MUTUM OPERATION – THE SEARCHES / THE FIRST LOW
Episodes 17 and 18)
July 2, 1975
July 2nd, a Thursday, the third after the involuntary drop of bombs on Mutum, was, in reality, the first day on which the searches actually began.
Military troops were moved very early, at dawn, towards the exit to Lajinha. I obtained information that the first searches would be made in the region of the district of the West, where, it was supposed, the bombs could be and, after having insisted a lot and solemnly promised not to interfere in the actions at any moment, I was authorized to accompany the troops as an observer.
The search work really started around the Serra do São Roque.
There, at the foot of the mountain, it was where the troops got out of the vehicles and spread out on both sides of the road, already demarcated as MG 108, not yet completely trapped, but already being prepared to receive the asphalt.
The Serra do São Roque has always been a reference for travelers who went from Mutum to Lajinha, as it is a stretch that, in the rainy season, became practically impassable due to the fall of barriers and stones that, rolling from the mountains, prevented their passage in some places.
We were not in a rainy season, which counted in favor of the military engaged in the mission of recovering the bombs, although the temperature was very low in the Serra do São Roque, with the presence of a heavy fog, accompanied by an intense fog, common in high regions in the mornings during winter.
The region of the Western District, in Mutum, is located in a mountainous area, with a predominance of large stones, such as Invejada, located 20 kilometers from the city center, in the Serra do São Roque. It is an imposing elevation of pure granite, with an estimated altitude of more than 1000 meters.
Invejada is considered the largest block of pure granite in the State of Minas Gerais and one of the largest in Brazil.
Certainly, considering the topography of the region, it would not be easy for the Armed Forces to locate the bombs, had they even fallen in that region.
This was also the opinion of Manuel da Mota, a former resident of São Roque, a profound connoisseur of that region and who had volunteered to help with the searches, since, according to him, he also knew a little about bombs.
“In this region – he said, making a face of debauchery – there are holes so hidden in the rocks that you can’t find anything that has fallen there. Not to mention if you have fallen into the depths of the caves ”.
Manuel da Mota really had experience in military operations for the Brazilian Army. He was a member of the International Emergency Force known as III – 2nd IR – Suez Battalion.
This military contingent, composed of an Independent Battalion, had been instituted by the Brazilian government through Legislative Decree No. 61, of November 22, 1956, of the Federal Senate, to comply with the Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, of November 7, 1956 , with the aim of maintaining international peace and security in the region between the Suez Canal and the armistice line between Israel and Egypt, on the African continent.
The 163 km long Suez Canal connects Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea to Suez on the Red Sea, both in Egyptian territory. The Suez Battalion, of which Manuel Mota was a member, operated in the region of the conflict between Arabs and Israelis from 1957 until 1967.
THE FIRST LOW
The search group in the Serra do São Roque was formed by an Army Company, composed of 150 men, led by First Sergeant Pereira and under the command of Lieutenant Coaracy, who reported his actions directly to Captain Peixoto.
Sergeant Pereira determined that his soldiers, who were scattered on both sides of the road, should form pairs and start the search work.
Only Manuel Mota, of civilian personnel, was allowed to accompany the troops. Me and the other representatives of the press, as well as the curious, who accompanied the operation, had to remain observing from a distance.
Sergeant Pereira, armed with a radio transmitter, had chosen a higher point, located on our right, to monitor the movement of his men there, while Lieutenant Coaracy and Captain Peixoto examined some maps scattered over the hood of one of the vehicles of troop transport.
From where I was, I could tell when Sergeant Pereira received information or dictated orders over the radio.
Time passed without any news about the bombs that morning of the first day of searches. The sun indicated half the day when it was high in the center of the sky. I, along with some other journalists, observers of the operation, decided to head to the West looking for a place to have lunch. Beforehand, however, we tried to inquire with Captain Peixoto about something new, being informed that no one had found any sign that could indicate the presence of the bombs. Masque the searches would continue for the rest of the day.
In Ocidente, although it was a relatively large district, we did not find any restaurant, but we were informed by some of the residents there, who were also following the movement of the troops, that we could have lunch at Bar do Povo, from Seu Nonô, in Praça da Church.
The Bar do Povo was not really a restaurant, but Seu Nonô served us delicious pasta, with rice, beans, fried chicken, chicken and a tomato salad with green leaves that, according to him, he harvested from his own vegetable garden, which cultivated at the back of the house. “Without that crap pesticide,” he told us proudly.
While we were eating, Seu Nonô told us what he knew about the plane and the bombs. According to him, the plane had passed very high, over the West and did not appear to be a plane of the commoners, who always flew over the region, due to the noise it made when crossing the sky. It was a different noise, something he had never heard before. It sounded like the noise of those planes I saw in war movies on television.
