unexpectedly at the home of another communist who had been expelled from Rádio Nacional. Artistic director for the radio station up until March of that year, Dias Gomes led him to the discreet office behind his residence in Jardim Botânico. He assumed his friend had come to share secret initiatives against the regime and was taken aback when Marighella, rather than pulling out an incendiary manifesto, showed him some of his recent poems. Just one of several fellow Bahia natives residing in Rio, Dias was the author of the play O pagador de promessas, and its film adaptation had taken home the Palme d’Or at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival. Unlike Gomes, his wife, novelist Janete Clair, was not a communist activist. Marighella left after spending hours chatting about theater and poetry. Years later, in a telenovela co-written by Dias Gomes, the author would label the spies from the political police, as well as their counterparts in the armed forces, “bellbirds.”

Rarely taking a day for leisure as he had that Friday, Marighella remained feverishly active and thus exposed to the bellbirds. Most of his comrades from the PCB Central Committee stayed in monastic isolation. They made their personal safety top priority, thus negating any political activity because of the collateral risks. But Marighella dared to attempt to reunite the fragmented militancy. As such, he needed to communicate and circulate. He questioned: How can we expect to fight the dictatorship if we’re locked up at home? Marighella had stayed in the streets since the day of the coup. He’d placed his hopes on the sergeants mounting a rebellion in the barracks and bet on a mutiny against the insurgents of April within the Vila Militar. Nothing panned out, not in Rio de Janeiro, nor anywhere else in Brazil. He was deeply affected by the news from Recife describing the brutality and humiliation suffered by farmworker leader Gregório Bezerra at the hands of officers from the Fourth Army. At the mechanization park, they had forced the 64-year-old Bezerra to stand barefoot in a pool of battery acid. With three ropes lassoed around his neck, they dragged him through the streets like a wild colt, with the colonel announcing:

“Here is the communist criminal Gregório Bezerra! He’s going to be hung in the town square! Come watch!”

Marighella had witnessed similar scenes. In the past, it had been him in Bezerra’s place–Bezerra, his former fellow member of the Constitutional Assembly of 1946, a man for whom he’d written speeches. In walks with Carlinhos along the beach at Flamengo, he recounted the brutalities he’d suffered and assured his son he’d never again be taken alive. Marighella’s words to his younger brother Caetano, spoken early that year on a visit to Salvador, stayed in the man’s memory:

“If they try to arrest me again, I won’t let them. I’ll resist, I’ll shoot, die if I have to. There’s no way they’ll get to torture me ever again.”

Despite the danger, Marighella managed to arrange a meeting with the super that Saturday. He wasn’t just picking up clothes. He was anxious to get his mail, as João Macedo had prudently ascertained. He left Méier bright and early, talked with fellow militants, and read the papers at the close of yet another bad week. It was May 9, 1964, a month after the institutional act had passed with the first round of political purges.

That Thursday, President Castello Branco had padded the list with two federal representatives, seven state representatives, the mayor of a capital city, and others who had been on the losing side in April. An old friend of Marighella’s, the songwriter and actor Mário Lago who had been fired from Rádio Nacional, was taken to the Dops. He’d introduced himself as a communist. The minister of war, Arthur da Costa e Silva, asserted on the 19th anniversary of the allied victory in Europe, “The fight did not end because communism is always active in its ideological war against the democratic, Christian world.” The papers made him laugh. General Mourão Filho, the man who sent his troops from Juiz de Fora to Rio on March 31, offered a self-portrait: “In an article on politics, I do not understand, nor do I say anything. I’m a cow in uniform.”

On his way to the movie theater, Marighella read an article on one of his favorite songwriters. Hospitalized for an operation on his nose, Cartola proclaimed that, with no money for his bills, he would pay the doctors in samba. Marighella turned to songwriting as a distraction. At times his writing was inspired, like an amusing frevo he had penned about Cacareco, the rhinoceros that had been the top vote getter in a São Paulo election. But none of his songs had ever been recorded. A singer friend of his, Jorge Goulart, had interpreted the big hit of the last Carnaval under democratic Brazil: the Carnaval march “Cabeleira do Zezé” by João Roberto Kelly and Roberto Faissal.

