hen Maria Jose Pinto wrote
President Getulio Vargas in
1943 to complain that her companion of six years had left her
for another woman, she testified to the very literal ways the
paternalist discourse of the dictatorial Estado Novo could be interpreted
by a "humble Brazilian." Lacking the "courage" to trouble her parents,
who had given her "a strict upbringing" and who were old, poor, and in
failing health back in the rural town she had left twelve years earlier, she
appealed to the president who called himself "the father of the poor":
Although I am of legal age and not having parents here but in [neigh-
boring state) Minas and wanting to avoid upsetting them as I said, I
beg you Mr. President as though you were my Judge, my father and
protector, after God and Jesus, [there is) thou for me, because in the
state I find myself expecting this man's child in the next few months,
and not having anywhere to go, I cannot go to my parents' home in
this condition and I also cannot remain with my relatives where I am
now, they are poor and cannot support me while I am unable to work.!
Maria Jose knew well that her age (thirty-eight) made her ineligible for
legal recourse. She appealed nonetheless for the "justice" that a father and
protector could grant. Her letter almost certainly was produced by some-
one else, for a typewriter was beyond the means of most domestic ser-
vants, and her name was signed in the unsteady hand of someone with lit-
tle writing practice. She may have dictated the text, for its tone matched
that of her later testimony at the police station. There, Pinto reiterated
her faith that "the father of us all, the President of the Republic, will
surely arrange for the harm to her to be repaired."
President Vargas's secretary sent Maria Jose Pinto's letter to the new
minister of Justice and Internal Affairs, Alexandre Marcondes Filho, who
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