Corporal Anselmo in the Series “In Search of Anselmo”

To write this article, I watched today the series “In search of Anselmo”. At the moment, only the first two episodes can be seen on HBO Max, in a set of five, one per week. Therefore, what I write now has a provisional character.

I immediately point out that the documentary maker Carlos Alberto Jr. is a filmmaker. This is not so obvious. I mean: the shots he makes, the places where he takes Anselmo,, the scenes he films, are those of a movie man. At the beginning of the first episode, when Anselmo refers to the codenames he used to infiltrate and deliver militants to their deaths, he laughs. This is definitive as a presentation of the traitor’s cynicism. Masterful.

Carlos Alberto is a journalist who did his homework, studied, researched, what journalism had not done until today with Corporal Anselmo. Examples of this are the terrible liar’s book “Eu, Cabo Anselmo”, by Percival de Souza and all previous interviews.  But for the viper that Carlos Alberto saw and interviewed, for the documented serpent, there are, even so, restrictions to the filmmaker’s method: if the interviewers before Carlos Alberto Jr. sinned by ignorance of the great liar of the agent of repression, in Carlos Alberto there was what I would call excessive respect to the lies of the interviewee. I mean: Carlos Alberto doesn’t interrupt him, except rare times, because he lets the lie go. Even if the documentary maker counters Anselmo’s statements with statements that contradict him in a cut with other interviewees, Calos Alberto doesn’t interrupt him with his own voice, which would be very interesting to show Anselmo’s contradictions alive in his own speech.   This is clear when Anselmo visits the headquarters of the former Deops in São Paulo, today Memória da Resistência. There, in an unfortunate chance for the traitor, he passes in front of a wall where the six murdered in the Granja de São Bento in Pernambuco are displayed with photos.  There, in front of two planes, with images of the press that published what the repression ordered, as here.

And the reconstitution of the story in another shot, which narrates the arrest of Soledad and Pauline in a boutique in Recife, the criminal speaks:

– I don’t know which of the two versions is the true one.

And the cold traitor is not cut, in the act.

Later, in a podcast, Carlos Alberto declared that it was not possible to inquire Anselmo all the time, disproving him. But that at the end of the series, the traitor will be driven against the wall. Let’s wait then, that there may come a dismantling of the bad guy on par with the opening of the first episode.

Anselmo was a cynic and an actor. Actor as a defamation of art. The ways in which he twice gets up from a bed, with pretense and doing for the first time, are revealing. Repeated scenes.

You notice his memory is great, when he talks about what is not his criminal activity. The memories of the chapel, of the house of his adolescence, are revealing of his mental agility. But what he didn’t ask himself, for example: why didn’t they shoot Anselmo when he was arrested in 1964, and had a pistol pointed at the door (in his words). How did he escape from prison so easily? He even says that the jailers got him prostitutes!

I remember that in the Roda Viva program, Corporal Anselmo was very comfortable there, because the interviewers didn’t research the history of his crimes, and if they did this indispensable duty, they didn’t want to take him to the ropes, to confront his dodges with the testimonies of witnesses from 1973, the year of the executions of 6 socialist militants in Recife.

The most heinous moment was when he referred to his wife, Soledad Barrett, and removed her pregnancy from her, to exempt himself from a heinous crime, which falls as an addition to the treason of handing her over for death.

I transcribe:

Corporal Anselmo – Soledad was using IUDs, since she had an abortion here in São Paulo, before going to Recife.

Interviewer – Do you dispute Soledad’s pregnancy?

Corporal Anselmo – How?

Interviewer – Do you dispute that she was pregnant, as the historical version …

Corporal Anselmo – If I believe, as the doctors say, that the IUD was the safest of the condoms, then yes, I do.

Interviewer – So the fetus found there was not hers?

Corporal Anselmo – I imagine that it belonged to Pauline. Pauline was pregnant, she even had a pregnancy problem, and Soledad took her to the doctor.

So let’s go back to the documentary. In it we see the testimony of the brave Marx, a true and sincere Pernambucanian. In general, documentarians rarely show all the words of an interviewee. They edit and cut.  So it must have been also with Marx about Soledad’s pregnancy that he saw. What was left out? Here I recover it outside of the documentary footage:

The night we had just seen a moving re-creation of Soledad Barrett at the Hermilo Borba Filho theater, when the actress Hilda Torres went into the trance of the character Soledad brought to the scene, a trance in the sense of the apparatuses, of the mediums in the terreiros, after the magic hour when Soledad resurfaced, after that in the café, in the patio of the Hermilo theater, behold, Soledad’s only daughter, the always young girl Ñasaindy, came up and hugged the former political prisoner Karl Marx. At that moment when I was talking to Marx, Ñasaindy came up and gave him a sudden hug. Then Marx stopped and with shallow eyes spoke to him in a choked voice:

– It feels like I’m hugging your mother. She was like that.

If this were a poem, perhaps the above sentence would end in a verse. But this is a narration and the narrator does not receive the mercy of being human in just one line. I mean, first of all. Forty-two years down the road, his daughter’s embrace, her face, her warmth rekindled in Marx the tenderness of the woman who had been destroyed in body, and then would spend the entire near future wandering as if she were the soul of a denatured, terrorist mother. Secondly, I say that in the reconstruction of life, it is hard to say what comes first. Soledad is in the backyard of Marx’s little house. From the kitchen she went out to the backyard, and talks with the companions of Marx and Lenin, the two brothers so named by their father, an old communist. The women sit making little crocheted shoes for the baby Soledad is expecting. They say of pregnant women that they look more beautiful. But to the natural luster of colors there is in the woman who would give birth, who becomes pregnant in anguish, a shadow, a look that does not go to the future, that evades and goes to the ground.

By the way, the photo of the documentary is the one Anselmo gave to Soledad’s mother, with the words dedicated on the back:

A la madre para que conozca un hijo más.




“To the mother so that she knows one more son.

Jadiel (one of his codenames)


Uruguayan historian Virginia Martínez first released this photo in her book “La vida es tempestad: historia de la familia Barrett: literatura, resistência y revolución.”

In the documentary, Anselmo smiled at the question of whether he had ever killed anyone. He answers, with the typical banter of today’s military, that he has already killed a chicken.

Finally, for now: the question that is still not clear: Anselmo was a right-wing agent already in the leadership phase of the sailors in 1964?  The director Carlos Alberto warned me that the series grows from the 3rd episode on. But up to this point the documentary is already a milestone in history.

Uriarano Moto is author of the novel “Never-Ending Youth.”