It is interesting that we got exposed to three strong Brazilian politicians within a week. First we learned about president Getulio Vargas whose career ended with his suicide on the third floor of the Palace of Eagles in 1956 (the building described in the post on presidential digs). Then we learned about Ulysses Guimaraes at the National Library, and later the very same evening when we had friends and neighbours over for dinner we found out that our next door neighbour Luiz was the son of famed political activist Luiz Carlos Prestes (who incidentally was the main opponent of president Getulio Vargas).
Luiz Carlos Prestes's life is such an amazing story. (This is really super interesting as I have been posting about Lili and the friends we made at the compound - Luiz is Melinda's dad. I had no idea we were living right next to the son of a famous political revolutionary). Cue the rustling of leaves of history!
So I will tell a little about Luiz Carlos Prestes as told to us by his son. He was born in 1898 and became a political activist advocating for the poor in Brazil. He undertook a march through Brazil that lasted over three years - this has gone down in history as the longest political March ever, anywhere. After the march he was imprisoned for nine years. During his incarceration his pregnant wife Olga (who was Jewish) was handed over to the Nazis in a truly spiteful act by president Vargas - she was sent to the death camps where she died. Shortly before she died she had just given birth to Carlos Prestes's first child. In a rare display of goodness, the infant was granted a special dispensation for freedom signed by Hitler himself, and Carlos Prestes's mother travelled to Europe to bring the child back to Brazil.
After the nine years of imprisonment, Carlos Prestes was finally freed. He did not have anything to his name - he spurned accumulating wealth all his life - so his friend and admirer Oscar Niemeyer, who was a fellow communist, gave him a house he had designed. (Oscar Niemeyer was the architect who designed the amazing museum in Niteroi shown earlier on in this blog). Carlos Prestes remarried and in the span of ten years had seven more children with his second wife Maria, Luiz being one of them. Maria also had two children from a previous marriage so in all the household had ten children.
Brazil did not remain a safe place for Carlos Prestes, so the family moved to Russia in the 1970's where they lived in Moscow for 13 years. (At this point I realized that Luiz was fluent in Russian which was great because he does not speak any English - now I had a way to chat with him).
They came back to Brazil in the 1980's and again Niemeyer gave him a house! (Those were the days when architects had houses galore to donate to friends!) Carlos Prestes continued his activism until his death in 1990 at the age of 92.
Luiz says that the work of his father is far from being done - Brazil has over 200 million people and 50% of the wealth of the entire country is in the hands of 1000 individuals. (To transport the same ratio to Canada, it would mean that half of all the wealth in Canada were in the hands of 175 people). Luiz says that in the 130 years of the Brazilian republic, they have had exactly four presidents who were good. The rest were all corrupt - without naming names.