That Saturday afternoon, Marighella’s head wasn’t in the mood for music. He’d sensed trouble as Valdelice approached him on Rua Conde de Bonfim with the package and the tail behind her. In the dark movie theater, he took a seat to plan his escape. He’d escaped so many times. Why not this time? He had to think fast. There was no chance of getting out the front. The side exit also seemed reckless. He paid no mind to the movie that had the underage audience erupting with laughter. Until the projector cut off and the lights turned on.


The lights in the theater don’t come on by accident, the projector isn’t broken down, and the projectionist isn’t mixed up trying to change the reels. The interruption is a farce forced on the movie theater manager by João Macedo. In the run-up, he and his partner were counting the minutes for their reinforcements to arrive. By the entrance to the gallery where the Eskye-Tijuca is located, there’s a poster for a comedy titled Rififi no safári, starring Bob Hope and Anita Ekberg: “An imposter explores Africa with the most sensational blonde of all.” The four o’clock show is closer to the end than the beginning. The film critic for Correio da Manhã panned the movie. He loathed the discreet necklines on the outfits worn by the curvaceous Ekberg and mentioned a gag about U.S. president John Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev as the only redeeming moment. A photographer from the paper thought little of the review and decided to take his daughter to see it.

The afternoon has a little more flavor for student Elisabeth Mamede, her brother Celso, and their cousin Kátia. It’s the first time her parents have allowed 14-year-old Elizabeth to take the younger kids to a movie on her own. None of them notice, a few rows behind them, a man who is too late for one session, and early for the next one. The more than ten officers sent by Cecil Borer don’t get there late. Unsure of Marighella’s exact location, they block off the exits and move in. They aren’t going to allow any cinematic escapes. They’re aware that the theater is filled with children. A former athlete about ten years Marighella’s junior, João Macedo nonetheless doesn’t forget Borer’s warning. Having simulated the projector malfunction, the lights come on and the hunters spot their prey.

A policeman standing in back and to the right of the seated Marighella orders him to come quietly. Another approaches from his left, blocking him in. In front, a third flashes his badge with the Dops initials. All this in an instant. The fourth, next to the man with the badge, squares and points his .38 caliber revolver. Thinking he’s about to die, Marighella shouts, “Kill me, you criminals! Down with the fascist military dictatorship! Long live democracy! Long live the Communist Party!”

Before he’s done, the agent fires at close range. Wounded in the chest, Marighella balances his frame with the left leg, throwing a kick with the right and knocking the gun away. Another kick destroys a chair. His shoes go flying. The cops pound on him. He doesn’t go down, instead reciprocating the aggressions. There’s a sweet taste in his mouth. It’s the blood he’s soaked in. It pours down his face, muddying his vision, and Marighella has the impression that he’s up against at least seven men. There are eight, counting bystanders. He can’t see the cops’ faces and will never be able to identify them.

There was only one shot, but blood is gushing from three holes. The bullet went in through Marighella’s thorax, out his armpit and back into his arm, where it remains lodged in his arm. Marighella keeps fighting. Like a lion, in the words of one of the contenders trying to immobilize him. Another cries out enraged, “Red! Red!”

With the altercation, the audience turns, hearing the shot and seeing the accompanying flash. The panicking children are crying. Elisabeth, Celso, and Kátia get down on the floor and crawl. Overpowered, his shirt ripped open, his bloodied suit jacket torn away, Marighella is dragged out of the theater by cops. The photographer from Correio da Manhã who’s out to the movies with his daughter aims his camera, but the police threaten him, blocking him from registering the scene. He insists and manages a few blurry shots. Valdelice is arrested.

Nearly at the sidewalk, Marighella recognizes the Dops wagon and his mind is made up, “No way am I getting in that paint can.” Paint can being the popular expression for police vehicles designated for transporting prisoners. His resistance knows no bounds. They shove him, lifting him off the ground. He plants his legs on the roof of the automobile and won’t go in. More kicks and punches. Now it’s fourteen against one. Marighella’s body falls to the street. They stomp on it, streaking the sidewalk red. Passersby protest. Passengers in a van exit their vehicle and do the same. They’re driven away by police officers who seem to come from out of nowhere. High school student Alcides Raphael, who came to see the 6 o’clock show, estimates the lone man’s struggle to stay out of the car at five minutes—Correio da Manhã times the beating at ten.

