Brazilian Jihad: Suicide Attack on Copacabana Beach – Part 2

    Brazilian President Epitácio Pessoa

    Brazilian President Epitácio Pessoa

    This is the second part of a five part series on the Revolt of the Fifth of
    July, 1922, at the end of which a small group of rebelling troops made a
    suicidal attack on a much larger force. In the previous section we told how
    Epitácio Pessoa, the President of Brazil, has publicly humiliated and imprisoned
    Marshal Hermes da Fonseca, Head of the Army.

    A group of young Army officers is determined that the President-Elect, Artur Bernardes, not assume the presidency. Captain Euclides Hermes da Fonseca, son of the Marshal, and other officers are planning a rebellion, the center of which is the Fort of Copacabana, which Euclides commands.


    JULY FOURTH: BROTHERS IN ARMS DIVIDED


    The Flight of Marshal Hermes


    On noon of July 4th, Epitácio released Hermes after 17 hours of detention. Perhaps by arresting him the President had wanted to show who was boss; having made his point he did not want to antagonize the Army further. But the arrest had already humiliated the military, and Epitácio must surely have had intelligence of a brewing revolt.


    Now he was releasing the one man the disaffected military could rally around as an honored leader, almost a father figure. The release was in fact “house arrest” – Hermes was to be under observation. We will see how carefully the watch was kept.


    Before leaving the garrison where he had been detained, Hermes said goodbye to the officers personally. He rode in an automobile of a friend to Centro, in downtown Rio. There he was greeted by friendly demonstrators, who were dispersed by the police.


    In Centro he took residence at his apartment in the Palace Hotel. That afternoon a few military men came to visit him. They advised him that the prospects of a successful revolt were very poor.


    But later that day a 25 year old first lieutenant of artillery appeared. Since an officer friend of Bernardes was in the room, Lt. Eduardo Gomes asked to speak privately with the Marshal. He informed Hermes that a rebellion was going to take place. The Marshal remonstrated. But Gomes insisted that the drop of water had overflowed the cup, the stone on the mountain was now dislodged, and that an avalanche was inevitable.


    The Marshal had no choice but to acquiesce. But he knew the Fort of Copacabana, where his son Captain Euclides was in command, could not revolt alone; he refused an invitation to shelter himself there. The Vila Militar is a military base within the western city limits of present day Rio, about 20 kilometers northwest of Centro. Hermes thought Vila Militar likely to join the revolt; if so, he would go there, where the officers loved him.


    Gomes returned to the Fort. There he, Euclides Hermes, Siqueira Campos, and others decided to wait another day. The Revolt was set to begin at 1 AM, July 5th.


    Sometime on the evening of the 4th, the Marshal, evading security, left the Palace Hotel and was picked up by an automobile waiting a few blocks away. Hereafter the location of the Marshal during most of the Revolt is uncertain. We hear of him staying with friends in various Rio neighborhoods – Vila Isabel, Deodoro, Ipanema. He probably moved around a lot, like a drug dealer on the lam.


    The Quixotic Mission of General Bonifácio da Costa and His Strange Order


    During this time, President Epitácio Pessoa was at Catete Palace with Pandiá Calógeras, his Minister of War, a civilian by choice of the President. The pair became alarmed by the flight of Hermes and the movements of suspicious officers.


    At 9 PM, they ordered Captain José da Silva Barbosa to take command of the Fort of Copacabana from Captain Euclides. To add authority and prestige, a general, Bonifácio da Costa, joined Barbosa on this mission, with a handful of troops. Epitácio and Calógeras imagined that a dozen men, backed by a general, could successfully order Euclides to scratch his plans for a revolt and hand over the Fort and its 300 men.


    But once General Bonifácio and Captain Barbosa were deep within the fort with Captain Euclides, and it became clear to both sides that the order to turn over command of the fort could not be altered or delayed, Euclides declared, “General, from this moment Your Excellency and Captain Barbosa are under arrest. I will conduct you to my office.” The General replied, “I will submit because I am not armed.”


