The Death of Tancredo Neves

On Jan. 15 some of us, Brazilians and Brazilianists in Los Angeles, gathered to celebrate Tancredo Neves’ election as Brazil’s first civilian president in 21 years. We gathered to drink a toast to the possibilities of a new Brazil, and to rejoice in Tancredo himself--for he symbolized “hope,” a word and a feeling that Brazilians had been forced to forget.

We could never imagine that a little over three months later we would again gather, this time to say our collective goodby to Tancredo Neves.

Tancredo was not merely a civilian president; that is not why he inspired Brazilians to renewed participation in the political process. He was, truly, an honorable person. He loved our country and anguished at seeing it being torn apart. He was that which is a rarity everywhere--an honest politician.

Tancredo was born in Sao Joao del Rei on March 4, 1910. By formal education he was a lawyer. He entered politics at the age of 24. In 1950 he was elected to the National Chamber of Deputies; from then on he held a series of political posts, under several presidents, up to being elected governor of his home state just before his name was considered for the presidency. He was one of a handful of opposition leaders who were able to remain in Brazil throughout the dictatorship.


At memorial services the custom is to “celebrate” the life that has been lost and not just mourn it. But as I prepared these words I found it so hard to celebrate, for Tancredo’s passing away was just too sudden, too stunning, too tragic for Brazil and Brazilians and, of course, infinitely sadder for Dona Risoleta, his wife, and their family.

Still I searched for something that could be learned, be taken from this tragic loss, for I believe that there is and must be a purpose for every life and for every death. And in searching I found something that we can celebrate and carry forward: Tancredo Neves represented what best can come out of Brazil. He was and is a symbol of the possibilities for Brazil. For a few brief months we tasted the collective enthusiasm and hope that an honest, honorable Brazilian leader can generate; now that we have tasted it, we must not settle for less.


Los Angeles


Eliana do Nascimento, a political science graduate student at USC, will read this statement at a memorial service on May 3 at the University of Southern California, which is being sponsored by USC’s School of Public Administration and the Department of Political Science.