Miguel Arraes

Heroic figure of the Brazilian left
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The Independent Online

Miguel de Alencar Arraes, politician: born Araripe, Brazil 15 December 1916; twice married (12 children); died Recife, Brazil 13 August 2005.

Miguel Arraes was a heroic figure to Brazil's old left, with a political career spanning well over half a century. He was a leader of the resistance to the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985, and was a long-serving ally of Brazil's first working-class president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was finally elected in 2002, after three unsuccessful attempts. Lula showed his gratitude and admiration by declaring three days of national mourning to mark Arraes's death.

His finest hour came on 1 April 1964, when, on the day that the Brazilian military deposed the left-wing president João Goulart, troops surrounded the governor's palace in Recife, capital of the poor north-eastern state of Pernambuco. Arraes, the governor, was one of Goulart's closest political allies, and that made him a prime target for the coup-makers. He was regarded as a particularly dangerous figure by the military because of his support for the Peasant Leagues, which had been demanding land reform in a region dominated by vast, backward estates controlled by traditional political bosses.

He refused to surrender, but was finally arrested and spent a year in various prisons, before being released on the orders of the Supreme Court. Within a month he was on the run again, after signing an opposition manifesto. He eventually took refuge in the Algerian embassy, and left for exile in that country in June 1965.

Miguel Arraes was born in Araripe, in the north-eastern state of Ceará. After obtaining a law degree, he was elected first to the Pernambuco assembly and then as mayor of Recife, the state capital.

In Algeria he campaigned tirelessly for an amnesty to enable him to return to Brazil, which eventually bore fruit in 1979. When the country's military rulers began a cautious political opening, Arraes was one of the founders of the broad opposition front known as the Brazilian Democratic Movement party (PMDB). After the military returned to their barracks in 1985, Arraes led the left-wing opposition to the first civilian president, José Sarney, a landowner from the north-east.

In 1986 Arraes returned in triumph to the governor's palace in Recife from which he had been ejected more than 20 years earlier. But things did not go well: he had to cope with a series of strikes by public sector workers, and he also fell out with the PMDB leadership, and joined the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB). His long alliance with Lula began when he took the PSB into an alliance with Lula's Workers Party (PT), to back the latter's unsuccessful presidential bid in 1994. He managed to secure a third term as governor of Pernambuco, but it was even more unhappy than the second, culminating in an 11-day strike by the state police, which led to violent disorder in Recife.

Arraes was defeated in his bid to secure a fourth term as governor of Pernambuco in 1998, but he was not finished: in 2002 he was elected to the federal legislature again, at the age of 86, and became part of the alliance backing Lula, who had finally succeeded in becoming president.

Colin Harding