What matters is not so much the color of your skin as the power you serve and the millions you betray.
Brazil is a very interesting and diverse country. It has over 200 million inhabitants and most of them are descendents of any kind of immigration, forced or deliberate ones. The forced immigrants came from Africa as slaves, stripped off their orginal names, clothes, customs, denied of their rights (as human beings) and religious activities. Those people were not considered as human beings, they were treated as some kind of ware which could be bought, traded or sold at the owner’s free will. Still those people, those African slaves, found ways to resist that kind of treatment. They fled, rebelled, created brother- and sisterhoods (very often with some kind of Christian religious backgrounds), they practised their religions under the disguises of Roman Catholic rites, developed self defence techniques smokescreening them as dance etc. An estimated 4.9 million of Africans, which is approximately 40% of the whole number, were brought to Brazil. That makes Brazil the biggest receiver of the African forced diaspora in the Americas.
Brazil was the last country of the western hemisphere to abolish official slavery in 1888. Eventhough the Transatlantic slave trade was forbidden by England in 1851 and that put a lot of pressure on Brazil, slaves arrived illegally in Brazil until this inhuman practise was finally abolished. As this period was never really come to terms with, the country is still suffering from this burden. Brazil is probably the country with the hugest black population percentage outside Africa, but because of several social and cultural factors, such as the relic of colonial thinking or the branqueamento movement, the African contribution to Brazilian culture as it is known today, has always been looked at as something inferior and not really worth being considered. To oppose this and in order to fight for their recognition as full citizens, from the 1910s on social movements of Afrodescendants started to form themselves with the first peak in the 1930ies, when they even formed a political party. But as under the Vargas dictatorship lives of political parties remained quite short, this try to fight for recognition was also shortlived and it was only in the 1970ies, that the social movements of Brazil’s black population got strong again. In 1975 the Instituto de Pesquisa das Culturas Negras, the Research Institute of Black Cultures, was founded in Rio de Janeiro. This was a milestone on the slow and long way for the recognition of Afro-Brazilians as an important contributor to Brazilian society, culture and to the country. In 1978 the Movimento Negro Unificado Contra a Discriminação Racial, the United Black Movement against Racial Discimination, was founded, which engaged in neighbourhood programmes in the combat against racial and social discrimination of black people. Finally in 1989, one year after the end of the military dictorship and the introduction of a new federal constitution in 1988, Brazil declared racial discimination a criminal offence. 1988 was also the year of the foundation of the Fundação Palmares.
The Fundação Palmares takes its name from the famous runaway slave settlement Palmares in the state of Pernambuco. It is a governmental organisation, which has the intention “to promote the preservation of cultural, social and economical values which happen through the black influence in the formation of Brazilian society” (translated by the author from the establishing law of the foundation). Its position was strengthened even more when the constitutional reform of 1998 manifested that the (federal) government would “guarantee to everybody the full exertion of cultural rights and access to the national culture and will support and stimulate the valorisation and dissemination of popular, indigenous and Afro-Brazilian cultural manifestations, as well as of all other groups, which participate in the national civilisatory process” (translated by the author from the Brazilian Federal Constitution). So, this institution, this foundation has all the possibilities to enter the struggle for cultural equity of Afro-Brazilians. It did so, and then came Sergio Nascimento de Camargo.
Little was known about Mr Camargo before he became president of the Fundação Palmares. Not even the president of Brazil, who officially nominated him, knew him by then. Meanwhile he should have heared of him. He graduated in journalism from the Pontificia Universidade Catolica in Sao Paulo in 1988, held several positions as a reporter for various radio stations and newspapers from 1987 until 2015 and knows how to read English. That is what the site of the Fundação Palmares said about its president on October 15th, 2020. What is also known is that he is the son of the writer and black movement militant supporter Oswaldo de Camargo and the brother of cultural producer and musician Oswaldo de Camargo Filho, also known as Wadico Camargo.
Brazil has this kind of curious situation that lots of top positions in governmental organisations are officially associated with the government and that the contractual situation of those who occupy them is also linked to the electorial success and the nomination of and by the respective minister. Those positions do not hold mandate posts, they hold invitational posts. Anyway, the president of Fundação Palmares is no different. In the year 2018 the best president in the history of Brazil and his extremely compenent ministers were voted into office and therefore they had to nominate a new president of the foundation too. First they nominated the lawyer Vanderlei Lourenço, but only to nominate Mr Camargo later on in the same year, following the government’s excellent practise and policy of revolving doors. When he was nominated, the founder president complained that racism would prevail now in this institution, which was supposed to combat it on a cultural basis. Obviously he had heard of Mr Camargo before.
Mr Camargo’s nomination was not very welcome by the black artists of Brazil. A selfdeclared “negro of the right wing“, he had uttered some statements in the past on the social media networks, which lead to a juridical suspension of his nomination. The designated president of a black culture institution attacked several black personalities and artists in a very dastardly way, made statements against the black movement, claimed that Brazil’s racism would not be any racism at all – that one could only be found in the USA, showed his opposition against the Day of the Black Consciousness, criticised the assasinated Rio representative Marielle Franco and did much more. A few statements can be found here. His nomination lead to an open letter initiated by his own brother, and signed by tenthousands of people, pleading not to put him into office as he would do much more harm than good to whatever he does at the Fundação Palmares – and he was right.
After a few back and forths between the government and the juridical system, Mr Camargo was allowed to take office in early 2020, while courts of appeal were dealing with his case still. A special court session of Brazil’s Superior Court made the final verdict in favour of his enthronement as president of the institution. Meanwhile Mr Camargo had fired staff, which he considered too left and therefore not right enough, by using the telephone. He did not even have the guts to talk to them face to face. In their place he hired people from the far right spectrum of society. He called the Sao Paulo mayor Joâo Doria a “public enemy’, stated that he would not take any Chinese vaccine against COVID-19 (probably because it would come from Communist China), demanded the abolition of the holiday for Black Consciousness and in a personal cruzade he personally removed first time black female governour of Rio Benedita Souza da Silva, Marielle Franco and even the quilombola leader Zumbi dos Palmares, among some other important black people, from the list of honourees of the foundation. It is very interesting that the very important namegiver of the institution has been removed from the list of important personalities.
Maybe the foundation will suffer a name change too? “Fundação Sergio Camargo” would be a proper name, wouldn’t it? Especially after all that this president has done for the Afro-Brazilian culture in order to follow the law and constitution, which lead the institutional direction from the past to the future. There is definitely more to come, if he does not get ejected from office.