Quem é esse viajante (Who is this traveller)
Quem é esse menestre (Who is this minstrel)
Que espalha esperança (That spreads hope)
E transforma sal em mel? (And turns salt into honey)
[O menestrel das Alagoas (The Minstrel from Alagoas), Milton Nascimento and Fernando Brandt ]
Teotônio Brandão Vilela was born in the city of Viçosa, Alagoas, on 28 May 1917 to Elias Brandão Vilela and Isabel Brandão Vilela.
He completed his primary education in his native city and his secondary at the Ginásio de Maceió and Colégio Nóbrega (Recife).
Despite having attended two faculties, Engineering and Law, in Recife and Rio de Janeiro, at the time the Federal District, he did not finish any higher education course, becoming self-taught.
In 1937 he abandoned his studies and returned to Alagoas where he started working for his father, a rural landowner.
We was a cattle rancher and sugarcane factory owner, becoming part-owner with his relatives of a sugarcane factory in the municipality of Junqueiro, located about 100 km from Maceió.
He married Helena Quintela Brandão Vilela and had seven children with her, one of whom, Teotônio Vilela Filho was elected governor of Alagoas from 2007 to 2010.
He joined the UDN (National Democratic Union) in 1948, being one of the party founders in Alagoas, created in 1952. He was elected as a state congressman in the 1954 elections, holding the mandate until 1958.
In 1960 he was elected vice-governor of Alagoas, on the electoral ticket of UDN general Luís Cavalcanti, from 1961-1966.
In October 1965, with the publishing of the AI-2 (Institutional Act nº 2) by the military government, the process of cessation and suspension of political rights was reopened, along with the elimination of existing political parties, the maintaining of indirect elections for the Presidency of the Republic and the establishment of indirect elections for state governments, as well as parliamentary and individual limitations for citizens.
In December of that year, two new political parties were created – one supporting the government, the National Renovating Alliance (Arena) and another in opposition, the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB). Teotônio Vilela joined Arena, being elected as a senator for the party in 1966, for the 1967 to 1974 mandate.
In the Senate he was a senior member of the commissions for Economy, Agriculture, Writing, International Adjustments, Legislation on Atomic Energy and Industry and Commerce. He was the fourth-in-line to the Bureau and vice-president of the Commission for Regional Affairs in 1973.
In the 1974 parliamentary elections, he was re-elected to the Senate as a representative of Alagoas, being one of the few Arena members to have electoral success for the government party in the whole country, for the 1975 to 1982 legislature.
With the swearing-in of Ernesto Geisel to the Presidency of the Republic in March 1974, and the beginning of a slow, gradual and safe process of granting more political freedom, the senator from Alagoas, after a private conversation with the president, unfurled the flag of re-democratisation, making himself the spokesperson for the distension process and assuming the role of “Arena oppositionist”.
He made pro-democratisation proclamations in the Senate and made contacts with personalities and institutions to develop a project of political institutionalisation for Brazil. In April 1978, he presented it to the Senate and it became known as Project Brazil, which included various liberalising proposals.
The following month, he united with the National Front for Re-democratisation, a movement whose objective, according to Teotônio, was similar to his Project Brazil, besides offering a mobilisation possibility. The Front wanted the candidacy of General Euler Bentes Monteiro for presidency and the MDB senator Paulo Brossard for vice-presidency of the Republic, looking to join together discontent militarists and dissident politicians from Arena with the MDB.
He joined the MDB on 25 April 1979, and in mid-June, during his first speech as a member of the opposition, he harshly criticised the government and provoked a general withdrawal of Arena members from the Senate hall.
He was a tireless fighter for general amnesty as president of the joint committee that looked into the issue sent to Congress by the Government.
On receiving the title of São Paulo Citizen in 1979, awarded by the Municipal Chamber of São Paulo, he explained his devotion to freedom:
Citizen of Viçosa in Alagoas, on the outskirts of the Dois Irmãos Range, one of the last holdouts of the War of Palmares, I live remembering the image of Zumbi, I feel him in my dreams and in the heat of my libertarian blood.
In 1980, with the end of bipartisanism and the advent of various opposition parties in Brazil, Teotônio preferred to become a member of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, PMDB, considering it to be a continuation of the now-extinct MDB, becoming one of the most important names on its list.
He ended his parliamentary career in November 1982 because of cancer. In his farewell speech (30.11.1982) he made it clear that he was willing to continue working politically:
I am leaving this House this week; this is not a farewell, especially as it is not my habit to farewell anything. Political life continues with me, I will continue to fight out there, only I will not have the privilege of using this or that tribune. As much as I can, I will keep going with my life of the old minstrel, singing here, singing there, singing everywhere, my small political tunes. (Diário do Congresso Nacional, Brasília, DF, 2.12.1982).
He published some pieces, including: Mobilização contra o subdesenvolvimento (Mobilisation against Underdevelopment) (Rio de Janeiro: Dasp, 1958); Andanças pela crônica (Chronicle Wanderings) (Maceió: Departamento Estadual de Cultura, 1963); A civilização do Zebu e a civilização do Basset (The Civilisation of Zebu and the Civilisation of Basset) (Brasília, D.F.: Senado Federal, 1974) and A Pregação da liberdade: andanças de um liberal (Preaching Freedom: Wanderings of a Liberal) (Porto Alegre: L&PM, 1977).
In September 1983, composers Milton Nascimento and Fernando Brandt released an homage to Teotônio, O menestrel das Alagoas, sung by Fafá de Belém, a song which transformed, along with Coração de estudante (The Student’s Heart), into anthems of the Diretas-Já (Rights-Now) movement which spread all over Brazil in early 1984, demanding that the Congress approve constitutional amendments that would institute direct elections for the successor to president João Figueiredo.
In 1983, the Pernambuco deputy Cristina Tavares founded Teotônio Vilela Centre of Political and Social Studies, an important stage on which various problems concerning the Brazilian population would be discussed.
The minstrel of Alagoas died on 27 November 1983, from widespread cancer.
In 1986, Teotônio Vilela received the title of Grand Officer of the Order of the National Congress (In Memoriam).
The PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party), on 19 September 1995, created the Teotônio Vilela Institute, the party’s political study and education organ and, on 25 April 2005, the Teotônio Vilela Memorial was inaugurated in Maceió, designed by Oscar Niemayer in honour of the Minstrel of Alagoas, as he was known nationally due to his fight for political freedom and the re-democratisation of Brazil.
Recife, 22 July 2010.
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.
COUTINHO, Amélia; JUNQUIERA, Ivan. Teotônio Vilela. In: TRIBUTO a Teotônio. Brasília, D.F: Fundação Teotônio Vilela, 1987. p. 11-18.
MOTTA, Marly da Silva.Teotônio Vilela. Brasília, D.F: Senado Federal; Rio de Janeiro: FGV/CPDOC, 1996. (Grandes vultos que honraram o Senado, v.1).
TEOTÔNIO Vilela: períodos legislativos da Quinta República 1975-1978. Disponível em: <http://www.senado.gov.br/senadores/senadores_biografia.asp?codparl=2247&li=45&lcab=1975-1978&lf=45>. Acesso em: 21 jul. 2010.
TEOTÔNIO Vilela (foto nesta página). Disponível em: <http://www.almanaquealagoas.com.br/noticias/?vCod=1561>. Acesso em: 25 maio 2011.
VILELA, Teotônio. A pregação da liberdade: andanças de um liberal. Porto Alegre: L&PM, 1977.
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Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Teotônio Vilela. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.