MUTUM OPERATION – THE “FLYWHEEL” / THE PLICIATION
(Episodes 20 and 21)
July 3, 1975
The day had not even started well and it was still dark when the troops moved back towards São Roque.
It was dawn on the 3rd of July, a Friday and the second day of searches for the bombs began.
The movement of military trucks around the square interrupted my sleep and, as I was unable to go back to sleep, I went to the window of the living room of my grandparents’ house and watched the agitation caused by the slowly moving train. From where I was, at the top, I could observe the city that was beginning to awaken. It seemed calm, really calm. Quite different from the one where I lived my first years of life. It was a wild curassow, as those who knew her then used to say. My thoughts quickly went back in time. I then remembered how I helped Rolinha not to be arrested.
It was June 1953 and I still remember that it was cold, as it is always cold in Mutum at this time of year. I would be eight years old in October, but I already considered myself big and very knowledgeable. I liked to talk to my grandfather, whom I called a father, because he was raised by him a few days after he was born. My grandmother was called a mother by me. Both of them got me used to participate in the meals in the dining room, all together, with places already determined: Dr Bião in the chair at the head, my grandfather on his left, my grandmother beside my grandfather, having another chair beside him . On the right side of where Dr. Bião was, there were three other chairs available for visits that might arrive at meal times and, closing the table, my chair that was facing Dr. Bião. We both had the most prominent places. He, for being a doctor and having been participating in meals at our house for over fifty years, since when my grandparents had a hotel and I, for being the grandson that my grandfather considered as the youngest son. He called me My Jose. There, daily, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I listened to the conversations, although I would not participate in them unless they asked me a question. What rarely happened. Anyway, just because I was part of the table and listening to the conversations, I was accumulating knowledge that was not common for children my age. Local, national and even international politics and, mainly, the medical cases commented on by Dr. Bião. At the time, the city was governed by a Udenist mayor, that is, affiliated with UDN, formerly the National Democratic Union. Its opponents were the pessedists, those who were affiliated with PSD, former Social Democratic Party. There was yet another party, the PR, the Republican Party, which at that time was allied with the UDN. The Udenist voter was called a cutter and the pessedist was a woodpecker. I, although very young, already knew practically all the politicians of the city, identifying them as udenists or pessedists. My grandfather was an udenist. He was also, at that time, Deputy Prosecutor, a position that existed at that time and that placed him in the respectable condition of municipal authority. Thus, he was part of the local Government, together with the Mayor, the Mayor, the Judge of Peace who replaced the non-existent Judge of Law and the Municipal Police Delegate, who was a civilian and commanded the small battalion of military police, whose member of greatest patent was a Corporal. The police force was insufficient to maintain order and, as a consequence, Mutum gradually became a dangerous city, full of jagunços, who imposed their wills and the wills of the farmers who would pay them better by force of arms. Murders were committed without anyone being arrested. The law of silence did not allow denunciations. Families were persecuted and moved to other regions.
City dwellers began to live with individuals who walked the streets carrying weapons that could be seen, accidentally, in holsters attached to belts on their waists. His figures lost nothing in resemblance to those seen today in American western films, such as good guys and bad guys. The only difference was that, in Mutum from the time I am talking about, there were no good guys. The crimes were happening and the insecurity became constant. We children of my age, especially in Praça Benedito Valadares, saw those jagunços and avoided staying where they were. Guided by our families, of course. But from time to time, we heard reports of his exploits from someone.
At the dinner table in my house, listening to the conversations of my grandfather and his guests, I discovered that one of the jagunços, named Rolinha, was my grandfather’s godson. For this reason, I saw him occasionally going home, taking my grandparents’ blessing. He always arrived with his head down, a cowboy hat in his hand, talked a little and then said goodbye and left. On those occasions, he never carried a revolver around his waist.
The situation in the city became more and more dangerous until one day, when I sat at the table for dinner, I missed my grandfather at the table. I didn’t ask for him, but I was surprised he was missing. When Dr. Bião asked my grandmother about my grandfather, she told him, quite naturally, that he had gone in the afternoon of the previous day to Aimorés, where he was going to wait for a steering wheel that was coming from Belo Horizonte to Mutum.
The steering wheels were mobile units of the State police force, composed of civilian and military police, under the command of Civil Police Delegates or Military Officers, who fought banditry in the interior, in special missions, when requested, by direct order of the Governor with full powers over local, civil or military authorities.
The driver had left Belo Horizonte, by train, bound for Aimorés, where they would transfer to a truck that would take her to the final destination, which was Mutum. Its mission was to capture all the jagunços who lived in the city who had issued arrest warrants and who had already been formally and nominally denounced.
It is true that an operation of this magnitude, at that time, could not be done entirely in secrecy. At some point, there had to be a leak. If only by chance, as it happened.
