Francisco Julião used to defend agrarian reform forcefully
arguing that it had to be done "by law or by force." He went into exile to
Mexico City and stayed there until 1979. Disappointed after being abandoned by old friends
he once again headed to Mexico in 1987.
By Alessandra Dalevi
It was in Cuernavaca, Mexico, the same city that became famous in the beginning of the
20th century for being the center of Emiliano Zapata’s uprising for agrarian reform, where
Brazilian leftist revolutionary and House Representative Francisco Julião chose to live
and ended up dying on July 10, 1999 from a heart attack at age 84 while in the kitchen
preparing spaghetti his favorite dish for a friend. Accused of subversion, the lawyer and
leader of the Peasant Leagues together with Pernambuco governor Miguel Arraes was jailed,
stripped of his political rights and forced into exile after the 1964 military coup.
He used to defend agrarian reform forcefully arguing that it had to be done "by
law or by force." Julião went into exile to Mexico City and stayed there until 1979
when he was amnestied by the military regime. Back to Pernambuco he once again tried
unsuccessfully to be elected a representative. His old friends from the left abandoned him
and Julião, disappointed, in 1987, once again headed to Mexico.
The Peasant Leagues originated in the little town of Vitória de Santo Antão in the
interior of Pernambuco state in 1954. Peasant José Ortêncio, who with 140 other families
leased the Engenho Galiléia farm, created with his colleagues the SAPP (Sociedade
Agrícola de Plantadores e Pecuaristas de PernambucoAgricultural Society of Planters
and Cattle Raisers of Pernambuco). Harassed and roughed up by the police they looked for
help among their House Representatives. Francisco Julião from the PSB (Partido Socialista
BrasileiroBrazilian Socialist Party) offered his support. He had been elected to the
post of deputado federal (House Representative) first in 1950.
The press started calling the new organization led by Julião Peasant League since it
looked like a similar movement from the ’50s, which had that name. Their main demand in
the beginning was merely that peasants got minimum wage and that women were paid the same
as men. By 1962 the movement had spread to 13 states under the leadership of Julião. The
next year they created the Conferência das Ligas Camponesas do Brasil and had planned a
national congress for 1964, but then the military took over in April and the leagues
At the time, despite laws on the books assuring their rights to wages, peasants were
"hired" through a method called "regime de cambão", in which
the landowner acquired the worker for a low price in an auction similar to those used to
sell black slaves in the past. The hired hand was then forced to work just for food during
Julião was writing his memories and kept on writing them until the day before his
death. The first volume, which tells how the Peasant League started, is finished and
should be published at the end of the year. He had moved to Cuernavaca three years ago
where he lived with his Mexican wife Marta, whom he had met soon after going into exile.
Both were divorced and had children from their previous marriages. He, six; she, ten.
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