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Francisco Julião

Date Born.:

Writer, Lawyer, Political


Francisco Julião

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 16/09/2013

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

Eles eram como um punhado de areia que, jogada,
se desfazia no ar. Liga seria o cimento capaz de unir essa areia
e transformá-la em sólido bloco.

They were like a fistful of sand which, thrown,
scatters in the air. The League would be the cement capable of uniting this sand
and transforming it into a solid block.
(Francisco Julião)

Francisco Julião Arruda de Paula was born on 16 February 1915, in the Municipality of Bom Jardim, in Pernambuco, and spent his childhood on the Boa Esperança, or Espera, farm.

He studied at boarding school in Recife and enrolled in the Recife Law Faculty at 18, despite having considered medicine as his vocation. At the same time, he bought, together with a colleague, Colégio Monsenhor Fabrício, in Olinda, acting as principal and primary school teacher.

The progressive and revolutionary ideas he found at Law School influenced him, causing him to begin thinking about standing up for peasants. As I cannot perform surgery in a hospital, I will try to perform surgery on this society that is sick, and see if it is possible to remove the tumour that is the poor peasant, landless, abandoned, without justice, with nothing, thought Julião. He considered that without the peasants’ participation, it was impossible to imagine a transformation of Brazilian society.

Before leaving university, in 1939, he invited some colleagues to set up a law firm and work defending the rights of peasants. Nobody accepted the offer, and in 1940, Francisco Julião went alone to the countryside with the idea that what was needed was to create awareness amongst the peasants of their rights.

In Northeast Brazil’s sugarcane area, many landowners lease their lands. A part is designated to those who must work there every day. This type of worker is called an ‘eiteiro’ and receives payment in cash. Others lease the land, paying an annual rent in cash, while still being obliged to work certain days of the year for the landowner, who are known as ‘foreiros’. In the Northeast, the word “cambão” (yoke) expresses the work day that the ‘foreiro’ must give the landowner without receiving anything in return.

Through persistent work, Francisco Julião sought to convince the peasants that they no longer had to work without payment as it was illegal, promising to defend them in the Courts if necessary. To him, the need to organise and unify the peasants was evident. He was elected as a State Representative, in 1954, for the Brazilian Socialist Party. In January 1955, the peasant workers of the Galiléia Plantation, in Vitória de Santo Antão, founders of the Pernambuco Agricultural and Cattle Raising Society of Planters, contacted him as they needed a lawyer. Julião then assumed the duty of defending them. Shortly afterwards, the Society became the first Peasant League.

The term ‘Ligas Camponesas’ (Peasant Leagues) appeared in newspapers and represented a reaction of the factory and land owners, who wanted to make these associations illegal. It was an important movement, which sensitised the masses all over the Northeast. Julião concerned himself with incorporating the peasants into the process of Brazilian democratic development. The first unions were organised by the Leagues, and Francisco Julião prepared various lawsuits, enabling the foundation of innumerable unions in the sugarcane area.

In 1962, he was elected as a Federal Representative. After the military coup on 31 March 1964, he spent three months in hiding, before being arrested near Brasília. He remained in several prisons for 18 months. Exiled, he left Brazil on 30 December 1965.

For 15 years, he was a political exile in México, after having been refused asylum requests in the former Yugoslavia (owing to a conflict between that country and Cuba, as the cordial relationship Julião maintained with the Cuban leaders was widely known) and in Chile. Julião also turned to the Algerian embassy, but internal political instability would delay any decision. Finally, with the help of his friend, writer Antônio Calado, he was able to contact the Mexican embassy and be accepted by the country.

In Mexico, he felt the strong peasant presence and was able to carry out research, in the State of Morelos, with old Zapata soldiers, survivors of the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

The political amnesty declared in 1979 enabled his return to Brazil. In the 1980s, he participated in efforts to re-democratise the country. Through the Peasant Leagues, he inspired the MST (Landless Workers Movement) and other political and social movements committed to improving the lives of Brazilian people.

Francisco Julião wrote several books: Cachaça (stories, 1951), Irmão Juazeiro (Brother Juazeiro) (novel, 1961), Que são as Ligas Camponesas (What are the Peasant Leagues) (1962), Até quarta, Isabela (Until Wednesday, Isabella) (1964), Cambão (Cambao – The Yoke: The Hidden Face of Brazil) (1975), Guia do camponês (The Peasant Guide), ABC do camponês (ABC of Peasant Life), Cartilha do camponês (The Peasant Primer), Carta de alforria do camponês (The Peasant Freedom Letter), Bença, mãe (Bless Me, Mother). Many have been translated into other languages.

Julião was a pioneer in fighting against the landowning structure that exists in Brazil and in looking to create a national awareness of agrarian issues. Of his goals, the following is paramount: the struggles for agrarian reform and the liberation of peasant.

From 1990, he lived in Rio de Janeiro and, later, returned to Mexico. He was married and had six children. He died from a heart attack on 10 July 1999, aged 84, in the Mexican settlement of Tepoztlán, near Cuernavaca. His death was felt intensely in Brazil and abroad.

Recife, 29 March 2005.
(Updated on 28 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.


sources consulted

FRANCISCO Julião: depoimento. Rio de janeiro: Fundação Getúlio Vargas. CPDOC. História Contemporânea do Brasil, 1982.

FRANCISCO Julião: A luta continua! Dados biográficos retirados do convite para o ato público “Das Ligas ao MST: uma homenagem a Francisco Julião". Recife: APAP, 2003.

how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Francisco Julião. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.