Marighella gives up only after a blow to the head knocks him out. He arrives at Hospital Souza Aguiar unconscious. Military police with machine guns are there waiting when the Dops paint can number 964 arrives. Presented with the motionless body, the doctors can’t tell if he’s dead or alive. They take his vital signs and begin treating him. The staff on duty at the biggest emergency room in the country can’t believe that a man in his fifties, shot in the chest, could have taken on so many younger police officers. The bullet struck the tip of one of his ribs and just barely missed the xiphoid process, which could have cost him his life. With such a massive loss of blood, his prospects are uncertain. Any attempt to extract the projectile will have to wait.


Medical conditions meant nothing to the cops. With Marighella still unconscious, they handcuffed him and strapped him to his stretcher. Aside from the Dops agents and the military police, the 19th District provided a detail to guarantee the communist wouldn’t take off in the middle of the night. They feared a miraculous recovery and a guerrilla-style rescue mission. There had been no warrant for Marighella’s arrest. He wasn’t a fugitive. Under the new regime, these things mattered little. Nonetheless, the tightness of the garrote was still far from the grip Brazil would come to know. Meanwhile, that Saturday evening, the radio stations trumpeted the news of the police operation at the Tijuca movie theater. The Sunday edition of Jornal do Brasil read: “Ex-congressman Marighella wounded by a gunshot in a movie theater while resisting arrest.” Correio da Manhã was more concise: “Dops shoots ex-congressman in Guanabara.”

Learning of her partner’s shooting, Clara Charf was crushed. If she were to show up at the hospital, she’d be arrested. They’d been in a similar situation a decade earlier, but with the roles reversed: her under arrest, him free. It was time to say goodbye to Méier. She grabbed her few belongings and took refuge at ambassador Álvaro Lins’s apartment in Parque Guinle, just steps from Laranjeiras Palace, where Jango had been holed up until the first of April.

Her husband’s chances of getting away on foot were about the same as one of the agoutis from Campo de Santana, the park across the street from Souza Aguiar, climbing aboard a city bus and asking the driver to change a 10-cruzeiro bill. And the prospect of uniting a handful of militants to free him was highly unlikely. With the post-coup fallout, it was hard enough to get anyone together for a harmless conversation of circumstantial analysis.

Marighella slept next door to the two-story house at Praça da República by the corner with Rua da Constituição, which, in 1922, housed the original headquarters of the Brazilian Communist Party. On the other side of the street, less than 100 yards from the hospital, stood the National Law School. The students wounded there on April 1st had been treated at Souza Aguiar, as had those who’d been shot at Cinelândia. A bit further on was the Central Station railroad terminal, the setting for the pro-reform rally on Friday, March 13, 1964. Next door to Central Station was the Ministry of War building, the headquarters of the anti-Goulart conspiracy.

It wasn’t this geography that populated Marighella’s dreams—or his nightmares. Hours after he was hospitalized, he stood up with the stretcher strapped to his back and delivered a passionate speech. In his delirium, he was imprisoned at the building on Rua da Relação. He cursed the Dops and the pigs that worked for them. The cops observed attentively while the doctors attempted to wake Marighella and calm him down. His bleeding wouldn’t stop and the narcotics didn’t alleviate the pain. He didn’t have the strength to turn over in bed. He went back to sleep, alternating between fits of consciousness. In one of them, he opened his eyes to a familiar face, that of his brother-in-law, Armando Teixeira. Tereza Marighella’s husband had heard of his arrest on the radio and was determined to check on his wife’s brother firsthand. He had glided past the reception desk and headed up to the infirmary, paying no mind to the guards monitoring the patient from a distance. Though heavily sedated, Marighella managed to respond: with one finger he pointed toward the guards, with the other he signaled that he was okay.

