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Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win
He was the first to make it clear that this struggle [aboutAIDS] was not a personal one, but a question of human rights.
— JOSÉ STALIN PEDROSO
At the end of my first visit with Dona Geny, Hamilton came over to meet me. He wanted to show me a family video, filmed during Christmas celebrations in December 1991, three months before his brother died. In the home movie, the family is sitting around a large table eating a hearty meal that Dona Geny has prepared. Cláudio, Herbert's partner of nearly twenty years, is clearly an integral family member, joking with Geraldo, Herbert's father, and playing with Herbert's nieces and nephews. It is a touching scene. AIDShad taken a toll on Herbert's body, and he appears thin and tired. At one point, he turns to his younger brother Hélder, the amateur filmmaker, lifts a glass, smiles into the camera, and states emphatically, "Eu estou vivo." I am alive.
In early 1992, Dona Geny spent a month in Rio taking care of her son. She recalled, "Cláudio would come home from work and give him a bath. Cláudio was very affectionate with him. ... He would give him medicine, but Bete would throw it all up. ... They had a twenty-year friendship, and I'll tell you, no woman would have taken care of my son as he did. Cláudio was a special person for him. If he had married a woman, she wouldn't have taken care of him in that way. ... [Cláudio] took care of him as if he were a [delicate] flower."
As Herbert neared death, Cláudio, his sister Magaly, and his close friends living in Rio de Janeiro looked after him around the clock. On a Sunday afternoon in late March, Válber Vieira, Daniel's doctor, was summoned to the apartment. With only his doctor and his partner Cláudio by his side, Herbert Daniel passed away.
A wake and burial were quickly organized. A hundred or more people gathered at the São João Batista Cemetery to mourn his passing. Cláudio could barely keep his composure. When pallbearers finally removed the coffin so that it could be transported to Belo Horizonte, those present broke out in applause in homage to their departed friend and comrade.
Cláudio and close friends accompanied the body on the plane. Unexpected delays caused the burial to be postponed until the following morning. Sixty or more friends and family gathered at the Cemitério Parque da Colina. A funeral cortege accompanied the body to the gravesite. People carried signs that stated "Long live life" and "Herbert Daniel: Freedom and Struggle."
The burial ceremony was laced with ironies. Although Herbert had become an atheist, a mass was celebrated in his memory. Dona Geny would have it no other way. Part of the cemetery's name, Colina (Hill), was also the acronym of the revolutionary organization that Herbert had joined so enthusiastically twenty-five years previously as a medical student. A military honor guard accompanied the coffin as an act of solidarity with Herbert's brother, Major Hamilton Brunelli de Carvalho, as if Herbert's subversive activities against the armed forces no longer had any controversial meaning.
Herbert's father, Geraldo, Dona Geny, and Cláudio clutched each other in support as they slowly followed the coffin. After the funeral procession reached the gravesite, Helena Greco, president of the Belo Horizonte City Council Human Rights Commission, spoke about Daniel's fight against the dictatorship. Apolo Herlinger Lisboa, his former comrade in the revolutionary struggle, remembered his courage while underground, when their images shared space on a "Terrorists Wanted" poster. Cláudio, who had not slept for the last three days, was barely able to hold back convulsive sobs as he read from Herbert's writings: "I've had AIDS a long time. Perhaps for decades. My main discovery, however, is that I am alive. I have lived well with AIDS, and I have suffered. It is only a disease. I hope one day, when death takes me, no one will say that AIDS defeated me."
When the coffin was lowered into the ground, mourners repeated the phrases "Life before death, not after it, is what is important," and "I don't want to be right; I want to be clear." The former had become his mantra for AIDS activism; the latter had been a phrase from Daniel's first book.
Local television stations showed brief scenes of the funeral on the midday and evening news. They mentioned his revolutionary trajectory, literary accomplishments, and openness about having AIDS. Obituaries and other news reports also emphasized his guerrilla past, especially his involvement in abducting the German and Swiss ambassadors, his European exile, and his career as a writer and AIDS activist after he returned to Brazil. One newspaper described the burial as a "protest act." Several mentioned that he was survived by Cláudio, his partner of twenty years, a personal fact about a same-sex couple, which, at the time, was rather unusual in the press.
