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  • A Mother's Cry: A Memoir of Politics, Prison, and Torture under the Brazilian Military Dictatorship by Lina Penna Sattimini
  • Philip Evanson
A Mother's Cry: A Memoir of Politics, Prison, and Torture under the Brazilian Military Dictatorship. By Lina Penna Sattimini. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010. Pp. xvii,188. Bibliography. Index. $74.95 cloth; $21.95 paper.

On May 11, l970, Marcos Arruda, a geologist still in his twenties and an Acão Popular militant was kidnapped on a street in São Paulo by agents of OBAN (Operações Bandeirantes), a secret political police force established by the Second Army in São Paulo in l969. He had agreed to meet Marlene de Souza Soccas, a dentist in her mid-30s, with whom he had worked in an adult literacy program. Marlene communicated that she was separating herself from Resistencia Democratica, one of several underground opposition groups targeted for destruction by the Brazilian military. She told of her need for a safe residence and her desire to join Marcos in Ação Popular (AP). Like him, she would seek a job in a factory in order to connect with workers, part of the organization's effort to advance political struggle against social injustice. In fact, Marlene was already in hands of OBAN, and had been tortured. The meeting was a setup to arrest Marcos—OBAN agents expected to get information from him about members of Resistencia Democratica.

Thus began almost nine months of torture and terror for Marcos Arruda, and anguish for members of his family. His story is largely told through a trove of letters written by his mother Lina Penna Sattamini, and his grandmother, brother, sisters, father, and aunt, and finally by others who interested themselves in his parlous situation, including Amnesty International human rights supporters in the United States. The letters record the effort: first, to find Marcos whose location was unknown for 24 days; second, to get him out of the hands of the OBAN torturers; third, to have him released from military detainment, and fourth, to fly him to the safety of the United States, where his mother was living as a naturalized citizen and working as a State Department translator. Sattimini's book was edited by historian James Green, who also wrote an introduction and an overview of Brazilian history from the l950s to the early l980s to provide context. Marcos Arruda himself added an absorbing epilogue that mixes autobiography with flashbacks to moments of torture.

This work provides ample detail of the tortures inflicted by the OBAN secret police. The task was to arrest certain individuals belonging to groups that had taken up arms against the state or were considered subversive. Upon arrest, agents would extract information by applying torture, of which there were several variants. These included the notorious "parrot´s perch" in which an iron bar was placed behind an individual´s knees and to which his wrists were fastened. The bar was suspended and the victim left [End Page 559] hanging, sometimes for hours. Other practices were beatings, electric shocks, and cigarette burns. All of these were inflicted on Marcos. He emerged with a partially paralyzed leg, with one eye closed and the other barely able to open, cigarette burn scars on his right shoulder, electric shock scars on his left foot, chronic edema in his left forearm from damaged lymphatic vessels following hours of hanging from the "parrot´s perch," epileptic convulsions, and strong tremors in his abdomen, hand, and arm. He had difficulty writing legibly. Looking at his battered body and the way he dragged his leg when walking, his OBAN torturers called him Frankenstein.

What probably saved his life was the actions of his family. Initially, they were able to take advantage of having access to some people in high places in Brazil. Colonel Otavio Madeiros, secretary to President Emilio Medici, was connected to the family of Marcos Arruda through marriage, and once contacted became actively involved in getting him transferred from São Paulo and thus away from the OBAN and into a military hospital in Rio de Janeiro. His mother was also able to meet with then Bishop Alo...


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