Get to Know a Brazilian – Ivens Marchetti

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

As we continue our look at the lives of the fifteen political prisoners exchanged for US ambassador Charles Elbrick, whom armed leftist groups took hostage in September 1969, we turn to Ivens Marchetti.

It is difficult to find much about Marchetti’s youth and the first decades of his life. By the early 1960s, he was an architect and was active in the Partido Comunista Brasileiro (PCB). He was also active in trying to address issues of social justice in urban centers, working in the favela of Rocinha, in Rio de Janeiro, where he saw the face of urban inequality in Brazil up close. With the coup of 1964, Marchetti, like many other members of the PCB, was caught up in the internal factionalism and fragmentation of the PCB, and like Onofre Pinto, João Leonardo da Rocha Silva, and others, he ended up joining a splinter group that came to be known as the Dissidência Comunista of Niterói, the large city that sat opposite Rio de Janeiro on Guanabara Bay. Early on, the Dissidências operated on university campuses, where they hoped to effect political revolution. However, by the end of 1968, as Brazil’s military entered its most repressive phase, the Dissidências turned away from political militancy and toward the armed struggle.

With this turn to the armed struggle, Marchetti’s group launched a failed attempt to establish a foco guerrilla movement in the southern state of Paraná. The foco theory of revolution drew heavily on the example of the Cuban Revolution and of the theoretical writings of Ché Guevara. Foquismo, as it is called in Portuguese, argued that small revolutionary groups operating in rural areas can strike rapidly, weakening repressive governments even while building broader connections with peasants and other people, ultimately sparking a general insurrection that could topple governments. At its best, Ché’s theory overstated the importance of guerrilla groups in Cuba while neglecting the role that a rural proletariat, urban university students, and others discontent with the repressive regime of Fulgencio Batista, played in the Cuban Revolution. Nonetheless, foquismo proved to be influential in Brazil in both the cities and the countryside, perhaps most famously in the failed Araguaia campaign.

Thus, Marchetti’s involvement in a foco in Paraná was part of a broader turn to armed struggle to try to topple Brazil’s military regime. Such efforts were not just limited to pockets of armed resistance; they also relied on “Expropriations Commands” in the cities, with armed members of the Dissidência or other opposition groups targeting banks, taking their money and “expropriating” it for the armed struggle in Paraná. Ultiamtely, hwoever, the Paraná foco, like other focos, ultimately fell, and military forces arrested Marchetti in April of 1969.

While imprisoned, the military subjected Marchetti to brutal forms of torture. In reports compiled for the Brasil: Nunca Mais (Brazil: Never Again) report, Marchetti was subjected to electrical shocks to his genitals and head, including while he was hung upside down. He also endured beatings and was subjected to the parrot’s perch, a favored mechanism for the regime to torture people physically. In addition to going through this torture, Marchetti was displayed to other prisoners while being tortured, with the other prisoners being told that if they did not provide information, they would end up in the same position as Marchetti.

 

The Pau de Arara (Parrot's Perch), a form of torture that exposed bodies to increasing pain and disorientation, even while the military deployed other forms of torture (including burning, simulated drowning, beatings, and electrical shocks) to political prisoners while they hung from the perch.

The Pau de Arara (Parrot’s Perch), a form of torture that exposed bodies to increasing pain and disorientation, even while the military deployed other forms of torture (including burning, simulated drowning, beatings, and electrical shocks) to political prisoners while they hung from the perch.

 

Although the military had virtually wiped out the initial members of the MR-8, as the Dissidência came to be known (based on the title of the group’s journal/pamphlets) by the middle of 1969, some of those leftists who were involved in the kidnapping of Elbrick decided to adopt the name themselves in an effort to show the regime, and the Brazilian public, that the MR-8 had not been, and could not be, so easily dispatched. Given his role in the first wave of the “MR-8,” Marchetti’s name ended up on the list of 15 political prisoners to be released in exchange for Elbrick.

 

Thirteen of the fifteen political prisoners released into exile in exchange for US ambassador Charles Elbrick in 1969. Ivens Marchetti is kneeling in the front row, second from the right.

Thirteen of the fifteen political prisoners released into exile in exchange for US ambassador Charles Elbrick in 1969. Ivens Marchetti is kneeling in the front row, second from the right.

Because of his training as an architect, upon arriving in Mexico, Marchetti immediately received “guaranteed” job offers to work in Mexico, which he said he would do when he had the “psychological conditions” to work again. Ultimately, Marchetti went to Cuba with the majority of the other political prisoners, before he relocated to Chile, where Salvador Allende was attempting the “peaceful path to Socialism” through electoral politics. Like so many other exiled Brazilians who hoped to be part of revolutionary social transformation in Chile, with the military coup of 1973 that installed the Pinochet regime, Marchetti was once arrested and imprisoned, this time in Chile, before again going into exile. Marchetti ended up spending most of his exile in Stockholm, Sweden, before returning to Brazil with the general amnesty of 1979. Ultimately, Marchetti lived until 2002, when he died of cancer. Although Marchetti survived the dictatorship, he did not live to see a renewed interest in, and examination of, the events behind the kidnapping of Elbrick. Unfortunately, this meant that his voice was not and could not be included in documentaries like Hércules 56, which interviewed both the surviving political prisoners and many of the leftists who participated in the kidnapping of Elbrick. For this reason alone, less is known of his life than of other prisoners; nonetheless, his story and legacy live on not just in the events of 1969, but in the memory of the regime’s use of torture and repression.

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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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