A Mother′s Cry

A Memoir of Politics, Prison, and Torture under the Brazilian Military Dictatorship

A Mother′s Cry

Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: frontispiece Published: June 2010

Author: Lina Sattamini

Editor: James N. Green

Translator: Rex P. Nielson

Contributor: Marcos P. S. Arruda

Activism, General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, Latin American Studies > Brazil

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Brazil’s dictatorship arrested, tortured, and interrogated many people it suspected of subversion; hundreds of those arrested were killed in prison. In May 1970, Marcos P. S. Arruda, a young political activist, was seized in São Paulo, imprisoned, and tortured. A Mother’s Cry is the harrowing story of Marcos’s incarceration and his family’s efforts to locate him and obtain his release. Marcos’s mother, Lina Penna Sattamini, was living in the United States and working for the U.S. State Department when her son was captured. After learning of his arrest, she and her family mobilized every resource and contact to discover where he was being held, and then they launched an equally intense effort to have him released. Marcos was freed from prison in 1971. Fearing that he would be arrested and tortured again, he left the country, beginning eight years of exile.

Lina Penna Sattamini describes her son’s tribulations through letters exchanged among family members, including Marcos, during the year that he was imprisoned. Her narrative is enhanced by Marcos’s account of his arrest, imprisonment, and torture. James N. Green’s introduction provides an overview of the political situation in Brazil, and Latin America more broadly, during that tumultuous era. In the 1990s, some Brazilians began to suggest that it would be best to forget the trauma of that era and move on. Lina Penna Sattamini wrote her memoir as a protest against historical amnesia. First published in Brazil in 2000, A Mother’s Cry is testimonial literature at its best. It conveys the experiences of a family united by love and determination during years of political repression.


“... this tale of mother and son brings to light a never to be forgotten break in Brazil’s long-standing history of democracy.” — Linda S. Maier, Bulletin of Latin American Research

A Mother’s Cry should rank among the foremost publications of the testimonial genre and is suitable for a broad, interdisciplinary audience interested in human rights, resistance, and social justice.” — Cathy Marie Ouellette, History

“The military dictatorship in Brazil lasted from 1964 to 1985. Lina Sattamini’s A Mother’s Crysuggests that the memory of dictatorship lasted a lot longer. The book describes the mobilization of a family in their desperate attempt to find Marcos Arruda, a young student who was imprisoned by the military police in 1970. ... In the process of describing how she and her mother managed to free Marcos Arruda, Lina Sattamini unearthed important evidence of the abuses of the institutional pawns of the dictatorial government. But A Mother’s Cry also unearthed something else, an aspect of dictatorial governments which is often glossed over: the strength and power of the opposition to the military.” — Isabel DiVanna, Canadian Journal of History

"An important contribution to the large literature on personal experiences of human rights abuses in Cold War Latin America."  — Andrew Kirkendall, Human Rights Review

“This work provides ample detail of the tortures inflicted by the OBAN secret police…This book is a memorable and highly readable human story and source that has gained a new relevancy since its publication.”  — Philip Evanson, The Americas

A Mother’s Cry is the story of a Brazilian mother who, while living in the United States in the 1960s, learns by mail of her son’s kidnapping by agents of Brazil’s military regime. Without immediate means to locate her son, there is ‘only’ his grandmother in Brazil to initially confront the dictatorship’s atrocity establishment. The stuff of a great film, A Mother’s Cry juxtaposes their efforts to secure the young man’s release with his strategies for surviving brutalizing physical and potentially spirit-breaking torture. This great book joins the yet unconnected literatures on human agency, big and small, that run from the Holocaust, to Argentina’s mothers and grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, to Cambodian survivors of S-21 prison, to recent accounts of CIA rendition victims. This impressive book is must reading.” — Martha K. Huggins, Tulane University

“A family’s chance descent into the indignities of Brazil’s military dictatorship is uncompromisingly recorded in nearly a decade of letters penned across continents; so too is the inextinguishable hope to set free a son, grandson, and brother. Arbitrarily imprisoned, brutally tortured, and subsequently whisked abroad to safety, Marcos P. S. Arruda would then face years of difficult rehabilitation. His is the tale of many a political prisoner; but, fortunate to escape with his life, he has ever since borne witness against the oppression, corruption, and brutality of authoritarian regimes, their supporters, and their protectors the world over.” — Ralph Della Cava, Columbia University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lina Penna Sattamini, a former freelance interpreter with the U.S. State Department, lives in Rio de Janeiro.

James N. Green is Professor of Brazilian History and Culture at Brown University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

A Political Chronology of the Brazilian Military Dictatorship (1964–85) xiii

Introduction: The Personal and the Political under the Brazilian Military Regime / James N. Green 1

We Must Never Forget: A Memoir / Lina Penna Sattamini 19

1. The Beginning 21

2. Operation Bandeirante 23

3. The Military Hospital 26

4. Incommunicado 32

5. Our First Visit 36

6.. Still Imprisoned 40

7. Transferred to Rio 48

8. Solitude 62

9. Support in the United States 68

10. My Return to Brazil 71

11. The Saga Continues 77

12. Anguish 85

13. Despair 92

14. Freedom 95

15. Exile 100

16. Protest 104

17. Recovery 108

18. Continuing the Struggle 112

19. Another Martyr of the Dictatorship 120

20. In Search of a Permanent Visa 122

21. Returning Home 128

22. Never Forgetting 133

Epilogue: No Path for the Righteous Traveler / Marcos P. S. Arruda 137

Editor's Postscript / James N. Green 175

Bibliography 177

Index 181
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4736-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4718-7
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