The throng of reporters waiting to hear Marighella speak finally got what they wanted the morning after the Sunday when Teixeira was able to verify that his brother-in-law was still alive. The injured man was being moved from his cot in the wound dressing room to the X-ray room when he was surrounded by newsmen. Marighella squirmed and struggled to speak, blood dribbling from his lips:

“They never thought twice about eliminating me. Yes, I am a communist, but I’m no criminal. I’m not sorry for what happened to me, but we’re all sorry for the innocents who are falling into the clutches of the new order.”

He tried to continue, but a soldier from the Military Police drove the interviewers out. Shortly after, Marighella watched as law enforcement officials engaged in a shouting match with the doctors on duty. The hospital staff had resisted the insistence that he be immediately transferred. It would be reckless to send him to the Lemos de Brito penitentiary just over a mile away. Their pleas did no good. Just over 40 hours after he’d been admitted to Souza Aguiar with his life on the line, Marighella was taken out in an ambulance.

The pain only got worse from there. When they reached their destination, a setback: the warden refused to admit the involuntary guest. He feared repercussions should he take in a prisoner with such serious injuries, injuries that could only be adequately treated elsewhere. Not to mention the fact that there had been no conviction, not even a warrant for the man’s arrest. For the exact same reasons, Presídio Fernandes Viana closed its doors to Marighella. They brought him back to Souza Aguiar, temporarily. Again they handcuffed him to his hospital bed, then transported him back to Lemos de Brito, because no worthless prison bureaucrat was going to tell them what to do. Marighella was no stranger to the place.


It had been nearly 20 years since he’d been inside the penitentiary complex on Rua Frei Caneca. He didn’t forget the hours of euphoria that had preceded his release. Now he was back, on the bottom again. They put him in a narrow cubicle, number 31. He read the sign posted on the outside: “Incomunicável.” He could only speak to whoever was in the corridor through a tiny window in the wooden door that wouldn’t slide open. Air circulated through a grated hole at the top of the cell. A low wall separated the wall-mounted cell bed from the sink and toilet.

With no court order for his incarceration, he couldn’t be considered a prisoner and was instead classified as held under “storage procedure.” Marighella was deposit number 523. That night, he learned he had cellmates. Small cockroaches streamed in and out. In a bout of insomnia, they’d do as substitutes for sheep. There was no need though. Exhausted, Marighella promptly surrendered to sleep. He was awakened in the early morning hours, discovering that the cockroaches rejoiced in the presence of fresh meat: they swarmed his lips. He spent the next few days in isolation interrupted only by trips to the infirmary where the surgeon Acioly Maia removed the bullet. The red tip, flattened by the impact with his rib, caught Marighella’s attention. He learned that, aside from escaping death, his left arm had nearly been incapacitated — the bullet had scraped the tendon.

Kept in his cubicle, he was prohibited from receiving from visitors and consulting with an attorney. He couldn’t talk with anyone. Never solicited for a deposition or hearing, he felt like a forgotten object discarded in the police storeroom. He wanted to know what they were accusing him of. In the inquiry, to which he had been denied access, the answer was left blank: formally, nothing. He had no knowledge of what was going on in the outside world, because he was also denied access to newspapers. Had he been allowed to read them, he might have found it hard to believe that the city had forgotten all about Garrincha’s blown-out knee, causing him to be cut from the Brazilian squad just as they were heading to the Nations’ Cup, the campaign launched by a priest for the military to ban kissing and other “indecorous customs,” and the speculations of how a human head, specifically Marshall Castello Branco’s, could stay balanced atop a torso without the support of a neck. There seemed to be no other news in the world aside from Carlos Marighella and his hard-fought capture.

In an editorial titled “Sanguinary Show,” Última Hora denounced his transfer to Lemos de Brito. The paper considered the act a threat to his life: “If Mr. Carlos Marighella were to turn up dead tomorrow, it will surely be described as an ‘unfortunate accident’ in official accounts. But what else can be expected when a man, hated and wounded by the police, receives ‘treatment’ at a prison infirmary?” In its descriptions of the proceedings at the movie theater, Correio da Manhã spoke of “cruelty” and “idiocy.” The paper had previously pushed for Goulart’s ouster, but after a few short editions, it adopted a stance of opposition in response to the wave of repression. Following Marighella’s arrest, the paper published the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the front page. In an article titled “In Defense of the Children,” columnist Sérgio Bittencourt praised Marighella, citing the “courage of an unarmed man.” “What I know, what little I’ve always known, is something that common sense shouts loud and clear: worse than carrying on a quote-unquote ‘revolution’ is to align this same ‘revolution’ with blood senselessly drawn from a lone, defenseless, tottering man—all this before the frightened and confused eyes of children who may or not understand what a ‘revolution’ is, but surely know what cowardice is when they see it.”

