The Kidnappers Strike Again

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"The Kidnappers Strike Again"

Leftists Interrupt Investment in Brazil

News article

By: Latin American Newsletters

Date: December 11, 1970

Source: Intelligence Research, Ltd.

About the Author: This news report was originally published as part of the Latin American News series from Lettres, UK (now Intelligence Research, Ltd.), a London-based news agency. Established in 1967, the Latin American Newsletters were written by Latin American specialists in London, writing about political and social events throughout Latin America as they unfolded. Printed in both English and Spanish, the Latin American Newsletters were a compilation from a variety of sources, without author attribution.


In the early 1960s, Brazil experienced a rapid industrialization that changed its population demo-graphics. As rural citizens flocked to urban areas in search of jobs and new opportunities in the factories, the economy shifted. The rapid growth was halted in 1962, however, as external forces lowered foreign investment and led to stagnation and inflation, affecting all financial classes but hurting the urban poor disproportionately. Economic problems led to unrest throughout the country, and on April 1, 1964, a military coup, led by General Humberto Castello Branco, took control of Brazil.

The military immediately enacted a number of economic reforms to stabilize the economy, such as controlling inflation, encouraging foreign and domestic investment, balancing trade, increasing markets for industrial goods from Brazil, and developing the country's infrastructure to help with internal trade and business development in general. These changes paved the way for the "economic miracle" of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Brazil's GDP went from an average of 4.0 percent (1962–1967) to 11 percent (1968–1973).

At the same time, the military instituted civil changes, such as granting security forces broad powers in controlling political or social unrest. Two leftist groups formed in 1968, both with a mission to fight the military government. The National Liberation Alliance (ALN) and the People's Revolutionary Vanguard (VPR), two separate leftist groups with similar philosophies, formed within one month of each other. These urban guerillas sought to destabilize the military government through bombings and kidnappings.

When the Swiss ambassador was kidnapped in late 1970, the police arrested more than 8,000 people with suspected ties to the ALN and VPR. With each insurgent act, the military's response was swift and thorough, breeding further discontent among some leftist interests.


The kidnapping of the Swiss ambassador to Brazil, Giovanni Enrico Bucher, has put in question the claims by the Brazilian authorities that the terrorist campaign is now 'under control'.

The kidnapping of the Swiss ambassador on Monday appears to have been carried out by the National Liberation Alliance (ALN) and as we went to press unconfirmed reports said that the kidnappers were demanding the release of 69 political prisoners in exchange for the ambassador's release. This kidnapping, which is the fourth diplomatic kidnapping in Brazil in the last 18 months, is most notable as an indication that the ALN—the last viable terrorist organisation in Brazil—is still active. Last year its legendary leader, Carlos Marighela, was shot by the police and this year in October, almost a year to the day later, his successor, Joaquim Camara Ferreira, was also shot. It was then felt that the ALN was without leadership and therefore incapable of effective activity, but Monday's kidnapping was carried out with military precision. The ambassador's guard was machine-gunned down and the ambassador himself is believed to have been hit. The police escort never appears to have got a look in.

Assuming that the only demands are for the release of political prisoners, previous experience indicates that the Brazilian government will release the prisoners with expedition and send them to whatever country the kidnappers indicate. The Brazilian government has already developed a face-saving formula which is that 'the sooner we are rid of these people the better'. This attitude has in the past resulted in the almost immediate release of kidnapped diplomats without the drawn-out bargaining which has in other countries resulted in the death of the person kidnapped. Such an attitude is typical of the compromising attitude of Brazilians in general; 'the Portuguese don't kill the bull', Spanish-speaking Americans say.

It is this attitude, too, which has, up till now, stopped the Brazilians from applying the death penalty which was placed on the statute book last year but has not been used. At the trial last week of three hijackers, before a military court, the prosecutor argued that their crime fell under section 28 of the criminal code, the penalty for which is a maximum of death and a minimum of life imprisonment. Although, on the evidence, the offence clearly fell within the terms of section 28, the air force officers who were acting as judges refused to accept the prosecutor's argument and doled out prison sentences ranging from five to 25 years.

There is, however, a danger that the terrorists' demands may increase. Some observers are of the opinion that the Swiss ambassador was particularly chosen because Switzerland recently expelled two Brazilian exiles, Apolino de Carvalho and Ladislaw Dowber, who had been sent to Algeria in exchange for the kidnapped Japanese consul in March, and had been conducting a campaign of anti-Brazilian propaganda from Switzerland. It is possible that the kidnappers may try to exert some pressure on the Swiss government, which will be outside the control of the Brazilian government.

There is a further problem. In the past released prisoners have, at the request of the kidnappers, been sent either to Algeria or to Cuba. But the Algerian and Cuban governments have recently revealed some hesitation at receiving any more of these exiles, most of whom do not appear to be prepared to do any work in their country of exile. There is a serious possibility that the kidnappers may have difficulty in finding a country that will accept the prisoners when they are released by the Brazilian authorities.


Before the 1964 coup, the United States had become increasingly concerned about Brazil's instability and leftist efforts. Alarmed that Brazil might become a large communist or socialist stronghold with great influence over Latin and Central America, President Lyndon B. Johnson's military and intelligence agencies offered behind-the-scenes assistance in the Brazilian coup. As economic development progressed under Brazilian military control throughout the mid and late 1960s, the United States and other foreign interests were more willing to invest in Brazil.

The leftist kidnappings from 1968 onward were related to foreign investment; diplomats from the United States, Japan, Germany and Switzerland were kidnapped in the order of the amount of money they had invested in Brazil, from largest investor to the second-largest, and so on. The subtlety of this planned order of attack was lost on the Brazilian authorities; the insurgents pointed out this strategy after the fact. The use of kidnapping diplomats as a leftist attack on foreign investment foreshadowed Tupac Amaru's 1996 capture and detention of the Japanese ambassador and other diplomats in Peru as a protest against foreign investment in that country.

In response to the kidnappings, the Brazilian government gave in to the kidnappers' demands, but also increased restrictions on civil life. The Department of Social and Political Order was created within the War Department to manage political violence and insurgents. In December 1968, the government enacted Institutional Act Number Five, which strengthened the president's powers and gave the executive branch more authority than ever before. Death squads, vigilante groups made up largely of off-duty police officers and soldiers, were responsible for more than one thousand deaths from 1968 to 1970. According to human rights observers, Brazil's military and security forces established a "dirty war" similar to other activities in Chile and Argentina in the 1970s, as the government used detention, torture, and disappearances while routing out leftists. As the conflicts between leftist groups and right-wing vigilantes escalated, urban guerilla activity increased across the board.

The official government response to the kidnappings was to give in to the captors' demands, which normally involved releasing political prisoners and sending them to Cuba or Algeria. The kidnappings became, in the eyes of some international observers, a successful tool on the part of the opposition to win concessions from the Brazilian government. However, as the economy improved, guerilla activity lessened. In addition, as this article notes, both Cuba and Algeria wavered in permitting released rebels into their countries. By the end of 1971, all of the leaders of the ALN and VPR were imprisoned, dead, or no longer active in these groups.



Schneider, Ronald M. The Political System of Brazil: Emergence of a Modernizing Authoritarian Regime, 1964–1970, 1973.

Web sites

MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base. "Popular Revolutionary Vanguard." <> (accessed July 9, 2005).

The National Security Archive. "Brazil Marks 40th Anniversary of Military Coup." <> (accessed July 9, 2005).