Carlos Fraenkel at The Nation:
“Gentleman” is not the first epithet that comes to mind when one thinks of Latin American revolutionaries, from Simón Bolívar to Fidel Castro. Yet that’s how relatives, friends and political companions describe my grandfather, Joaquim Câmara Ferreira. With Carlos Marighella and Carlos Lamarca, he was a leading figure of the armed resistance against the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. He is best known as the political strategist in the most spectacular act of Brazil’s guerrilla movement: the kidnapping in September 1969 of the American ambassador, Burke Elbrick, who after being held for three days was set free in exchange for fifteen political prisoners. That operation secured my grandfather a spot on the state’s list of top enemies. My uncle recalls an evening playing billiards in a bar: “Suddenly a friend asked me, ‘Isn’t that your father?’ When I looked up, I saw his photo on a poster of ‘Wanted Terrorists’ next to the counter.” A year later, the regime would hunt him down, torture and kill him.
A guerrillero-gentleman? Many who knew him still grapple with this seeming paradox. They remember my grandfather as an affable, tolerant and unassuming person. For decades, he was a leader of Brazil’s Communist Party, responsible in particular for its press operations (primarily newspapers). Why, in his mid-50s, did he decide to exchange the pen for the pistol? The transition wasn’t easy. “Starting military training at my age!” he said, self-mockingly, to a friend in Cuba, where Brazilians from the rebel group he helped found prepared for guerrilla warfare. But he showed up for shooting class every day.