Newspaper clippings of the funeral are carefully preserved in the album that Dona Geny shared with me during my first visit. At some point during our conversations, she suddenly got up and shuffled into the back rooms of her house. After a minute or two, she reappeared with a 3.4-ounce bottle of Chanel No. 5 Classic Perfume Spray clutched in her hand. "Bete brought this to me when he came back from France," she explained, with a deep sigh. Very little of the magical amber-colored fragrance was left in the crystal container. "Every time I want to think about him, I put on just a little bit. It helps me to remember."CHAPTER 2
He Loved to Read
Herbert studied all of the time. He was always first in his class. He was never number two. That made us very proud of him.
— GENY BRUNELLI DE CARVALHO
Nearing ninety when I last interviewed her, Dona Geny Brunelli de Carvalho possessed a quiet, simple, and humble demeanor, combined with persistent energy and an inner strength that comes from a long life of unending work. In our first conversation, she told me that her own personal history influenced her firstborn son's choice to commit his life to political struggle. "He inherited it from me because I've been a fighter all of my life." Raising a family on a limited income and taking care of sick in-laws required vitality and perseverance. In our interviews, she rarely complained about her hardships. In part, her Catholic upbringing, she explained, sustained her, and she claimed to have experienced special favor from God in obtaining answers to her prayers.
"I was born in Barbacena [in Minas Gerais]," she recalled. "Until I was nine, it was the most marvelous place in the world because I had a father who adored me, and life was beautiful. Then he was in an accident and died." Dona Geny was the seventh of eleven children in a family of second-generation immigrants from southern Italy. Her father, Adolpho Brunelli, had labored diligently, managed to set up a nice home, and eventually owned one of the town's best bakeries. With his sudden death, the world collapsed around Carmelita Delben Brunelli and her children. "We were all minors. My uncle sold the house and left my mother with nothing, so we all had to work." Geny helped her mother at home until she was thirteen. Then her uncle got her a fake work permit, and she went to toil in a textile factory. Not protected by labor legislation, she worked a twelve-hour shift. "I only started earning the minimum wage a month before I got married at age nineteen."
It was love at first sight. "I was at a neighbor's birthday party. Geraldo was playing the tambourine for the dance, and we started flirting, that sort of thing. ... We dated for a year, and then we got married. I was nineteen. Geraldo was very intelligent. He played music and drew a lot. He was completely different from my brothers. I loved him a lot, so much so that we lived sixty-three years together. Herbert was born one year after we were married."
At the time of their marriage Geraldo was a corporal in the military police. He was a distinguished-looking young man, partially descended from African slaves. Because his ailing mother was living in Belo Horizonte, he and his new bride moved to the state's capital so that Geny could take care of her, as was expected of dutiful daughters-in-law. The newlyweds settled into the Prado neighborhood close to the military police headquarters.
In 1946, Geraldo was posted to Bom Despacho, a tiny town one hundred miles from the capital, where his father, a captain in the military police, was also stationed. In the eighteenth century, residents had named the location after Our Lady of the Bom Despacho in honor of the Virgin Mary's benevolence in ensuring successful deliveries of newborns. Dona Geny, who was now pregnant, and her mother-in-law soon joined their husbands. Bom Despacho was, in Dona Geny's words, a "horrible place" with a single church, the barracks, and modest housing where the military families lived. "They didn't have a doctor; they didn't have a hospital. I had Herbert at home. It was a difficult delivery. He weighed 10.4 pounds and was my first child. There was no midwife or medicine, no anesthesia, nothing."
