History and Memory - Brazil's Guerrilla Trap

What led middle-class students to join the urban guerrilla movement against the military regime in Brazil in the 1960s and 1970s? Alzira Alves de Abreu reports on the evidence from interviews with those who survived.

With the kidnapping of US ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick in Rio de Janeiro on September 4th, 1969, the world and Brazil were made aware of the existence of a guerrilla movement in the country. For the armed forces who had seized power in a 1964 coup d'état and for Brazil's public security services and the police, this event also showed that the guerrilla movement comprised young people in the fifteen to twenty-five age group who belonged to the urban middle classes and who resided in Rio de Janeiro's most sophisticated neighbourhoods. It further showed that a large number of these guerrilla fighters had attended the city's best secondary schools or were students at the country's top universities.

What led these young people to join political movements that would find them involved in violent actions (and forced some of them to go underground, under the constant threat of arrest, torture, or even death) can only be understood within the broader context of events in Brazil and abroad during the 1960s.

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