Get to Know a Brazilian – Onofre Pinto

This is part of an ongoing series. Previous entries can be found here.

Continuing the series looking at the fifteen political prisoners released in exchange for US Ambassador Charles Elbrick in 1969, this week we focus on the life of Onofre Pinto.

Onofre Pinto was born in Jacupiranga, a municipality in the southern part of the state of São Paulo, in 1937. It is difficult to find out much about his early years; what is known is that, after studying accounting, Pinto enlisted in the Army, where he rose to the rank of Sergeant. However, even while serving in the military, he became more radicalized. By the time he was 27, Onofre Pinto was one of the leaders in São Paulo of the “Sergeants’ Revolt.” Across late 1963 and early 1964, sergeants in the military demanded the right to be able to be elected to public office. High-ranking officials in the military saw the sergeants’ demand as undermining the very principle of hierarchy and command in the armed forces, and when president João Goulart sided with the sergeants in late March of 1964, it proved to be one of the final straws for the military, which soon overthrew Goulart and ushered in the twenty-one year military dictatorship.

Onofre Pinto, while still a member of the Brazilian Army.

Onofre Pinto, while still a member of the Brazilian Army.

Because of his role in the Sergeants’ Revolt, the military was quick to punish Onofre Pinto after taking power on April 1, 1964. Based on the Institutional Act No. 1 (Ato Institucional No. 1, AI-1), the military stripped Onofre Pinto of his political rights for 10 years. By the end of 1964, Onofre Pinto was also in prison.

However, Onofre Pinto’s time in prison did not last long, and once he was free, he returned to political activism, now challenging the new military regime. He soon joined the Movimento Nacionalista Revolucionário (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement, MNR), one of a number of nascent leftist groups that challenged the military regime. By 1967, as the MNR fell apart, Onofre Pinto became a founding member of the Vanguarda Popular Revolucionária (Popular Revolutionary Vanguard, VPR), alongside Carlos Lamarca, an ex-captain from the Brazilian Army who deserted and joined the fight against the military regime. The VPR sought to replace the right-wing military regime with a socialist government and society in Brazil.

Thirteen of the fifteen political prisoners released into exile in exchange for US ambassador Charles Elbrick in 1969. Onofre Pinto is in the back, fourth from left.

Thirteen of the fifteen political prisoners released into exile in exchange for US ambassador Charles Elbrick in 1969. Onofre Pinto is in the back, fourth from left.

As with most of the political prisoners released in September 1969, Onofre Pinto was a victim of the new wave of repression that the Institutional Act No. 5 (AI-5) had ushered in at the end of 1968. On March 2, 1969, agents from the Departamento de Ordem Político e Social (Department of Political and Social Order, DOPS) arrested him on the charge of participating in armed actions against the regime. Pinto remained imprisoned until September, when his name was on the list of political prisoners to be released in exchange for Elbrick.

After going from Brazil to Mexico to Cuba, and then to Europe, Pinto returned to South America where, like so many other exiles, he relocated to Chile while Salvador Allende was working to create a “peaceful path to socialism.” Shortly before the Chilean coup of September 11, 1973, Pinto relocated to Argentina, where he organized a group of militants from the VPR, training for another guerrilla campaign against Brazil’s military regime. However, the military had been closely monitoring the VPR, including arresting and executing six VPR militants in the northeastern state of Pernambuco in 1973. Seemingly unbeknownst to Onofre Pinto, by that point, Brazil’s security apparatus had been intensely monitoring leftist groups, including the VPR. In this effort, the military was aided in no small part by individuals like “Cabo” José Anselmo dos Santos, a marine who (ironically) had also challenged the military hierarchy in late March 1964 as part of a movement that demanded better conditions for the Marines and political reforms, yet who by the early 1970s had become an informant for the military regime.

Continuing to plan for a rural guerrilla movement that could challenge the military regime, in July 1974, Onofre Pinto and several other colleagues left Buenos Aires, where they had been operating, and eventually crossed the border into Brazil in order to begin their efforts. However, security apparatuses became aware of Pinto’s return and his plans for continuing the fight against the regime.

In July of 1974, Onofre Pinto was captured near Foz do Iguaçu in the state of Paraná. According to the findings of Brazil’s Truth Commission, Pinto remained at the base of operations while five others went on a mission, where the military ambushed and killed them. Although Onofre Pinto realized something had gone wrong, the military managed to capture him and imprisoned, tortured, and executed Onofre Pinto. Upon his murder, the military discarded (or destroyed) Onofre Pinto’s body in an unknown fashion/location. Ultimately, his body was never located, making him one of the over-400 “disappeared” in Brazil during the military regime, and one of the political prisoners released in 1969 who did not live to see the end of the military regime in 1985.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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