Born on December 14, 1946, he was baptized Herbert Eustáquio de Carvalho. His middle name was the result of a religious promise. Humberto van Lieshout, known as Father Eustáquio, was a Dutch priest who had come to Brazil in 1925 with the Congregation of Sacred Hearts. He quickly built a reputation for being able to summon up miracles to cure the sick. By the late 1940s, already a nationally known holy figure, he was en route to beatification. "At the time that I got married all of that was beginning, and everyone was talking about him. My mother-in-law said, 'Let's light a candle here for Padre Eustáquio. If he helps in the birth, then we will give the child the name Eustáquio.' But my husband didn't want to give him the name Eustáquio." They compromised on Herbert Eustáquio. Their son's first name honored a close friend of Geraldo's, who had been the best man at their wedding. His middle name fulfilled the pledge to the priest whose powers, Dona Geny was convinced, had guaranteed a healthy delivery. According to Dona Geny, Herbert always hated the name Eustáquio. He definitively cast it aside many years later when he went underground.
After a year in the backlands, the family returned to Belo Horizonte to the same downtown neighborhood. A cluster of photos in the family album attests to the fact that, as the firstborn, Herbert received considerable attention. "When Bete was only a three-year-old child, if you sat down next to him, he wouldn't stop talking. ... After he entered school at age six, he would sit with a neighbor and talk for two or three hours. He read a lot. If he got a present, it had to be a book."
Living on the wages of a military police corporal was no easy task, but Geny was always good at improvising to make ends meet. "Someone gave me a wooden box that had been used for shipping codfish. I pasted paper onto it and turned it into a bookcase for his books." Herbert was a voracious reader who learned to decipher words before he was six. He devoured everything he could get his hands on: religious books, history of all kinds, fantasy tales, and stories penned by Brazilian authors of children's books. "We were poor, but we weren't totally destitute," Dona Geny explained. "Every time he asked for a book, we'd get it for him, or my sisters would give him books for his birthday."
Hamilton Brunelli, Geraldo and Geny's second child, was born two years and one month after Herbert. Herbert and Hamilton were as different as night and day. Herbert's early vocation for reading turned him inward, and he had few friends. While Hamilton spent endless hours playing soccer or games of guns and soldiers, Herbert quietly sat at home with a book in hand. "He was a peaceful child," his mother remembered. Later Herbert would engage in reading marathons into the night, sneaking into the kitchen to get something to eat while he continued to read. "I would fight with him the next morning," Dona Geny recalled, scolding him for leaving banana peels and orange skins strewn all over his room.
Hamilton affectionately recalled his older brother's lethargic tendencies. "He was lazy. He didn't like to walk. I remember when we were young, we took turns having to go get milk in the morning. One day it was Herbert's turn, the next day mine." Although it was only a short distance to the bakery that sold bread and milk for the family's breakfast, Herbert always came up with excuses not to go. "He had to study or whatever. I ended up doing this chore for him. His laziness about walking was terrible. He really didn't like to do it." Their two-year age gap and different interests meant that they rarely played together and grew up with different circles of friends.
Even though young Herbert avoided walking when he didn't have to and seldom participated in sports or any hard physical activity, he excelled at school. "That lad consumed books, read, and [later] watched television. He wanted to know everything," Dona Geny boasted to me.
Mapping the constellation of family relations, dissecting the particular personalities of parents, or speculating about the legacies of heredity and genetics may seem to explain who and what a given child becomes. But many questions remain. How did Herbert, who hated walking, manage to endure the rough mountainous terrain during guerrilla training in a tropical rain forest in early 1970? If he was such a quiet, reserved child who disdained unnecessary physical activity, why had he opted to be a revolutionary fighter, an endeavor that required such corporal effort? One could point to a grandfather, father, uncles, and a brother who opted for the military or the police to explain a possible inclination, enlarged by family tradition, that led to his participation in the armed struggle, but as a young child he never indicated an interest in following what was almost a family profession. He certainly never showed any predisposition for armed violence by joining in the war games so common among young boys. Nor did his father ever insist that he pursue a career in the military.