I was playing in my living room, very early, waiting for Dr. Bião to arrive for breakfast, when someone knocked on the door. I got up, went to see it and ran into Rolinha. Smiling, he asked me, “Where’s the best man?” Immediately and without blinking I said to him “He went to Aimorés to get the wheel”. I didn’t even understand why he left so quickly and didn’t even come in to greet his godmother, my grandmother. When my Godmother Maria, who took care of the house together with Elvira, asked me who had knocked on the door, I said it was Rolinha. One of them asked me what he wanted, and when I told him about my conversation, she just laughed and said, “Ah, well done. But they are also saying serious things in front of children ”. That day, the steering wheel still caught many people. But Rolinha, and some of his closest friends, nobody understood how they managed to escape and not be arrested.
The memory of how, with my innocence I had escaped Rolinha and his friends, made me smile alone. I was not to blame, I thought. He had just repeated what he had heard at home. I also remembered the sermon I had heard from my grandfather. And the recommendations he made to me, never, but never, to repeat to anyone, neither strange nor known, the content of the conversations that I lived listening to inside our house.
Still smiling, I went down from the house and went to take a shower before heading to Bar do Paulo for breakfast, which would leave me at the point to start work on what would be another day of searching, in the Serra do São Roque region.
Public order in Mutum, as in most small towns in the interior of Minas Gerais and Brazil, was the responsibility of the Military Police and the Civil Police. Although the two entities act to guarantee the safety of citizens, the Military Police and the Civil Police have different functions.
The main role of the Military Police is preventive policing. To this end, it acts ostensibly, taking care of patrolling public places and repressing damage to property. It uses its own uniform, in order to be easily identified. To facilitate its preventive action, it is present to citizens in order to inhibit criminal actions.
The Civil Police, also known as the Judiciary Police, is in charge of criminal investigations, the search for evidence and evidence that enable the solution and elucidation of crimes or misdemeanors, with the appointment of those responsible. Its members, most of the time, wear ordinary clothes, being known as paisans, that is to say, those who walk in plain clothes. The word has its origin in the Latin “paganus” which means “what is not military” or a person who is not subject to military organization. The expression “go undercover” applies to the military when he is not wearing his uniform.
In Mutum, in 1975, there was a Police Station where, under the order of a Civil Police Delegate, four detectives, who were called Investigators, worked. The Delegate was Dr. Marcônio Carlos de Freitas, a lawyer.
Dr. Marcônio was not a Career Delegate, which meant that he had not been appointed to the position after passing a Public Competition. His nomination for the appointment by the State Governor had been made by politicians who represented the party that ruled in local politics. Thus, Dr. Marcônio, in general, acted so as not to harm those who had indicated him, being careful when investigating so as not to offend those who held power.
The Military Police in Mutum was composed of two corporal and twelve soldiers, commanded by Sergeant Souza. All were under the orders of the Police Chief. There was also a Civil Police Registrar, four jailers in charge of guarding prisoners in the Public Jail and a Subdelegate, Mr. Praxedes, who, in the absence of Dr. Marcônio, was in charge of replacing him if necessary.
Criminal investigations, transformed into Police Investigations, were sent to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, represented by the Prosecutor Dr. Anacleto Peri da Silva, in charge of proceeding with the Criminal Procedure and the respective referral to the Judge of Law, Dr. Altamiro Lages, for judicial measures applicable.
Due to its state police nature and as determined by the Federal Constitution, the Military Police is an auxiliary force and reserve of the Army.
With the arrival of federal troops in Mutum and in compliance with the constitutional hierarchy, Sergeant Souza presented himself to Major Alfredo, placing all military policemen under his command at the disposal of the Army Forces, being ordered to continue to do urban policing, reporting to the Military Command all police actions carried out.
In all the time he was in Mutum, Sergeant Souza did not complain about the life he led. The policing command was easy, the city was quiet, the people were orderly. To ask for more was to overdo the dose, he always said. And he was well aware of the elements that could sometimes be a problem. The biggest hooligans were a few shaved feet that, with little or no possession, filled their faces with cachaça on weekends and occasionally got into a more unimportant fight. There, they always took cookies by the face, from someone else with no patience and no complaint at the Police Station. When someone came to call the police it was just to take the ill-fated, drunk and with a broken face, to one of the doctors who attended the nearest, give him some points. Then he was taken to his home to cure his drinking. These bar fights never ended in jail. And, as always, they were forgotten the other day.
There was also a lot of family quarreling, when husband and wife caught each other in the slaps and someone called the police. In these cases, he was the one who liked to come and give the two brawlers a good-natured look, in particular.
In fact, Sergeant Souza knew that everyone respected policing because those times were tough times and the law was determined by the military. Thus, the Military Police could very well even abuse the power that no one would claim. He, a zealous law-abiding person, did not allow his men to commit any abuse of authority. But the people, so much following the events on the news, preferred to believe that all policemen would be able to excel in the use of force. So they avoided taking risks. And they looked with a certain suspicion and a lot of respect for the police.
For Sergeant Souza, it was very good for the military to take command of the Military Police. Your responsibility would lessen. What actually happened, until the day that Major Alfredo sent for him in his makeshift room in the barracks and said without any preamble “Sergeant, I need you to give me a succinct report containing all the information, possible and imaginable, about all elements of the city that may be considered suspect of being communists or of being sympathetic to communists or against the revolutionary government. Anyone who can be subversive. I want that report on my desk in twelve hours, without further delay ”.