One of the pillars of the “Revolution,” as proclaimed by the new regime, the National Security Council urgently wished to interrogate Marighella. This was the reason given to Jornal do Brasil to justify the recently-shot prisoner’s transfer to Lemos de Brito. The papers sent their troops into the field to investigate the incident at the movie theater. Jornal do Commercio reported that a witness claimed to have overheard Inspector Hiram say to a colleague from the political police: “The man was already overpowered. There was no need to shoot him.” But the scoop that had the biggest impact was the photo of Marighella being carried by two police officers, before he again resisted being placed inside the paint can. Correio da Manhã christened it “the image of terror.”

Based on that photo, the morning paper was able to qualify Guanabara minister of security Gustavo Borges’s version of the story as “false and foolish.” The colonel and his subordinates at the Dops alleged that the gun had been Marighella’s, that he had shot himself and that he’d been detained by a single officer. In his reports that provided more disinformation than clarifications, the minister did provide one clue as to who had actually pulled the trigger, debunking the myth that Marighella’s wound was self-inflicted: “The person who shot the citizen Carlos Marighella is not a member of the police forces.” João Macedo wasn’t. But he wasn’t the only one. That left Valdelice Santana. Arrested at the Eskye-Tijuca, she was taken to Rua da Relação, where she was beaten in hopes that she’d provide information of which she had no knowledge. Married to an employee at the building in Catete, she was presented by the Dops as the famous prisoner’s lover. The super kept a key to his apartment, which she occasionally cleaned. Hence the reason Marighella reached out to her for his clothes and correspondence.

He had no idea what was going on outside his cubicle—the National Security Council didn’t come to him. So isolated was he that the following Friday a rumor spread throughout the prison that Marighella was dead. It was June 5th when they sent word to him to get ready, that he was being summoned by the Dops. He asked for the clothing he’d had on when they’d brought him to Lemos de Brito. The same clothes he’d been wearing in the movie theater. He put on the pants caked with dried blood and the even bloodier shirt with three bullet holes. He wore nothing on his feet as his shoes had been lost in the mayhem. He went barefoot. It was a look he called “Bill of Indictment.”

On his way to the Dops, he stopped at the Institute of Legal Medicine on Rua dos Inválidos. A doctor examined him and confided that the shot was meant to kill him. Half a block from the ILM, Marighella glimpsed the building at the corner of Rua da Relação where hell had once been unleashed upon him. Seeing him dressed in the bloody rags, the clerk inquired:

“Why are you here in these bloodstained clothes?”

“Because the Dops made me incommunicado all these days,” countered Marighella. And he warned, “You better not write that this is a ‘Revolution’ on that paper. If you do, I’m not signing a goddamn thing! Write ‘fascist military coup, fascist institutional act’!”

Once his deposition was through, they took him back to cubicle 31, where he vegetated for another 20 days. Then he was brought back to the Dops, not knowing why. This time they gave him a pair of flip-flops, but he kept the bloody clothes on. Upon his arrival, an officer from São Paulo produced 19 notebooks from a light leather folder. They were filled with notes in small, rounded and feminine letters–Luiz Carlos Prestes’s unmistakable handwriting. On the run since the day of the coup, the secretary-general of the Brazilian Communist Party had left memorandums on the party’s day-to-day workings at his home. They cited Marighella’s name 133 times. Provoked by the spiral notebooks piled in front of him, Marighella recognized them but didn’t let on:

“I don’t know what this is. I have nothing to say.”