Ideas, not violent acts, were at the heart of his later political commitment. His decision to pick up a gun was, no doubt, prompted by a firm conviction that it was the only path to overthrow the military regime. Politics and the dynamics of participating in a collective cause loomed larger than his own personal disdain for the physical effort required for the profession of many males in his family. On the other hand, military matters were not foreign to his upbringing, and there must have been something strangely familiar, as well as extremely ironic, about his later activities, if Herbert ever paused to consider the matter while robbing a bank or abducting a diplomat.
From an early age, his mother remembered, Herbert had wanted to be a doctor. That required hard mental work and disciplined study, both of which came naturally to him. In addition to his stellar performance in school, Hamilton recalled that as a child his brother also loved to dissect lizards and other small animals. His mother attributed her son's desire to be a physician to a general willingness to help others.
Like many among the Brazilian working and lower middle classes, Herbert's parents believed that a good education was the ladder to a respectable profession and a solid middle-class life. Although Dona Geny insists that her husband didn't push his sons in any professional direction, the family did try to give them good schooling. Brazilian public schools offered an adequate education, but private institutions promised to provide more discipline and attention to their students, and so the family enrolled first Herbert and then Hamilton in the Escola Chopin (the Chopin School). Herbert's grandfather paid the tuition for Bete, and later Geny and Geraldo scrimped and saved to make sure that Hamilton could attend the small private primary school near their house. "It was a very strict school," Hamilton remembered. It had the same type of discipline that he would later find in the military barracks, but the teaching was satisfactory. It allowed both boys to pass the rigorous test to gain entrance to the Colégio Tiradentes, the military school for sons and daughters of the armed forces and the police.
Pitágoras dos Santos was one of Herbert's classmates at the Chopin School starting in the third grade. Pitágoras remembered their time together in primary school: "Boys and girls were in the same classroom. It was a modest school, really a house." Schooling took place in the morning, with lots of repetition, tedious exercises, and compositions that seemed more designed to fill the time than teach anything, he recalled.
Around midday pupils went home for lunch. Afternoons were busied with school lessons or playing near the house. "We didn't have much help from our parents or anyone else, so we learned to study on our own." It was a simple life. Pitágoras recalled, "Our dreams of consumption were completely different from today. At times even getting a soft drink was difficult." Yet Herbert's family possessed one item that set it apart. In 1956, Herbert's grandfather bought his son and daughter-in-law a television, so that his grandchildren would not become televizinhos (television neighbors), spending all their time in other people's houses. It was a novelty for the lower middle-class neighborhood where they lived, and as Herbert recalled in his memoir, it had much more status, social importance, and influences with friends than owning a soccer ball.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Exile Within Exiles"
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Table of ContentsAcknowledgments ix
List of Abbreviations xiii
1. Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win (1992) 7
2. He Loved to Read (1946-1964) 11
3. Medical School (1965-1967) 26
4. The O. (1967-1968) 41
5. Ângelo (1968) 55
6. Underground (1969) 68
7. Unity and Disunity (1969) 84
8. To the Countryside! (1970) 99
9. 40+70=110 (1970-1971) 113
10. Falling Apart (1971) 128
11. Cláudio (1972-1974) 139
12. Red Carnations (1974-1975) 154
13. Marginalia (1976-1981) 171
14. Returning to Rio (1981-1982) 187
15. Words, Words, Words (1983-1985) 206
16. The Politics of Pleasure (1986-1988) 223
17. Forty Seconds (1989-1992) 241
Epilogue. Remnants 259
What People are Saying About This
“This engaging and beautifully written account of the life of Herbert Daniel captures the spirit and energy of a person I knew well. We did political work together in Belo Horizonte and then both went underground in 1969 to resist the military dictatorship. Exile within Exiles captures the essence of an extraordinary person living in a period of intense changes, who was a pioneer in the fight to openly express his sexual identity while struggling for a more just and egalitarian Brazil.”
“An exceptionally original and deeply moving work, Exile within Exiles is an important contribution to the contemporary history of Brazil. There is no scholar better positioned to tell the story and significance of Herbert Daniel's life and political activism than James N. Green, who is the leading historian of gay politics and social movements in Brazil, as well as a major authority on the social, political, and cultural history of the period of the Brazilian dictatorship.”