    As Euclides escorted Bonifácio to his confinement, however, the ignominy of being arrested by a captain began to rankle the general. He stopped. Euclides, leading the way, continued until the general called out, “I am a general come to deliver an official order!” There was a pause, then an argument broke out between the captain and the general.


    At this moment a lieutenant waving a pistol rushed up, accompanied by four armed enlisted men. Pointing his pistol at Bonifácio and Barbosa, he shouted, “No one leaves the fort; you are arrested!” Then, evidently making a lie up on the spot, the lieutenant added, “We have an officer in a cell who came to give a message to Your Excellency.” After a moment’s pause, the general answered in a calm voice, “What, an officer arrested, in a cell?” “Yes, sir.” “Then you are going to release the officer.” “Your orders are no longer obeyed!”


    Captain Euclides came forward and put his arm around the shoulder of Lt. Siqueira Campos. “Go back to the spotlights, that is your place,” he said. Campos lowered his pistol and retired. Crestfallen, the general was lead off to captivity. He murmured to one of the rebellious officers, “My career is over.” The officer replied, “Sometimes one has to choose between death and providing for one’s family.” After the Revolt, Bonifácio asked to be retired.


    The above was not the first run-in between Bonifácio and Campos. Once during Carnaval, Campos with other young officers had joined a crowd dancing down the street in a parade. Bonifácio, out of uniform, stood among the crowd gathered on the sidewalk to watch the revelry. When the parade came alongside the general, Siqueira dashed to the sidewalk and gave the general a pat on his generous belly. The general was not amused.


    He complained to Campos’ commander, saying the youth was drunk. But the behavior and performance of Siqueira Campos had always been exemplary, and it was known that he did not drink. His commander passed the incident off as good-humored Carnaval merriment. But from that day, Bonifácio never let pass a chance to criticize Campos, and we may assume Campos bore the general no affection.


    The same could not be said about Bonifácio and his captor, Euclides Hermes. Bonifácio was an old friend of his father, Marshal Hermes, and had known Euclides since he was a child. Sitting together in the Captain’s office, both men reminisced about the old days, each hoping to bring the other around to his stance with respect to the revolt.


    But neither would budge. Finally, Bonifácio said, “I left my wife in the Fort of Imbuí.” The Fort of Imbuí, on a small island near the mouth of Guanabara Bay, possessed guns capable of hitting the revolting fortress. “If Lady Sara is at Imbuí, I will shoot around it,” Euclides replied. Nevertheless, Bonifácio asked if he could send a note to his wife, advising her to leave the fort. The message was written, and Euclides sealed it in an envelope without reading it. Siqueira Campos took personal responsibility for its delivery.


    When authorities learned of the arrest of Bonifácio, they decided to order Captain Libânio de Cunha Matos to prepare his company to occupy the Fort of Copacabana. Around 11:00 PM the night of the 4th, Cunha Matos positioned his troops in the vicinity of the fort. But he was a close friend of Euclides and obtained a safe-conduct to meet with Bonifácio within the fortress, leaving Lt. Alvaro Barbosa Lima in charge of his company.


    In the fort, the General gave Cunha Matos a strange order: “Return with your company to headquarters, present yourself to your commander, and tell him that I will resolve this matter with the prestige that I have here.”


    A Coup Struggles to be Born


    Cunha Matos tarried within the fort awhile, no doubt a little stunned by this directive. After awhile Barbosa Lima decided go to the fort himself to see what was happening. His friend Lt. Mário Carpenter wanted to go with him. As Barbosa Lima was sure of Carpenter’s loyalty to the Republic, he agreed.


    When the pair drew near their goal, a patrol commanded by Eduardo Gomes arrested them and conducted them to the plaza outside the fortress. There Gomes informed them of the revolt. He said the terrain around them was completely mined. If defeated the revolting officers would blow up the fort with the garrison inside.


    Suddenly Mário Carpenter declared, “Barbosa, I adhere.” (That is, to the revolt.) His surprised companion tried to deter him. “Carpenter, I don’t adhere, because I can’t betray my Captain and don’t agree with the movement.” Carpenter drew his pistol. “We are going to disarm our company, and if you stop me, Barbosa, I will kill you.”


