A TARDE Newspaper (08-06-2015)
SPECIAL EDITION: THE STRATEGEMS OF THE DICTATORSHIP
Progressive evangelicals in the sights of Brazil’s Secret Service (Serviço Nacional de Informações: SNI)
The years of lead ( the most repressive years of the dictatorship): Organization which supported cooperatives was smeared
One of the organizations most frequently attacked by the SNI in its “Operation Church” in Salvador, was the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE), whose mission, since its foundation in the 1970s, has been “to strengthen civil society organizations, particularly, popular, grassroots organizations engaged in the struggle for political, economic and social transformation.” In other words, everything which displeased the dictatorship.
CESE, whose members were progressive Protestant minsters, held a position similar to that of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (Conferência Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil: CNBB), which fought against the military regime, supporting the struggle for the country’s democracy and for mass organization.
It became one of the preferred targets for letters forged by SNI agents at the beginning of the 1980s, whose intention was to smear Brazil’s progressive clergy. In the military agency’s confidential report about “Operation Church”, obtained by historian Grimaldo Zachariadhes, the SNI recorded under the heading “Origin” of activity, the “emergence of the ‘progressive wing’ of the Protestant Church, through statements and financial support to campaigns seen as social”. In one of the forged letters, “signed” by fictitious reader Edvaldo Menezes, the agent complains that the Protestant Church “austere and faithful to the Bible” is “engaged, along the lines of the CNBB, with social projects and financial aid to such projects.”
Later on, it says that CESE “receives large sums of money to finance social projects from the Dutch agency ICCD (Interecclesiastical Commission of the Department for Development Projects) and from the German one, Bread for the World.”
Against social issues
The character created by the SNI complains of the “direction taken” by the Protestant churches, “towards social issues.”
A message of “solidarity” from the Protestants in Bahia to President João Batista Figueiredo, in relation to the CNBB position, was the cause of a new tranche of SNI writings. One letter, sent to the newspapers Tribuna da Bahia and Correio da Bahia and signed by Erivaldo Mendes, praised the position of the Protestants and warned CESE, “that it serves as an example and should alert CESE, a body subordinate to the World Council of Churches (Protestant), which likes to spend its money on meetings and conferences in Itaici, SP, whose themes are the same as those of the CNBB, engaging in its politics, which is the antithesis of the leaders of Protestant Churches in Bahia.” Another missive, covering basically the same contents, was sent to A TARDE newspaper, although this was signed by another invented character, Antonio Souto.
Evangelical support for Figueiredo led to another letter, this time attacking Professor Celso Dourado, who became a constituent deputy for the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro: PMDB) in 1984. Dourado did not sign a manifesto that supported the dictatorship, leading to swingeing criticism by the agents.
In one passage is says that he has “a terrible history and is a politician linked to leftists”. It recalls that “at the National Congress for the Amnesty, he used the facilities of the traditional 2 de Julho education establishment, so that it was held there, and was even attended by the Soviet Luiz Carlos Prestes.” This ‘letter’ was published in the Correio da Bahia on 26 November 1980.
Zachariadhes said that the SNI kept track of the establishment of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus: IURD) in Bahia and began to monitor the attacks made by minsters from the Pentecostal organization on Candomblé. All this was reported to Brasilia via the Salvador office, since this type of religious confrontation could potentially generate some kind of social upheaval; the activities, however, were limited to monitoring. The military was really concerned about clerics who were considered to be “left wing”.
The attacked organization fought for democracy
CESE’s projects advisor, the economist José Carlos Zanetti, ex-political prisoner and ex-member of the left-wing Christian organization Popular Action (Ação Popular: AP), does not consider it strange that the SNI was worried about CESE. “CESE’s operations were an affront to the military regime, because of its strong links with social organizations and its struggle for democracy”, he said, remembering that the organizing was set up in Bahia by Lutherans, Methodists, Dissident Presbyterians and Anglicans.
“It was, in fact, the most progressive movement of evangelicals, but CESE also had links to the most leftist wing of the Catholic Church, in particular to the Liberation Theology movement and the CNBB”, he stated.
As well as supporting cooperative projects with peasants and workers, CESE was involved in resistance to the military regime and fought for democracy. The persecution of Professor Celso Dourado can also be explained by his connections to CESE, explained Zanetti.
“He was one of CESE’s founders; he transformed the 2 de Julho College, which he headed, into a centre of resistance to the dictatorship. Several events for the struggle for the democratization of the country and to support workers, such as the 1 May Event, were held there,” he added. According to Zanetti, the Protestants linked to CESE repudiated the way the other evangelical movements were “obsequious” to the military regime and to its principal representative in Bahia, late governor Antonio Carlos Magalhães.
Zanetti believes that the revelations about “Operation Church” serve as a warning to the Brazilian population, given street demonstrations that have called for the return of the military.
“(These people) are reacting against the system that destroyed this nefarious past, simply because the working class is invading traditionally middle class arenas,” he asserted.
These articles are part of the Special Edition about the Stratagems of the Dictatorship in A Tarde newspaper:
07-06-2015 – Jornal A Tarde – Especial Artimanhas da Ditadura: SNI forjou cartas para difamar clero
08-06-2015 – Jornal A Tarde – Especial Artimanhas da ditadura: Evangélicos progressistas na mira do SNI