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What was the Intentona Comunista, whose archives may be reopened by the Army?

What was the Intentona Comunista, whose archives may be reopened by the Army?

In 1935, a group of left-wing militaries tried to seize power. They even gained control of some barracks but were defeated easily

Tiago Cordeiro

The reasons were not made clear, but general Villas Boas Correa, commander of the Army, decided to reopen the files about the Intentona Comunista (“Communist Conspiracy” or “Uprising”) – the Army, through its press office, claimed it had no further information. “I’ve determined the Army to remember the Intentona Comunista, which happened 83 years ago (Nov 27, 1935),” he posted in his official Twitter account last Sunday.

“Antecedents, facts, and consequences will be appreciated, so that we can never see once again brothers against brothers, spilling green and yellow blood in the name of a diversionist ideology.”

But what was, after all, the Intentona Comunista?

The word “intentona” means “unforeseen attack”, “unreasonable project”. This is how the movement came to be known, pejoratively, by the government forces. “Comunista” is pretty literal and obvious: those who took part in this “unforeseen attack” were, for their most part, aligned to communism, and intended to seize power.

What is most curious is, that, as much as the military, in general, has had their image associated with right-wing political movements, this 1935 movement was led by a group of left-wing men in uniform. Their main leader was a former lieutenant who was living illegally in Brazil: Luís Carlos Prestes.

“All power to the ANL!”

The Intentona was a military movement. It began inside the barracks in three states, Rio Grande do Norte, Pernambuco, and Rio de Janeiro. The rebels took arms to react against a decision by president Getúlio Vargas, who had made illegal Aliança Nacional Libertadora (ALN, “National Liberating Alliance”), a consortium of left-wing political parties.

Prestes was one of its main leaders, ever since he returned clandestinely to Rio de Janeiro in December 1934, after a period of three years living in the Soviet Union.

The ALN had been formed in March 1935 by a leadership mostly from the Communist Party of Brazil, which at that point in time was illegal. One of its spokesmen, incidentally, was Carlos Lacerda, who would later become a fierce anti-communist, and one of the main defenders of the 1964 military coup.

Inside the barracks, Agildo Barata Ribeiro was one of the ALN’s main figures. A classmate of future military president Ernesto Geisel, Agildo took part in the 1932 Constitutionalist Revolution, and for that reason had spent two years exiled in Portugal. When he came back, he was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Regiment at Praia Vermelha, Rio de Janeiro; there, he would play a decisive role in the insurrection.

On July 5, 1935, Carlos Lacerda read a speech, written by Prestes, celebrating the anniversary of the so-called “tenentista” (literally “lieutenantist”) movement, an uprising led by a low-ranking officer which in 1922 fought for changes in Brazil’s political structure.

The text declared: “Down with fascism! Down with Vargas’ despicable government! For a national revolutionary popular government! All power to the ANL!”

Six years later, backed by the National Security Law, president Vargas banned the ANL. The reaction was violent and began in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte.

Three days of communism

On the night of November 23, 1935, a Saturday, sergeant Quintino Clementino de Barros led a group of rebel militaries. They needed only a few hours to occupy railway stations, telephone and telegraph centrals, and the government palace – the governor took refuge firstly in the house of the Chilean consul, and later in a French ship anchored in the local wharf.

In the morning of November 24, communists were in power. A Revolutionary Popular Committee, made up of six members of the movement, decreed the destitution of the governor and the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly and declared gratuitous the use of trams in the city.

People took to the streets, sacking a military storage facility, and began to walk around wearing military outfits. Meanwhile, the movement moved along to the countryside, taking over 17 cities in the state.

On Tuesday, the reaction began: troops arrived from Paraíba and Pernambuco headed towards Natal. The rumors that the state capital would be bombed were enough to cause the main leaders to flee; on Wednesday, the situation was controlled once again, and governor Rafael Fernandes went back to his office.

Natal was a communist city for only three days.

Simultaneously, on November 24, in Recife, the 29th Hunters Battalion was taken over by the ALN. Militants walked through the streets until the Largo da Paz, where a 24-hour confrontation began. A group formed by union representatives and civilians tried to take over the city of Olinda, unsuccessfully.

In the meantime, Prestes tried to seize the moment to mobilize simultaneous revolts in Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, and Minas Gerais. The letters he had sent to allies in Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul never reached their destinations, but the Rio de Janeiro group took arms.

On the 26th, the Agildo Barata Ribeiro’s 3rd Infantry Regiment from Praia Vermelha rose up, as well as the 2nd Infantry Regiment and the Communications Battalion, at the Military Village.

The Rio rebels also tried to take over, unsuccessfully, the Aviation School, at Campo dos Afonsos, with the goal of having access to warplanes. They even managed to obtain some planes, but military loyal to the government bombarded the runway to prevent takeoffs.

Ancient doubts

The demonstrators were arrested. Many were tortured until the location of Luís Carlos Prestes was revealed. The Intentona Comunista, therefore, was responsible for revealing Prestes’ location and arrest, as well as that of his wife, Olga Benário. Olga would die in a concentration camp in Germany, her native country. Prestes would eventually be freed in April 1945 and became general secretary of the Communist Party of Brazil until 1980.

Regardless of the motivations of the curiosity of general Villas Boas Correa about the episode, which has its anniversary in November, the fact is that the Intentona has left doubts which to this day are yet to be entirely clarified.

To this day the exact number of people who died from the incident is unknown, neither the size of the influence of the international communist movement within the ALN – Prestes was accompanied by leaders appointed by Moscow, such as German Artur Ernst Ewert, Argentinian Rodolfo Ghioldi, and Ukrainian Pavel Stuchevski, but the exact influence of this group on the others involved in the uprising is still being debated.

What is known is that the group has been dissolved after the Intentona, and the incident strengthened president Getúlio Vargas’ position: the National Congress declared a state of siege, and, subsequently, thousands of people were arrested throughout the country, including opposition politicians, like writer Graciliano Ramos, who was arrested in March 1936.

In 1937, Vargas would claim a communist threat, this time a fake one, to seize power through a coup and install the Estado Novo (“New State”).

 

READ IT IN PORTUGUESE:

O que foi a Intentona Comunista, cujos arquivos podem ser reabertos pelo Exército?

Em 1935, um grupo de militares de esquerda tentou tomar o poder. Chegaram a controlar alguns quarteis, mas foram derrotados com facilidade