    Barbosa decided to pretend to accept the plan. He would wait until Carpenter was in the midst of his company, then arrest him. But Eduardo Gomes intervened. He would not allow Carpenter to leave, and he told Barbosa that since he did not “adhere” he would remain under arrest.


    At that moment an automobile arrived and the squad went to surround it. With the attention of the group diverted, Barbosa Lima embraced Carpenter, declaring to him, “I’m going to flee; if you kill me, you yourself will be witness that I did not adhere.” He ran to a nearby wall, scaled it, and made his way back to his company.


    This incident is emblematic of the capricious and irrational nature of the coup; that is to say, the human nature of it. Carpenter had already pulled a gun on Barbosa Lima and threatened to kill him. Why did he not do so now?


    All coups are interesting. A shot fired, an order given, a telephone connection made, a decision on the spot, can mean the success or failure of the plot, which, if successful, can echo down through history and touch millions of lives. In a coup, you never know whether the man standing next to you, someone you have known for years, is an informer for the other side.


    Few will join a revolt that they are sure will fail; few will oppose one that they believe is bound to succeed. Since ordinary channels of communication are broken, rumors are flying and few know the real chances of success. Success or failure depends on the perception of reality, not reality itself.


    A military coup is especially interesting, because here the participants on both sides are comrades, almost brothers. Among the professional military, it is assumed that all share the same ideals of obedience, honor, and chivalry. It is not easy to shoot your brother. Perhaps that is why Carpenter did not shoot Barbosa Lima. Confused emotional ties may explain some of the confused decisions, such as Bonifácio’s order, made by both sides during the Fifth of July.


    Captain Cunha Matos was allowed to leave the fort. Before leaving, he was surprised to encounter Lt. Carpenter. Carpenter asked him to notify his parents of his whereabouts. He confided that he would not leave the fort alive.


    Cunha Matos did not obey the order of Gen. Bonifácio to immediately present himself and his troops to their commander. Instead, he first moved his soldiers from the vicinity of the fort, which he knew to be mined. He then encountered authorities and told them everything. They ordered him to take his company to the Old Tunnel.


    As noted, Marshall Hermes hoped that Vila Militar, a base where a considerable number of troops were quartered, would join the revolt. But here, on the evening of the 4th, authorities acted decisively. A number of officers were arrested as soon as they left the train from Central Station to get off at the Vila Militar station. At a downtown honky-tonk, an alarming number of suspicious officers suddenly gathered. When this group left to be transported to Vila Militar they were all arrested.


    But in the Fort of Leme, three officers sought their commander, Captain Maximiliano, and informed him of their resolution to join the revolt. They told him the movement was general and that Marshall Hermes had 10,000 men at his disposal and could count on the Navy to help depose the government. Captain Maximiliano was not able to retain them. They left with 54 men and two automobiles loaded with munitions, forcing the motorman on the Leme streetcar to transport them and their troops to Copacabana Fort, his lights out and curtains drawn.


    The Escola Militar (Military School) was a school for Army officers about three kilometers west of Vila Militar, within the present-day city limits of western Rio.


    Being warned of a possible revolt, the director of the Escola Militar, General Eduardo Monteiro de Barros, ordered one of his officers, Captain Santos, to make a careful patrol of the area the night of July 4th.


    Around midnight, this officer passed the home of a colonel and was surprised to find it brightly lit and full of officers and students. Two officers tried to arrest the captain; he fired at them and fled to the home of the director. At this point the allegiance of some 700 cadets and officers of the Escola Militar hung in the balance.


    The author cautions that the reader should not assume everything in the article is historically accurate, though most things are. He welcomes any factual corrections, additional facts, or alternative interpretations of events.


    The main source for this article was 1922 – Sangue na Areia de Copacabana (1922 – Blood on the Sands of Copacabana), by Hélio Silva, published by Editora Civilização Brasileira S.A., Rio de Janeiro, 1971.


    Dr. Addison Jump is a retired mathematician living in Rio. Of Native American descent, he worked at a college for American Indians and later for the U.S. Department of Defense. Email: oohold@yahoo.com.


    This is the second of five articles on the Fifth of July Revolt.

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