If there is a person who embodies the recent Brazilian history from the perspective of Rio de Janeiro’s middle class, this person is Fernando Gabeira. Reporter, political activist, terrorist, exiled, behavior guru, politician, Senator and currently political commentator.
His career began in Juiz de Fora a town between the states of Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro in the early sixties when the political turmoil generated by the military coup and the student demonstrations brought him to Rio de Janeiro. When the repression intensified he and many of his friends went underground, trained as guerrillas and produced spectacular actions against the government.
Gabeira was part of the most dramatic one: the kidnapping of the American Ambassador Charles Elbrick. They hid with him in a house in Santa Tereza and ended up exchanging him for the freedom of companions and for the publishing texts in opposition to the regime in the media. The success of the operation meant that the secret police hunted him down with extra zeal; he exchanged fire with them when he was arrested, and was tortured while wounded.
He was in a group that the military swapped for the Swiss embassador during the 1970’s world cup. After passing through Chile he ended up in living France and in the early 80’s he received amnesty together with most political exiles. He then returned to Rio de Janeiro to begin his career as Brazil’s rock and roll politician.
As most ex-terrorists, outside Brazil he broke away from the organization he belonged to, the MR8, and embraced alternative politics. He published his memoirs in the best seller O Que e Isto Companheiro? Where he described his life as a guerrilheiro, and his “path to good sense” when he broke away from hard-core revolutionary Leninism. As the dictatorship faded away, in the early days of the “abertura poltica“, Brazil’s glasnost, everyone read his book where the points he lifted of doing a more personal and heart oriented revolution were embraced almost universally in the “inteligentzia” of Ipanema.
One detail of his book caused a big commotion in every quarter, he declared that he was bisexual at the time he had been a terrorist.
In Rio, The place he frequented the beach, the Posto Nove in Ipanema, became the hub of what Brazil was going to be in 20 or 30 years, a space of plurality and open-mindedness. Gabeira made it famous by appearing there in a crochet thong, the photos hit the media and caused a national stir; the gay pot-smoking terrorist, politically active with a liberation and green agenda.
His next step was mainstream politics, he was one of the founders of the Brazilian Green Party and run for several important posts, even President. As a politician he lifted controversial issues such as the legalization of marijuana, gay marriage and the regimentation of prostitution and is close to Marina Silva Brazil’s ecological champion.
Despite his alternative profile he is very popular and has been very close to be elected the Governor of Rio de Janeiro and its mayor in recent years and received the highest amount of votes a federal deputy has ever had in Rio, close to 900.000 votes.
Read more about him and this period in Brazil in Lost Samba.