He remembered going to the door of the Bar to try to see the plane, but he couldn’t, although he also remembered that the sky was still very clear, that early evening. The plane had already passed and the only thing he could see was its flashing lights, very loudly. When I asked if he had seen the bombs falling from the sky he said no, that no one in the West had seen them and that they only learned about them after the soldiers arrived in Mutum.
After lunch, I arranged with Tião Fotógrafo, who lived in Ocidente, to take some photos of the District and the Serra do São Roque region, where the searches were being made, so that I could send them to the newspaper, along with the first reports of the trip. As usual, I did not take any photographer from the newspaper with me to cover reports made in other cities. It always took advantage of someone from the place, who knew the region better. So, in addition to the recent photos, taken during the report I was doing, I could use other, old ones, taken from the archives of local photographers, which always enriched my work. Besides being able to take advantage of the tips of those who knew the region better and who were always welcome.
So, I was sure that when I returned to my grandparents’ house in Mutum, I would be taking a good number of photos of Ocidente and Serra do São Roque, so I could choose which ones I would send to the newsroom. All subtitled, of course.
Upon returning to our observation point, after lunch, we learned of the first casualty among Army troops.
A soldier, later identified as Laerte, when approaching a stream, was bitten on the arm by a snake.
The snake was killed by his companion Soldado Marins and, luckily for Soldier Laerte, identified by Manuel da Mota, who was close to the attack site, as being a surucucu, still young, considering that it measured little more than a meter and a half of size.
The surucucu or Lachesis muta is considered the largest poisonous snake in the entire American continent and one of the largest in the world. It is very common in the Vale do Rio Doce region, where Mutum is located, mainly on the border with Espírito Santo, where the West is located and the Serra do São Roque. It can reach, as an adult, four and a half meters in length and its prey can measure up to 3.5 centimeters. The natives of the region fear it for its dangerousness and virulence, learning, since they were children, to identify its presence by the sound it emits when feeling uncomfortable when its territory is invaded. It does not have rattle rattles on the tip of its tail to shake like the rattlesnake, but it makes a noticeable sound for those who know it. This is your signal of attack. Surely Soldier Laerte did not know her, as Manuel da Mota said. He got very close and, as he moved his arm towards him, he was attacked and stung.
The surucucu is a snake that has a very aggressive behavior and can, with its boat, reach the distance corresponding to one third of its length. The venom of their prey causes, in their victims, a picture of immediate drop in blood pressure, swelling and pain at the site of the bite, decreased heart rate, altered vision, bleeding gums, skin and urine, diarrhea, vomiting and insufficiency renal. With neurotoxic action, the victim of his sting, in order to have any chance of survival, needs to have immediate medical help, with the use of anti-laxic / anti-laxic antibiotic serum.
According to Manuel da Mota’s assessment, the military troops that had moved to Mutum had a lot of knowledge about the region, especially about the risks that they would run during the entire operation. His opinion was based on the fact that, shortly after he identified the snake as a surucucu, Private Marins, the victim’s companion, removed a first aid kit from his backpack and immediately applied the serum indicated for him. the sting of that kind of snake. This showed that the troops were well prepared to search for bombs in places at risk of attack by venomous animals, such as quarries in the São Roque region.
According to Manuel da Mota, the situation of the soldiers there was identical to that of the Brazilian pracinhas in peace action in Suez, Egypt, naturally respecting the due proportions. According to him, they would find many difficulties ahead of them before finding the lost bombs. The rugged terrain would not be your only big enemy. He had no doubts about that. The relief was represented by stones, many stones, sawed bush of the Atlantic Forest composing the Serra do Mar, deep valleys, springs of streams and treacherous banks. But there were also venomous animals, wild animals such as wild pig, ocelots and pumas.
Manuel da Mota watched the soldiers advance slowly through the region and hoped that they were really prepared for that type of action as he was when he left with the peacekeeping force for Egypt. Memories took shape in his mind and Manuel da Mota let himself be still, motionless, leaning against a tree, his eyes fixed on the void. He saw himself, again, holding a binocular, watching the immensity of nothingness formed by the desert sands of the Sinai Peninsula. Gradually, he came out of the stupor he was in, gave his head a shake and spoke softly, without anyone listening – “Oh, you won’t find any fucking bombs on these stones.”
It was bordering on eighteen hours when Lieutenant Coaracy, following Captain Peixoto’s determination, ordered on the radio that Sergeant Pereira should assemble his troops and return to his support point, where the vehicles that would take them back to the camp in Mutum were. No bombs had been found in the São Roque region on that first day of searches. The Army had its first official casualty.
(To be continued next week)