To his surprise, after the questioning he wasn’t taken back to Lemos de Brito. They kept him there at the Dops. He rejoiced at the chance to catch up with some of his jailed comrades. Marighella told them that, if he hadn’t resisted arrest at the movie theater, if he had gone out quietly, he would have been tortured, and no one would have known about it. There wasn’t enough mattress space for everyone; some of the inmates had to sleep on newspapers. Marighella shared a mattress with the “vice-sheriff” elected by the inmate collective, José Maria Nunes Pereira. Representatives of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola had been known to circulate in Pereira’s apartment. Despite the warm reception, Marighella soon realized he was in hot water. The cold, moist wind blew in through the iron bars of the jailhouse gate. The Cariocas compared the winter of 1964 to the one three years earlier, when penguins from Patagonia had found their way to the city’s beaches. Marighella developed a cough. His lungs felt weak. The food caused dysentery and there were a hundred inmates for a single toilet. The parade of cockroaches at Lemos de Brito was better than the grub there. He lost the weight he had recuperated. He wanted to go back to the penitentiary, but his requests were denied.

In the late afternoon of July 2nd, the date of Bahia’s independence that he had so studied in school, Marighella was informed that he would be hitting the road. His destination was the Dops headquarters in São Paulo. The temperature would fall to the low ’50s. His comrades tried to get him some money, fruit, warm clothing to comfort him, as did a number of police employees who took pity on his predicament. Outside, a gray wagon with a yellow stripe pulled up. He thought of the transportation company Lusitana and its slogan, “As the world turns, Lusitana turns with it,” and muttered to himself, “As the world turns, Marighella’s in the shit.”

Through the back of the vehicle, he could see Interstate Dutra. The cops driving the escort vehicles had thrown him an overcoat to withstand the cold. With each pothole, his head bumped on the low ceiling. Throwing his hands up in protection he relinquished his grip on the iron bench and lost his balance. He was tossed around the back of the wagon like a piece of fruit in a blender, along with a spare tire and an assortment of tools. A former engineering student, Marighella devised a scheme to make the ride less painful. He lay on top of the tire, bracing one foot against the side wall, the other on the wagon floor. His left hand gripped the other side. His right safeguarded the crown of his head from further blows. His wounds stung like they were being stuck with needles. The nonstop shaking gave way to fits of vomiting. The long night was far from over and Carlos Marighella felt like he was in a spaceship about to take flight into the stratosphere. He thought of the first man in outer space and, still awake, dreamed he was Yuri Gagarin.


Mário Magalhães

Mário Magalhães is a Brazilian journalist and author. Over his distinguished 30-year career, he worked for Tribuna da Imprensa, O Globo, O Estado de S. Paulo, and Folha de S. Paulo. His acclaimed biography of Carlos Marighella was published by Companhia das Letras in 2012, winning that year's Prêmio Jabuti for biography and serving as the basis for the biopic directed by Wagner Moura. Magalhães also authored the book O Narcotráfico (Publifolha, 1999) and co-authored Viagem ao país do futebol (DBA, 1998), Crecer a golpes (C. A. Press/Penguin Group, 2013), Ciudades visibles: 21 crónicas latinoamericanas (RM, 2016) and 11 gols de placa: Uma seleção de grandes reportagens sobre o nosso futebol (Record, 2010). He has earned 25 awards for his journalism and nonfiction writing in Brazil and abroad. After his outspoken criticism of the Brazilian media's cheerleading for the impeachment proceedings against then-president Dilma Roussef, Magalhães was fired from Grupo Folha in 2016. He is a contributor to The Intercept Brasil.

Matthew Rinaldi

Born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1979, Matthew Rinaldi earned a BA in English from Fordham University in 2002. The following year he relocated to São Paulo, Brazil, where he would reside for 15 years. During that time, he learned the Portuguese language and developed a career as a translator specializing in contemporary art, culture, and photography, and working for some of the country's most prominent museums, cultural institutions, and publishing houses. Rinaldi also accumulated a scattering of writing credits, contributing chapters to Jonathan Runge's Rum & Reggae's Brasil, articles on the FLIP literary festival to Gobshite Quarterly, and a feature on the burgeoning urban farming movement in New York City to the Brazilian magazine RED Report. He is currently working with photographer Claudio Edinger on a survey of the history of photography and modern painting.

Copyright (c) Companhia das Letras, 2012. English translation copyright (c) Matthew Rinaldi, 2019.