Imagem card

Paulo Cavalcanti

Date Born.:

Prosecutor, Politician, Editor


Paulo Cavalcanti

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 20/02/2017

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

Paulo Cavalcanti was born in the city of Olinda, in Pernambuco, on 25 May 1915, but at the age of five he moved to Recife: his family lived in Rua dos Prazeres Street, in the Boa Vista neighbourhood.

The boy attended elementary school at the Grupo Escolar Manoel Borba and Grupo Maurício de Nassau, and was then accepted to the Ginásio Pernambucano. Since his parents did not have the financial means to enroll him in that school, he spent some time outside school: he studied at home and read many books and magazines. It was at this time that he began to sympathise with the actions of the Prestes Column. As he recorded in his memoirs, such was the admiration he felt for Luis Carlos Prestes that seeing him in person, hearing his voice, contemplating his austere guerilla figure, as well as his face with gentle eyes, framed by his thick black beard, represented a real fortune for him.

In 1928, Paulo got his first job: he was a foreman for loading and unloading at the Port of Recife. At night, with his salary, he went to study at the Ateneu Pernambucano, whose partner was Waldemar Valente, one of his cousins. Shortly afterwards, however, he had to drop his studies again: he went to work at the Federal Inspection of Works Against Drought, in the municipality of Salgueiro. From this municipality, he would return anguished to Recife in 1932, claiming to have never seen such a miserable reality.

Conscious that he had to fight against the scourges of hunger, drought and injustice, Paulo joined the Brazilian Integralist Action (AIB) in 1933, but soon came into conflict with the theory and practice of this institution, and requested to be released from it. He ended up being expelled from there, accused of being a spy of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB). At that time, in parallel, he began to write his first articles for the newspaper O Ateneu.

In 1937, Paulo was only just able to redo secondary school in two terms, under the regime of Art. 100, and enrolled in the Recife Faculty of Law. Always fighting fascist theses, he acted in the Student Directory, started to support left-wing students, and engaged in politics against the Estado Novo and the Agamenon Magalhães Government.

Shortly before graduating in Law (in 1941), he married a cousin, Maria Ofélia Figueiredo, going to work as a secretary at the Portuguese Hospital. A year later, his first daughter, Moema, was born. In 1943, he assumed the position of interim public prosecutor in the municipality of Alagoa de Baixo (now called Sertânia), located in the backlands of Pernambuco; and in February of the same year came Magnólia, his second daughter.

Paulo would pass a public contest in 1946, and was appointed to assume the position of public prosecutor in the municipality of Goiana. Along with two other colleagues, he would found the Pernambuco Public Prosecutor’s Association. He would also maintain contact with PCB parliamentarians, advising them on legal matters.

In 1947, he stood for state representative, but only managed to be the 1st replacement. The dreamed mandate was assumed with the vacancy of Barros Barreto when he was summoned to be part of the Barbosa Lima Government. At the same time, Paulo would be joining the editorial staff at the newspaper Folha do Povo. Defending the mandate of the communists at the Municipal Assembly, he protested against the arrest of Gregório Bezerra. In April 1947, the couple’s first son Carlos was born; and two years later, the representative applied for membership of the PCB, which operated illegally.

Being re-elected state representative for the period from 1951 to 1954, Paulo defended the rights to association, freedom of opinion and thought, he opposed the Governments of Agamenon Magalhães and Etelvino Lins; and he participated in the campaign of the Recife Front, which for the first time in the 20th century elected a mayor of Recife by direct vote, Pelopidas Silveira. Later, he engaged in the campaign of Cid Sampaio for Governor of Pernambuco; articulated the candidacy of Miguel de Arraes de Alencar for the succession of Pelopidas, together with the City Council (having even drafted a manifesto defending his candidacy); and assumed the Direction of the Port of Recife.

After the resignation of President Jânio Quadros in 1961, he supported the inauguration of João Goulart, the Vice President whom the military tried to prevent from assuming the Government along with the PCB and the leftist movements. With the advent of the 1964 military coup, he was accused of being “leftist, communist and a ‘communiser’”; he was imprisoned (several times) and compulsorily retired through Institutional Act no.2.

Even kept under the supervision of the Department of Public and Social Order (DOPS) and the 2nd Section of the 4th Army, he acted as a lawyer for the so-called “communist summit” – the state leadership of the PCB, the leaders of the Peasant Leagues and the leadership of the labour unions – which included the political prisoners Gregório Bezerra, Miguel Arraes, and Pelópidas Silveira, all accused of subversion. Over these dark years, he would record, in his memoir:

These eighteen years of military dictatorship should not flow without the curse of those who witnessed and suffered the massacre of millions of men and women, directly or indirectly affected by decision – both in the dungeons of the torture chambers and under the scourge of economic exploitation, which is another form of violence against human rights.

It should be noted that Paulo Cavalcanti was a friend of several writers, poets and artists from Pernambuco, such as Gilberto Freyre, Mauro Mota, Nilo Pereira, Ascencio Ferreira, Abelardo da Hora, Ladjane Bandeira, Luiz Delgado, Aderbal Jurema and Valdemar de Oliveira.

Elected councilman for Recife with the PCB in 1992, he continued to work for popular interests and the less favoured sections of the population. In addition to being a politician, journalist and lawyer, Paulo also stood out as a writer, having produced several important works, such as Eça de Queiroz: agitador no Brasil [Eça de Queiroz: agitator in Brazil], published in 1959, which gained national notoriety when he was awarded by Pernambucan Academy of Letters and by the Brazilian Chamber of Books; as well as the works O caso eu conto como o caso foi – memórias políticas [The case is I tell the Case As It Was – political memoirs], 1st volume (1978) and 2nd volume (1980); Nos tempos de Prestes [In the Days of Prestes] (1981/1982); A luta clandestina [The Clandestine Fight], 3rd volume of memoirs (1984/1985); Homens e idéias do meu tempo [Men and Ideas of My Time] (1993); Vale a pena (ainda) ser comunista [It Is (Still) Worth Being a Communist] (1994); História de um governo popular [History of a Popular Government] and Os equívocos de Caio Prado Júnior [The Misconceptions of Caio Prado Júnior].

Upon turning 80 on 25 May 1995, he was honoured by many friends and admirers. However, the heart of the illustrious Pernambuco man, which had been operated on almost two decades before, was already showing irreversible damage. Six days after the party (on 31 May), Paulo Cavalcanti died in Recife. His body lay in state at Legislative Assembly and was buried in the Santo Amaro Cemetery. Moved, hundreds of people attended the burial and threw red roses into his grave.

Recife, 26 October 2005.
Translated by Peter Leamy, December 2016.


sources consulted

CAVALCANTI, Paulo. Nos tempos de Prestes (o caso eu conto, como o caso foi). 3o. v. Memórias políticas. Recife: Editora Guararapes, 1982.

ÍCONES de Pernambuco. Jornal do Commercio, Recife, fascículo 5 [encarte],  29 abr. 2004.

JORGE NETO, Nagib. Elogia da resistência: evocação a Paulo Cavalcanti. Perfil Parlamentar Século XX. Recife: Assembléia Legislativa do Estado de Pernambuco, 2001.


how to quote this text

Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Paulo Cavalcanti. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.