Andrew Downie

14 July 2022

In the Sertão

The Portuguese word sertão means ‘hinterland’ or ‘back country’, and in Brazil it refers to the inland forests, deserts and mountains far from the cities that line the Atlantic coast. Someone who has explored those regions is known as a sertanista, and the greatest living sertanista is Sydney Possuelo. Now 82, he holds the Bolsonaro regime responsible for the murder of his fellow sertanista Bruno Pereira and the British journalist Dom Phillips in the far west of the Amazon last month.

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20 July 2021

Messi’s Triumph

The moment Lionel Messi lifted the trophy after Argentina beat Brazil in the final of the Copa América on 10 July was a landmark in football history, almost as significant as Pelé’s breaking all records to win his third World Cup with Brazil in 1970.

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2 July 2021

At the Maracanã

One of my happiest memories of Brazilian football comes from about fifteen years ago, when Botafogo were playing Fluminense at the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro. For reasons that were unclear even then, officials had opened only part of the ground, leaving thousands of fans milling around outside in search of tickets. My friend managed to get two from a tout but as we lined up to push through the turnstiles there was a commotion to our left. A crowd was running towards the massive iron gates. Within seconds they had forced them open and were stampeding through. As the security guards scattered, I nudged my friend and we ran, joining the throng that charged into the half empty ground. When we sat down my friend asked: ‘What was all that for? We had tickets.’ ‘We’ll always remember this,’ I replied. ‘The day we stormed the gates of the Maracanã.’

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26 October 2018

Sócrates and Brazilian Democracy

In November 1982, Brazil held its first direct multiparty elections since the 1964 coup. A month before the vote, the captain of the national football team wrote a four-page spread in Placar, the country’s bestselling football magazine, in which he articulated his proposals for jobs, housing, health, education and food security. These are issues that ordinary people worry about, Sócrates said, and if addressed properly will ensure a better life for all. ‘But we will only achieve this when everyone has full and total freedom to speak, to learn, to participate, to choose and above all to protest,’ he wrote. ‘That’s what living with dignity is all about.’

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