Dirceu Murilo Pessoa was born in Recife on 24 August 1937, to João Baudel Pessoa and Antônia de Andrade Pessoa.
He graduated as Bachelor of Philosophy from the Institut Catholique de Paris in 1958, graduated in Social Sciences from the Institut de Sciences Sociales, also in Paris, in 1960, and graduated in Economics from the Federal University of Pernambuco’s (UFPE) Faculty of Economics in Recife, in 1965.
In 1968, he received a degree in Global Development Programming from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean / Latin American and Caribbean Institute for Economic and Social Planning (CEPAL / ILPES).
From 1960 to 1970, he was employed by the Northeast Development Superintendency (SUDENE), where he held various advisory and directory positions, including the coordination of the Group for Use of Public Lands (1962), the Heads of Division of Agricultural Organization (1963/1964) and the Jaguaribe Valley Group’s Section of Economics (1966/1968).
From 1971 to 1976, he was Professor of Economics of Natural Resources at the Master’s in Economics Program of the UFPE.
He married Maria Nilda Pessoa de Miranda, a professor of Brazilian Literature and French at UFPE, with whom he had four sons: Fernando Antonio (who died in a traffic accident in 1975), Carlos André, Luís Henrique and João Paulo.
In 1981, he obtained a doctorate in economics from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, with a thesis entitled Reflexions sur le developpement rural du Nord-Est du Brésil , on rural poverty and land issues in the Brazilian Northeast.
He founded and directed Advisory and Consulting Integrated Services (SIRAC) from 1970 to 1982, and in October 1982, he took over the Department of Economics of Joaquim Nabuco Foundation’s Institute for Social Research, directing it until August 1987, when – invited by the then Minister of Agrarian Reform and Development, Senator Marcos Freire – he became the General Secretary of the Ministry of Land Reform and Agrarian Development, in Brasilia, Federal District.
His studies and research have always been directly or indirectly linked to the land issue. Even when studying drought and the semiarid region in Northeast Brazil, he was evaluating the social impacts and effects that the drought had on the landless labourers and small landholders.
He published several works, among which may be highlighted:
- Reforma agrária e desenvolvimento rural (Agrarian Reform and Rural Development) [Recife: Sudene, 1964];
- Colonização e reforma agrária: subsídios para uma política de colonização agrícola para o Nordeste (Colonisation and Agrarian Reform: support for a policy of agricultural colonisation in the Northeast), in collaboration with Jorge Coelho [Recife: Sudene, 1965];
- Vale do Moxotó: análise socioeconômica de uma bacia de açude público (Moxotó Valley: a socioeconomic analysis of a public weir basin) in collaboration with Clóvis Cavalcanti [Recife: IJNPS, DNOCS, 1970];
- Estatuto da terra: uma avaliação (Land Statute: an assessment) [Boletim de Agricultura, Recife, v.3, n.1, p. 217-238, jan./jun. 1979];
- Da pobreza rural no Nordeste do Brasil (Rural Poverty in Northeast Brazil) [Revista de Economia Rural, Brasília, v.19, n.3, p.377-399, jul./set. 1981];
- Estratificação social e vulnerabilidade: a seca (Social Stratification and Vulnerability: drought) [Boletim sobre População Emprego e Renda no Nordeste, Recife, v. 2, n. 1, p. 125-138, jan./abr. 1983];
- Pobreza da terra, pobreza de terra, pobreza dos sem terra (Poverty of the Land, Poor Land, Poverty of the Landless) [Revista Econômica do Nordeste, Fortaleza, v. 15, p. 699-716, out./dez. 1984];
- Transposição de águas do São Francisco: alcance e limites de uma proposta (Transposition of the Waters of the São Francisco River: scope and limits of a proposal) [Cadernos de Estudos Sociais, Recife, v.1, n.1, n.37-52, jan./jun. 1985];
- Sequias em El Nordeste Del Brasil: de La catástrofe natural a La fragilidad social [In: CAPUTO, M.G.; HARDOY, J.E.; HERZER, H. M. Desastres naturales y sociedad em América Latina. Buenos Ayres: CLACSO/GEL, 1985];
- Northeast Brazil Agricultural Marketing Project: success but confined impact, in collaboration with Stahis Panagides and Donald Larson [AID Project Impact Evaluation Report, September 1985];
- Reforma agrária em debate: conferências, comentários e debates sobre a proposta de reforma agrária da Nova República (Agrarian Reform under Discussion: lectures, discussions and comments on the proposal for land reform in the New Republic) (Organiser) [Recife: FUNDAJ, Ed. Massangana, 1986];
- Drought in Northeast Brazil: impact and government response.[In: Drought: prediction, defection, impact assessment and response, Boulder, Col; Westview Press, 1987];
- Transposição do Rio São Francisco: a dimensão socioeconômica (Transposition of the São Francisco River: the socioeconomic dimension) (Coordinator) [Recife: FUNDAJ, Ed. Massangana, 1989];
- Espaço rural e pobreza no Nordeste do Brasil (Rural Space and Poverty in Northeast Brazil) [Recife: FUNDAJ, Ed. Massangana, 1990];
- Política fundiária no Nordeste: caminhos e descaminhos (Land Policy in the Northeast: paths and detours) (Coordinator) [Recife: FUNDAJ, Ed. Massangana, 1990].
In addition to being a renowned economist, sociologist and philosopher, Dirceu was also a poet. Always concerned about what could result in better quality of life for the poor, specifically the peasant and small farmers, he was in solidarity with the excluded, as can be seen in one of his poems:
Do monte silencioso, (From the silent hill,)
Das horas estudiosas, (From the hours of scholars,)
Da inspiração coletiva, (From collective inspiration,)
Três segredos (Three Secrets)
Três momentos (Three moments)
Três votos: (Three vows)
O melhor que queres fazer (The best you wish to do)
O que de melhor fazer, (What better to do,)
Fazer melhor o que fazes (Do what you do best)
São chamados flagelados, (They are called flagellates,)
Tantas sagradas famílias, (So many sacred families,)
Sem lugar na hospedaria: (No room in the inn:)
Retirantes à procura (Migrants looking for)
De uma terra prometida (A promised land)
Onde fossem assentados (Where they could settle)
He was as fond of good reading as much as he liked to write. A Carnival lover, he began to prepare for the festival six months in advance. He was passionate about the Galo da Madrugada, Bloco da Saudade and the Flor de Lira. According to a statement from his sister Valderez:
- He did not waste time with anything. All his activity was always positive; he was very practical in the use of his time, but naturally. It was his gift. Hence, his large and varied literary output, from poetry to field research, in publications made in Portuguese, French, English and Spanish, languages that he mastered well.
On 24 August 1986, he gathered relatives and friends to celebrate his 50 years, announcing that it would be the biggest party birthday of his life, so he wanted everyone together.
The following year, on September 8, Dirceu Pessoa died in a tragic plane crash, when the jet he was travelling on with the then-minister Marcos Freire and advisers exploded shortly after take-off.
Updated on 3 january 2011.
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012.
Updated on 15 august 2017.
FERNANDES, Nair Pessoa Ferraz. Informações por e-mail, em 31 de dezembro de 2010.
GUIMARÃES NETO, Leonardo. Dirceu Pessoa. O Economista, Recife, ano 2, n. 3, [s.p.], out. 1987.
HISTÓRIA e dedicação. O Economista, Recife, ano 2, n. 3, [s.p.], out. 1987.
SAMPAIO, Inaldo. 20 anos sem Marcos Freire. Jornal do Commmercio, Recife, 9 set. 2007.
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