Forty-six years ago it was, just as now, the start of spring in the South.
Paulo Freire was exiled in Chile, where he had arrived after the military coup in Brazil that would lead to one of the longest Latin American dictatorships. It was a day like any other in Santiago. Paulo Freire had invited his friends, Jacques Chonchol and Maria Edy, for a conversation and to share with them his favourite dish, “galinha cabidela” (chicken giblets), a speciality of Portuguese origin very popular in the northeast of Brazil, that his partner Elza had cooked to perfection. Freire had got to know Chonchol on coming to Chile and the latter had offered him a job at the Institute for Agricultural and Livestock Development (INDAP), of which he was the vice-president. Over there, Freire developed part of his experience in popular education with the farmers.
They had become intimate friends.
Jacques Chonchol, former minister in the Salvador Allende government and one of the greatest contemporary Chilean intellectuals
That evening, while saying goodbye, Freire said he wanted to gift them with a memento for years of shared work: the manuscript of a book written in perfect cursive handwriting, almost without corrections and divided into four chapters. In the dedication to Jacques and Maria Edy, he wrote: “I’d like you to have the manuscript of a book that will perhaps not be of any use but is one that embodies the profound faith I have in men.”
The next year, Freire moved to the United States, staying eleven months at Harvard University. He carried with him a copy of the manuscript he had given to Chonchol and his wife. The text would be published for the first time in English at the beginning of 1970. Thus was born one of the most important and influential works in international pedagogic and social thinking in the second half of the 20th century: Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Paulo Freire, 1921-1997
Jacques Chonchol had come to know Freire while he was still an activist of Christian Democracy and worked in the government of Eduardo Frei Montalva, from which he would distance himself politically, being the founder of the United Movement for Popular Action. MAPU (in its Spanish acronym) was one of the main parties of the Chilean Left that contributed to the electoral triumph of Salvador Allende in November 1970. Chonchol functioned as Minister for Agriculture in the Popular Unity government.
The coup that brought down Allende and gave birth to General Pinochet’s dictatorship obliged Chonchol to seek exile in France for more than 20 years, where he was director of the Institute of Higher Studies for Latin America at Paris University.
Before leaving for exile, Chonchol was holed up for nine months at the Venezuelan embassy. His house, like that of so many other activists and intellectuals of the Left, was ransacked by soldiers on numerous occasions, his library destroyed, his books burnt, and all that was of any value robbed.
The manuscript of Pedagogy of the Oppressed survived all attacks. Unaware of the importance, or ignoring what it was about, the soldiers did not destroy the file that contained more than 200 pages written by Paulo Freire. Years later, Chonchol’s mother sent the documents through her sister to Paris. “When I returned to Chile, I brought it back with me and religiously guard it here,” she said in an interview with Jose Eustaquio Romão.
In Chile, the dictatorship engaged in a fierce struggle against critical thinking, assassinating intellectuals and students, teachers and youth, inside and outside the universities. Decrees and martial orders censured books and authors. As the great Argentinean writer Laura Devetach said, “they killed words and they killed people”.
In the bonfire of thought-provoking books, the Chilean dictatorship nourished its hope of a world dominated by silence, fear and oppression.
Chilean soldiers burning books. Koen Wessing / Nederlands Fotomuseum
The Argentinean dictatorship tried to copy its neighbour in this curious exercise that the two countries have almost always realised, prepared to ignore their own virtues in coming together in a terrifying history which makes them tragically similar. Thousands of books were censored in Argentina; thousands of them were burnt, their authors and readers brutally assassinated and disappeared for the unforgivable crime of dreaming of a more just, equal and free world.
“If you send your son to a high school – religious or secular – you barely meet a civic obligation. This is not the most important thing. What is important is that you obey the moral laws of your society and culture.
“How? It is not that difficult. Find out about the books that the teachers or the priests recommend to your son. Be cautious about activities that are not strictly school material like, for example, catechism or moral lessons. Don’t be indifferent to, or absolutely approve, other activities that lead to deviations: campsites, community encounters, spiritual retreats, visits to shantytowns. You have a great responsibility in this.
“Because you don’t know – you can’t know – the enemy’s face. Or how it disguises itself. You give over, gift, your son to the school for many hours of the day – at times for weeks – and ignore what happens. Surely, they’re being educated, as it should be. But it is possible that it is not so. And one day, when your son begins to argue with you, questioning your points of view, speaking of the “generational gap”, declaring that all that is learnt in school is good and all that is learnt at home is bad, he is either mistaken or is too late. Your son has been hypnotised by the enemy. His mind is something else. From there to tragedy is a short and rapid step away. If this happens, and one day you have to go to the morgue to recognise your son’s body or of your daughter, you cannot blame destiny or fate. Because you could have avoided it.
“For example: do you know what your son reads? … For this, for all of this and much more, prudence. Caution. Watchfulness. Analyse the word that your son learns every day at school. There are resounding words, musical ones, that create beautiful sentences but contain keys the enemy uses to invade your son’s mind. A certain classical tone in the comments, the word ‘commitment’, the description of the world as a world of the poor and the rich and of history as an eternal class struggle.”
Straight away, the “letter” attacked Paulo Freire’s work, accusing him of creating “anarchy”. On November 25, 1978, the Argentinean Education Minister, through Circular No. 250, prohibited the reading and distribution of Paulo Freire’s works throughout the country.
The inquisitorial cruelty was of such magnitude that the same ministry published a pamphlet in 1977, “Subversion in the educational sphere (let’s know our enemy)
”, in which it claimed that subversive action started in preschool, at the start of childhood, “through ideologically slanted teachers with an impact on the minds of the little students, fomenting the development of rebellious ideas and behaviour, capable of developing future actions… Taking into account these essential bases, Marxist publishers try to offer ‘useful books’ … that would help them not to fear liberty”.
Destroying books was destroying the future; reducing thinking to ashes.
They tried to do it; they did not achieve it; they will not achieve it.
This is the history of the manuscript of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, resisting that period, protected by a mystery that some call “miracle” and that others will attribute to the persistent supremacy of liberty over oppression.
owards the beginning of the year, in February 2014, the manuscript of Pedagogy of the Oppressed
, which was still in the custody of Jacques Chonchol, was donated
to the National Library of Brazil
. The Paulo Freire Institute
and its director, Moacir Gadotti, as also Jose Eustaquio Romão, Brazil’s former Education Minister, Aloizio Mercadante, and the current assistant executive secretary of the ministry, Francisco das Chagas Fernandes, were in charge of this historic act. A facsimile edition was published by these institutions and by the University Nove de Julho
of Sao Paulo
The National Library of Argentina
has published an excellent piece of research, conducted under the coordination of Gabriela Pesclevi. Books that Bite
is carrying out a detailed inventory of children and youth literature censured by the dictatorship that devastated the country between 1976 and 1983. It is a fundamental piece of work, given its rigorous documentation in addition to being extremely well edited.
The Schools of Arts and the Nicanor Parra Library of the Diego Portales University of Chile, on the completion of 40 years of the coup that defeated President Salvador Allende, organised an exposition, “Books burnt, hidden and recovered 40 years on from the coup”
. The event has been a very important step in making visible one of the repressive political dimensions in the country the military dictatorship